Friday, October 27, 2017

Reflections on truth-telling

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.
These are the words of Virginia Wolfe.

We blurt out what we believe to be true about others, in a way that suggests a compulsive and consuming cultural habit, as if to put the other down is to (falsely) lift ourselves up. We live in a time when extreme entertainment is an integral component of a force-fed diet of entertainment, political theatre, dramatic crisis exposure followed by “heroic” rescue and recovery measures that illustrate “our ability to withstand difficult challenges. And this pattern is so engraved into our ‘conventional’ pattern of conceptualizing ‘how things really are’ that we believe the inexorable and inescapable truth of our own “making”.

The truth, however, continues to suffer the ignominy of having billions (if not trillions) of dollars poured over it, in a vain and persistent attempt by those with the cash to either cover up the big truths of their existence. The big oil companies, in collusion with the big auto companies, we all know, were able to buy up the technological innovation that birthed transportation without the need for fossil fuels early in the twentieth century. A century later, we are just beginning to take the steps necessary to begin a transition off our dependence on fossil fuels to run our cars, buses, transports, trains, airplanes and ships and to heat and cool our homes.

Meanwhile, the evidence of our complicity in this ‘big lie’ has been repeated in other theatres. For example, the tobacco companies spent billions  both in advertising the ‘benefits’ of their products as social-greasing to sophisticated interactions and in drumming in the message that there was no evidence that smoking was dangerous for human health. All the while both of these messages were being injected and infused into the culture (even movie contracts contained clauses that specific tobacco products were to be used in specific Hollywood films) the scientific evidence was mounting in the laboratories and in the morgues that demonstrated the truth of the direct and indirect linkage between cancer-causing smoke and several fatal  health conditions including cancer, heart attack, stroke, COPD (formerly emphysema).

Centuries ago, the ‘flat-earth society’ held sway over the incipient evidence pointing to the planet’s circular character. Familiarity with flat surfaces as safe places to walk, plow, ride and by extension to ‘integrate’ into one’s imagination as the ‘reality’ of the world in which people live are at the core of every resistance to new evidence (not to mention the risk of having to give up one’s livelihood (or the corporation’s profits, or the town or village’s tax base).

Anyone over fifty reading this grew up in a world in which teen pregnancy was so abhorrent that the young women were sent out of their home towns to a ‘special place’ where they could and would receive care and deliver their babies, if they chose to carry to term. On the other side of this coin, there were the ‘back-street’ abortion clinics in which unsanitary conditions prevailed in their provision of the fetal abortion. Both alternatives were embarrassing, and could be emotionally devastating for the families and the young women, for the purpose of demonstrating the ‘evil’ of their ways, in conceiving in the first place. Bringing the truth that the definition of evil was a church-originated, human-manufactured evil and that other ways could (and would) be found to reduce the trauma and the danger of abortions that did not meet even minimal standards of hygiene would take centuries. Even today after most countries have agreed that therapeutic abortions ‘trump’ the previous dangers, and made their provision a part of public policy, there are still millions who work everyday to banish those provisions through the courts.

The belief that ‘life is sacred’ shines like a halo over the heads of these ‘right-to-life’ proponents, in the case of an unwanted, dangerous or criminal pregnancy while, their commitment in support of military killing knows no bounds. And the hypocrisy and the irony of their position is missing to their eyes. Similarly, most of the ‘right-to-life’ proponents believe in reducing the ‘size of government’ until it comes to ruling on a woman’s right to choose which decision is appropriate for her, in a pregnancy, given all the pertinent conditions of that event in consult with her doctor.

And then there is the “hallowed” military budget in countries like the United States where the military is another religious organization, providing employment for millions, social status and income, along with educational opportunities and post-service employment in a trade acquired while in service. It is an unadulterated “job-generator” thereby reducing the pain of high unemployment figures on political leaders seeking re-election, an economic engine through the provision of bases, scientific research and development, manufacturing and sales for millions. And in times of military conflict (has there been a break in this theme for the last many decades?), all of these factors are enhanced in size and in economic “benefits”. Amassing more military capacity (in arms, personnel, technology and intelligence) that the sum total of all other countries in the world is not a sign of strength, but rather a sign of deep and profound insecurity, neurosis and perhaps even national psychosis. And then to argue that 7000 nuclear warheads is not enough, and that the number needs to be raised, at the moment when rogue states like Pakistan (already a member of the nuclear club) and North Korea and Iran, both impelling headlong toward nuclear weapons capability, as a matter of national “defence” is not merely preposterous; it is an outright defamation of the human need to survive, and ought to be grouped as ‘war crimes’ before an buttons are pushed.

It is not that there have not been whistle-blowers willing to risk public embarrassment, harassment and even legal action including dismissal from their legitimate employment, especially if they exposed the truth about those very employers.
And before any reader starts to squirm, let’s be clear that a culture in which the truth is hidden, covered, repressed and “protected” by those willing to shield its escape into the light of day, as this culture is and has been for centuries, will also foster, encourage, enhance, and support the repression of many other truths, including the truths that inhabit our homes, our schools, our churches, our hospitals, our courts and definitely our prisons. This business about public lies and dissembling that trump has so taken advantage of and exploded for his own purposes certainly did not start, nor will it finish with him. It is his lying about himself to himself (and to the world) that is so noxious, and potentially infectious.

I once received a letter from a family member detailing some serious tragedies in our family, focused on two generations back. The details were clear, tragic, sad and unsettling. However, when I asked another family member, who was present when those traumas took place, about their truth, he instantly, peremptorily denied there was anything to the story. Both the original source and the second source were about the same age; neither had lost any “faculties” like memory loss, or the ability to communicate. Neither had escaped the emotional and psychological damage these traumas had caused, and yet one was ‘open’ to the truth of the family while the other was not, for whatever reason. And we will never know the full extent of their truth, as both are now deceased.

On the other hand, I also listened to stories about the family’s history, from another source, berating one parent for extreme sensitivity in re-marrying ‘too soon’ following his spouse’s death. And yet, decades later, that same ‘despicable’ person had been elevated to near-sainthood, so transformed was the picture painted by an older offspring. What is/was the truth? Who knows? Opinions, perceptions, denials, distortions selective amnesia, selective memory and outright ‘coping’ skills will frequently, if not predictably, result in the truth’s defamation.

And once again, in a culture, family, society in which the truth about the family is distorted, it is only to be expected that the truth about one’s self is a difficult hurdle to mount, and to overcome. Our capacity to “present” the face that we believe the world wants to see, including especially our accomplishments (those reliable and predictable generators of compliments, acceptance, and reinforced social value) is so deeply ingrained into our “socialization” process as to be a virtual identity signature for the rest of the world. Our minor mis-steps, on the other hand, are frequently nested in comic narrative, in order to merely withstand the feelings of shame, embarrassment or even guilt that lingers long after the original mis-step. As for our major screw-ups, many of those are so buried in our unconscious that it will take years, sometimes decades, for them to bubble up into the light of day, often when we least expect such ‘eruptions’. (Jung notes this dynamic as our Shadow, that sack of repressed and painful memories, experiences and disasters that lie buried until recovery later in life.)

And while the original painful experience may take decades to unpack, it is to these moments in time that we have to pay special attention. Violations by parents, teachers, family members or those known to the family are often the most painful and the most buried events of our lives. And, although buried, they are nevertheless still pulsating somewhere deep in our psyche, rearing the head of their wound at moments of surprise, shock and even more dismay. Some of us are fortunate to have found ‘safe places’ in which to unpack some of these hidden dramas, with our spouses, perhaps with a therapist, a psychiatrist, or in times past, perhaps a clergy, or a lawyer, or a family doctor.

What constitutes a ‘safe place’? The issue of confidentiality is the first criterion for most of us to consider we are in a ‘safe place’ in that we are confident that our ‘truth’ will remain safe with the other person, that no one will become privy to our story, mostly because we are unwilling and often unable to bear the thought of select people knowing what we know about ourselves. The second condition is that our confidant will respect our need to take our time, will respect our need to tell our story, in the fullness that we can dredge up, without imposing an immediate or permanent judgement. It is in hearing ourselves tell our story, with all of its messy details perhaps for the first time, that we come a little closer to learning what we have been through, what that must have been like, how ‘successful’ we have been in keeping it buried for all these years, and what steps we might need to take to reconcile with those we have hurt, or with those who have deeply and profoundly hurt us. In a new sense, through such a process, no matter how many similar episodes it takes, we become more aware and potentially accepting of who we really are, and of how repressed we have been and of how we wish to learn from our trauma in order to live a life that builds on the gifts of the disclosure.

Not only are we more likely to accept our own failures, irresponsibilities, betrayals (those we experienced and those we inflicted) and both the acts we wish we had not committed and those we failed to take, but also we are thus more grounded, more human and more in touch with the rest of humanity, each of whom has a similar story (in their impact on the psych, the body and the spirit).

Ironically, since most of us spend the largest portion of our lives in pursuit of extrinsic goals and rewards, in a committed pursuit of whatever we consider our own success, it is in our greatest failures and in the coming to terms with their implications that we not only reveal to ourselves who we are and what kind of things help to define the patterns in our life, but we achieve a very different and far more significant ‘success’ than those that come in cheques, cars, houses, wardrobes, and our place in the organization chart or in the investment pools. The very wounds, bruises, broken dreams, failed relationships and painful vengeances that have been inflicted by us and on us are the ‘gifts’ that make us whole, real, authentic, compassionate, and far less dependent on exaggeration, deception, bravado and secrecy as crutches to help us walk those paths that are still beckoning.

And it is in the coming face to face with our deepest fears, anxieties, dreams, and wounds that we begin the process of telling ourselves the truth about ourselves. And, clearly unless and until we come to that place where we are strong enough to be vulnerable and open to such a deep dive into places previously hidden under the many rocks of our denial and our avoidance, our compulsivity and our escapism, then we actually fail ourselves and all others who love and matter to us, by our conscious or unconscious withholding of ourselves from ourselves and from those who profess to love us.

This deep dive is not one that is or can be engineered by chemicals, by voodoo, or by some extreme physical, emotional and psychological project, although some would argue for such a process. The dark night of the soul of which the mystics have spoken and written for centuries, requires and demands a level of faith and confidence that only “gold” will come from the encounter. And such a faith is, almost without exception, rewarded as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How does such a profound dive into the darkest corners of one’s biography enable the telling of truth about the other?

First, knowing how incomplete and how wounded and how vulnerable and imperfect we each are, in all aspects of our lives (ethically, morally, intellectually, socially, spiritually and aesthetically) we are much more likely to appreciate fully the depths of another’s authentic person. Our consciousness of our “mask” brings a deep awareness of the “mask” of the other. Our consciousness of our stupidity,  insensitivity, our capacity to demean and to patronize, our openness to our failure to take into account many of the forces that have impacted our lives….all of these help to transform our perception of ourselves and have the potential of enriching our perception and conscious awareness of the fullness of the other.

Conversely, our failure or avoidance of such deep dives, restricts us to lives of mere gnats, darting over the surface of the pond under whose surface swim the creatures of our woundedness. And as a consequence our perceptions of the depth of the others in our world will be impaired by our own willful or unconscious impairment of our own ability to both perceive and to conceive.

It is not a process of judging, or competing, or winning and losing with the others in which we are engaged. It is rather a process of our own growth and development into sentient, vulnerable, authentic and yes very wounded individuals whose uniqueness and whose creative genius is available to the world only from this single, unique, rare and still-unfolding flower that is me.

And the garden in which I will flourish seems quite far out of reach, when surveying the horizon of the public discourse. And the full flourishing of each of our truths about ourselves, with those in whom we have confidence, will provide the needed water and sunlight to nurture the flower of truth in each of us.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hillary Clinton, the most earnest and qualified candidate, blocked by history...more obstructionism

“We are in a global struggle between liberal democracy and a rising tide of illiberalism, authoritarianism and dictatorship.” Those are the words of Hillary Clinton to a Montreal audience last night, as reported by the Toronto Star. Urging activists and kneelers and protesters whom she sees around the world, Clinton posits a victory since, “we are on the right side of history”.

Promoting her book, “What Happened,” and hobbled by a broken foot, Hillary soldiers on, as much to vindicate her astounding defeat in the November 2016 presidential election, as to embolden women activists in every field of human endeavor. She embodies the archetypal feminist, ambitious, intellectually brilliant, assiduously prepared and studied, extremely hard working and disciplined, and the target of every projectile from the testosterone-infected male political establishment.

Both heroine and tragic victim of a culture which seems incapable of sorting the wheat from the chaf, if the election of trump is any indication, Hillary Clinton, the first woman on the ballot as a bonafide presidential candidate of one of the two established parties, nevertheless, will pass into the history books as one of the best presidents American never had.

Caught in and by the vortex of anger, myopia, narcissistic hubris and a converging tide of lies from both the trump bunker and the Kremlin, the illiberalism she identifies has some visceral and deep-seated misogyny that knows no nationalism, no geographic boundaries and no specific political party. It is an intimate component in the white supremacy movement, the oligarchic disease of the Kremlin, the racist anti-immigrant street protests in Europe, and the war-mongering in the middle East and north Africa. It is fostered, nurtured and illicitly reinforcing the rush to military arms, gun sales, and the addictive embrace of hard power for its own sake.

The “hard-power” culture is so pervasive that Ms Clinton herself became known as more “disposed” to the use of force than the president under whom she served as Secretary of State, Barack Obama, the reluctant warrior, undoubtedly to demonstrate that, just because she was a woman did and does not mean that she is weak or “mamby-pamby,” as many hardliners would like to think in order to dismiss her as a potential world leader. (Remember Margaret Thatcher!)

When Mika Brezinski disclosed, on CBS’ 60 Minutes this Sunday that she had learned her  male counterparts on the Morning Joe political talk show on MSNBC were paid fourteen times what she was getting as co-host with her now life partner, Joe Scarborough, she shone a light into the dark corners of the deep divide that still haunts the American culture and workplace. That disparity between men and women at the top of a long-running television talk show where salaries climb into the six or seven figure stratosphere regularly, undermines both the legislative protections of women workers and the semblance of equality that sees women serving in the top positions in the military.

Public fantasies, like the parade to which the world is being subjected by the current ‘actor’ in the Oval Office, highlight the truth beneath the surface of the mascara and the lip-stick,  given the insulting veneer of “respect” that fails to give cover to the pretender(s).

Ms Clinton, almost the inverse of her presidential rival, in her Methodism, her scholarship and her attention to  and mastery of the many details of the many policy fronts to which a chief executive must attend, evoked echoes of her brilliant and polished immediate predecessor, at a time when intellectual excellence, including the threats borne out by respected science and the academic community seem to be too discomfiting for the average voter, especially those in the middle of the country. Policy, and the policy-wonks who write it, are both much less than magnetic and charismatic than the glib “entertainers” and “hucksters” like the current president. To many, they are boring, dull, uninspiring and easily dismissed. (That was also the fate of former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, a human rights scholar from Harvard, when he returned to Canada and ran for the Prime Minister’s office. He was obliterated in a vote that elected a right-wing conservative aardvark, Stephen Harper.)

To Ms Clinton’s global conflict of illiberalism, authoritarianism and dictatorship, we must cautiously and respectfully add, a pervasive conflict between the genders.

Male autocracies can and do exist under many political, ideological and military banners; in fact, war and tribalism are two of the primary ingredients in many military and quasi-military conflicts….based as they are on fear, insecurity, desperation and the need to overcome perceived injustice. The notion of fairness, satiety, and the pursuit of equality are all anathema to the warmongers among us and to the macho “tribe” of which trump seeks to be ‘chief’. And there are so many highly sophisticated instances of how men are still upbraided if they do not conform to the “macho” creed:

·      Sports network hosts berate the protection of NFL quarterbacks, as if they have become prima donna’s (under the rule changes)
·      In the bars and pubs men who choose elementary teaching or nursing still have the “fag” barbs shot their way, although the marksmen are a little less obvious in their taunts.
·      Young boys are still being “coached” with the parental aphorism, ‘real boys don’t cry” if they suffer an accidental injury.
·      Don Cherry continues to champion the hockey player who takes a shot to the head, and gets back up to block another, before heading to the dressing room…”that’s my kind of player!”
·      Professional athletes who have suffered a head “blow” and are required to submit to a “concussion protocol” are still prone to minimize their symptoms, in spite of the serious danger to their lives from traumatic brain injury
·      Police forces have been militarized to the tune of some $5.1 billion in the U.S. since 1997….police in the U.S. have fatally shot 782 people this year (according to the Washington Post, as quoted by Chris Hedges in his column, Our Ever-Deadlier Police State, October 22, 2017)
·      LGBT persons continue to suffer human rights violations, including employment restrictions, and in many countries, imprisonment…just another example of the “right” masking its inherent sexism and racism.

Some observers (including Malcolm Gladwell) have argued convincingly that the Obama elections in which many white voters cast votes for their first black president, ironically and paradoxically were then ‘freed’ from the stigma of being a racist (simply be casting that single vote) both socially and in their own minds. And that tokenism may also have contributed to the election of trump, given the illusion of an ethical and moral escape route for some voters.

trump’s braggadocio about his blatant disrespect for women was horrific and was also magnified by the Clinton campaign, with a  blow-back from those who persist in seeing liberals as effetes, snobs, self-righteous and to clever by half. It is an obvious show of inverted snobbery when the voters without college degrees find a candidate who panders to their kind of snobbery, bigotry, sexism and racism as if he were one of them. The irony is that he is even less ‘one of them’ than Ms Clinton who comes from a lower middle class family, and with excellent grades, hard work and the discipline to graduate from Yale Law, along with her husband has left a significant mark in United States history as a public servant.

Ms Clinton prefers not to focus on the global evidence of misogyny.,…preferring a more personal accounting by pointing fingers at Comey and Putin among others. Comey’s letter late in the campaign announcing his re-opening of the email investigation, and Putin’s alleged interference in the social media campaign, while significant, do not take into account of some macro factors such as:

·      “Clinton-fatigue” that hung like a low-lying fog over the political landscape,
·      the significant gap in “personal connection” that voters had with Obama as compared with the more reserved and more ‘court-room’ stiff stump persona of Ms. Clinton
·      the failure of the Clinton campaign to take seriously the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector and the job losses from outsourcing in states like Michigan, Wisconsin an Ohio
·      the millions from private donors to the ‘right’ ‘small government’ attitude, following presidential executive orders from Obama in a time of obstruction by Republicans on every idea that came from the White House

The notion that one heard often throughout the campaign was that although trump was ‘bad’ Ms Clinton was ‘worse’ demonstrates just how distorted was, is and continues to be the prevailing myth’s power over an electorate whose “drain the swamp” attitude (ironically it was Republicans who held power in both houses of Congress for most of Obama’s term in office) has effectively ham-strung all attempts at governance.

Now that we see both Bannon and trump committed to overturning the Republican establishment and paradoxically and likely intentionally chortling privately that ‘nothing is being done’ there is every reason to believe that had Ms Clinton become president, the world would be breathing more easily, the government would be making serious attempts to move to “normal order” (as John McCain so fervently urges) and respect for public institutions (in addition to the military) would be starting to return to something measureable on public opinion polls.

Of course, that kind of speculation is of no comfort to Ms Clinton or her supporters. It does, however, illustrate the distance off course the United States has fallen, and without compass, or normal navigating instruments, and a pilot untrained in instrument flying at night, the U.S. “airforce One” as metaphor for the state, is merely a flying stage show seeking circus crowds in campaign rallies as its substitute for authentic and reconciling leadership.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reflections on self-sabotage

How do we know if and when we are committing self-sabotage? We all do it; we probably do it everyday. We likely do it without being conscious of how or why we are doing it. Our prisons are filled with case studies, biographies, depicting the depth of its impact on the lives of otherwise intelligent, creative, courageous and caring men and women. So are our homeless shelters, our emergency rooms, our half-way houses, and the refrigerator cardboard boxes under overpasses in too many cities.

Hillary Clinton’s chosen title of her recent book, “What Happened” can and must be asked about each of those lives. That, of course, will never happen. Those people, the underbelly of our society, are unworthy of such detailed, conscientious and compassionate investigation. We isolate the issues that combine in their lives, and thereby we take away the human being by replacing him or her with a number, a case number, a cell number, a “diagnosis” that names the ‘presenting symptom’ for the professionals, a name and number on a criminal case in the courts, a name on a bag in a morgue, when it is too late to ask the important and dangerous question, “what happened?”

Teaching individuals and by extension the perspective of “consequences” to actions, thoughts, visions, dares, experiments, prescriptions, words uttered, exams passed or failed… a task for which we, collectively and too often individually, are ill-prepared to take seriously. Consequently, we are faced with the enigma of having to deal with crises, when, potential, preventive and much more far-sighted interventions would significantly reduce the number of crises we have to face.

There is, however, sadly, a monumental dramatic energy, excitement, and “sexy” quality to the interventions we undertake in a crisis. Is it our obsession with melodrama, the soap-opera quality of too many of our personal and public narratives that undergirds this dynamic? Are we living lives bereft of meaning and purpose to such an extent that we crave a diet of “adrenalin” or the proverbial “testosterone” to remind us that we are still “alive”? Have we capitulated to the cliché narcotic of the perpetual orgasm as our preferred dramatic narrative? Are we so intellectually and socially flabby and lazy and disinterested when the issues we face seem barely noticeable, that we adopt the conventional “so sweat” attitude, preferring to leave the matter alone until it becomes so threatening that we simply have to act in order to survive?  Or are we simply so preoccupied with our own little bubble of a universe that what is happening outside that bubble is left to the “experts” whose responsibility we have licensed as our way of off-loading our own responsibility, so that we could dedicate our energies to more pressing issues like our wardrobe, our career, our car brand, our jewellery, our favourite movie, or our treasured vacation destination? Pandering to our own fetishes, it says here, is just another way of self-sabotaging, while we rationalize our fantasies as ‘our contribution to the national income, the national GDP, the way to ‘fit in’ with the corporate propaganda machine’s compelling and creative advertising seduction. (If the GDP is 75%+ dependent on consumer purchases, that argument is difficult to refute!)

However, it is our missed potential to envision beyond the next five minutes, the next five weeks, or even years, that so cripples our willingness and our capacity to face large and shared treats in a creative, pro-active and collaborative manner. And this dynamic reveals itself not only on a national and geopolitical stage, but in the more intimate and personal lives we live in our families and our communities. If there is one lesson that cultures like those of our indigenous people, and of some foreign cultures like the Japanese and Chinese cultures, that we would do well to respect, and to adopt to a much greater degree, it is their concept of their place in time.

For Canada’s aboriginal people, who have been here for some 15,000 years, the celebration of our 150th birthday is a mere hour or two on their nations’ calendars. For the Chinese to celebrate some 5000 years of their evolving and considerably stable culture is, to many in the “modern” west, simply unimaginable. We are not able to wrap our minds or our imaginations around such breadth of temporal landscape. And, if we are short-sighted, geared to our next moment, as a culture, how can we escape our responsibility for projecting that model, motif, way of being normal, onto our children and our grandchildren? We simply can’t!

Compacting our perspective on “time” has other consequences too. It imposes limits on what we are prepared to endure, to what we are willing to consider as “doable” or as “worth doing” and on what we are willing to embrace as our civic responsibility. Of course, we can and do see the immediate benefits to volunteering to pour the footings for a new civic arena, if our village needs one. There are kids waiting for the opportunity denied to previous generations in our community, to skate and play hockey on such a pad of ice. And we can and do see the benefits (to community and to our own lives) of designing and building a civic park.

There is another parallel poverty of perspective stemming all the way back to our narrow and absolutist view about our propensity for evil or sin. According to more than two thousand years of evidence, the ‘christian’ world has been unable or unwilling to view the Garden of Eden story as anything more than a picture of a punishing deity enraged as human defiance/pride/hubris as the archetypal starting point for relations between man and woman and also between man and God.* Our shared capacity to bring a poetic imagination to our exegesis of what we consider holy writ is so impoverished that there must have been eyes rolling in heaven for centuries. Locked into a shame compact for our natural engagement in our most natural and creative act, the act of love, it would seem that it will take more than history to dig ourselves out of our self-generated abyss.

For the ‘fathers of the church’ (‘Saint’ Augustine has so much culpability here) to insist and to persist in a prurient view of human intercourse, linked inextricably to their inordinate control needs is, has been and will continue to be a faulty premise for both deity and humanity. Based on the specious theological notion of the human depravity/evil and the need for the church’s agency in proferring a transformative and reformative relationship with Jesus and God, the church has “assumed” a political/ethical/psychological/historic/archetypal role of critical parent to a mass of innocent and frightened sycophants, more to their parenting power and control than to a supreme being.  Casting human beings in a black/dark/sinister/evil and hopeless mode, without God, and thereby desperate to reconnect and be accepted and loved by that God (whose love is ubiquitous, unrestrained and undeserved) promulgates a segregation, separation and power imbalance that a healthy theology would not tolerate.

The separation of the divine and the human is a basic posture that is unsustainable. Our acknowledgement of, celebration of and humble gratitude for “that of God within” could be our starting point in all of our personal, familial and political/cultural self-talk, reflection and public debate. Our failure/refusal/denial/obstruction of that potential starting point holds us individually and collectively hostage to our intellectual, spiritual, moral and ethical blindness.

Such a self-sabotaging posture, however, does trumpet its own “purchase” of salvation and a heavenly afterlife through indulgences, artifacts, bribes and negotiations between desperate humans and their perverted version of a deity. It also boasts the slaughter of millions of innocents in the name of God, murders and crusades and excommunications and indiscriminate trashing of human lives, both within the confines of the church courts and in the public criminal systems, based as they are on a limited interpretation of God’s law and will. Pointing moral and ethical grenades at specific human acts, based on a strict legal definition of right and wrong, without a full reckoning of the complex contexts in each situation, renders some (usually in robes and possibly even wigs, and more recently with guns, mace and tazers) with a kind of power and dominance that far exceeds the need for control. However, having established such an inappropriate imbalance for their (ecclesial and civic authorities’) own purposes, and not for the purpose of reconciliation and healing whenever power is abused, now the snake of tradition, habit, convention and righteousness has dug such a deep trench in our individual and collective consciousness and unconsciousness, that these words will be considered not mere apostasy, but treasonous in some quarters.
It is the concomitant “transactional” feature of our bargaining, negotiating, pleading, and objectifying obeisance to the divine and to the representatives of the divine, in all ecclesial forms, that obliterates our capacity to focus on our “being” and “holding” and “shining” and “sustaining” and “reinforcing” that of God within. We have fallen into the trap of sacrificing our potential “unity” with the divine  to our transactional/objective/narcississtic/fearful beings and our modus operandi.  And in so doing, we have sacrificed our “being” to our “doing” in a flagrant and obsessive attempt to “prove” our worthiness to the divine whereas, if we were to accept that we are already more than acceptable to the divine, our subjectivity would be free to energize our lives, and to lift our potential out of this constant neurotic pursuit of okayness. God (any deity worthy of the name) has not, does not and will not ever hold such manipulative power over our individual or our collective existences.

Turning our religious institutions, and our personal lives into “functions” that are starting from a “not-okay” stance (psychologically, morally, ethically, spiritually) is a self-fulfilling and tragic “prophecy” under which humanity has struggled for centuries. The ascription of a inherent and dominant “evil” nature, (‘we are all sinners, having come short of the glory of God’) to all humans, in all cultures, ethnicities, nations and geographies in all time, with an range of ecclesial  institutions positioned to set that dissonance right, buttressed by secular institutions dedicated to ameliorating, mitigating that evil may have seemed appropriate centuries ago. Not any longer!
Throughout history, the Christian church has demonstrated a penchant for aligning with the forces of social and political establishments, whether they are in city hall, hospital presidencies, university chancellories, corporate boardrooms, judges’ chambers and of course, law enforcement agents of all stripes. In that myopia, the church has also forsaken the very voices of the mot vulnerable, the most endangered, the most abandoned and the most poor, uneducated, unrefined, and undisciplined. In this model, the church has also emboldened parents, teachers, and other “care-givers” to justify abusive behaviour as an agent of reform, including the design and construction of prisons, the exaggerated and unmitigated deployment of physical, emotional, psychological and moral abuse, in the ‘name’ of God, and the narrowest of interpretations of what they considered ‘holy writ’.

So umbilically linked to “power” in all of its many forms is, has been, and will continue to be the churches’ preferred ‘position’, that the church has “sanctified” wars, ethnic cleansings, tortures, be-headings, abdications, and all manner of “respectable” and “politically correct” injustices….under some religiously justifiable epithet or maxim or dogma. And of course, this “Siamese” connection has been aided and abetted by the flow of cash from those in positions of power and wealth to the churches whose existence has come to depend on the flow of those cheques. Doubtless, there has also been some modicum of “ministry” in the form of liturgical rituals (baptisms, weddings, confirmations, and burials….oh and also penitentials) giving a semblance of ordered “markings” in the growth and development of the offspring of church families. Occasionally, there have also been moments of sheer insight and “aha” relief that have emerged from moments shared deeply by a ‘religious’ and a mendicant. Symphonies, concertos, and other pieces of musical composition have also been dedicated to the “glory of God” as have cathedrals, monuments, theses, and hospitals.

It is the abrogation of the divine, in the role of critical parent, in all of its many manifestations that demonstrates the long-standing history of human hubris, given our narrow, and even crippled imagination of a deity “who don’t create no junk”.  In order to comport with the “teachings” of the church we submit (in perjorative act of submission allegedly to God, and also to the authority of the church) and then ask for forgiveness for sins that have their origin in our human metaphysic.

In successive period of human history, various human behaviours have been labelled “evil,” “sinful,” and “criminal” depending on the relative political readiness and acceptance of the new standard. Child labour was once appropriate and approved by those in power, (in both the secular and ecclesial domains). Slaves were once permitted and were bought and sold by the same establishment. Corporal punishment was once the ‘norm’ in both home and school, enforced under the rubric, “spare the rod, spoil the child” and “devout” parents were the most violent offenders. Any behaviour that brought social “shame” and embarrassment on the ecclesial institutional reputation was considered “sinful,” “evil,” and often spilled over into the secular law enforcement domain. Separation of “church and state,” a matter taken up with considerable energy in the United States, while not considered as important or even worthy of consideration in countries like Great Britain (where the monarch is also the Head of the Church of England) and Canada where there have been two ‘state’ religions, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches.

Punishment of those who committed evil deeds has historically been extreme when church leadership was responsible for the legal boundaries of that punishment. (An example, solitary confinement in prison was a legacy of the Quaker religious movement.) Purity of motive, on the part of self-righteous authority, has too often led to the imposition of life-destroying punishment, too often without the benefit of review, remediation, reconciliation and the requisite healing. “Perfection” in the pursuit of religious conformity and ethical “comportment” has resulted in repressive and exaggerated and extreme enforcement regimes supported by both ecclesial and secular authorities. And as the cliché asks, “How is that working for you?”

Both church, and subsequently, society, have started from the premise of the innate “evil” of the human species and built structures that also adopted that premise, justified by their argument for the “order” and “control” of the civil society. Of course, there are also natural models, like sickness, accidents and mortality that feed into the model. However, we have so stretched both the “evil” dimension of the species and the concomitant and “necessary” enforcement mechanisms to the point where the zeitgeist now is so obsessed with human malignancy, and the monstrous efforts to minimize its impacts.

It says here that a reverse, opposite focus, on the “that of God within each human being” concept would provide a different launch pad for our interventions into human activity, one dedicated to the reconciliation and the remediation and the healing of the aberrant, deviant and ‘evil’ attitudes, and behaviours. Such a starting point would expect, indeed require, a diligent investigation into the contexts that prompted the acting out, a comprehensive interpretation of the roles and shared responsibility for those abhorrent abuses of power, and a commitment to support and to remediate everyone and anyone from their “self-sabotage.”

Love, in its widest and deepest meaning, definition and incarnation starts from acceptance, not from the position of “correcting” the unacceptable behaviour. Love, if it is to be tested and strengthened, needs to be tried from the beginning of any offensive incident, by the culture, and by implication, by the school and the family. Merely pandering to what makes us feel good, and makes us proud, and makes us puff up our sense of importance and worthiness, while reinforcing whatever events and behaviours engendered those feelings, is far too easy and glib. It in fact requires a mere robotic repetition of those words and attitudes that pat us ourselves on our own backs, through the association with the other whose behaviour we approve.

Every act that demeans an individual is an act that demeans all of us. And if, as we do, we leave aside, detach from such acts, and take no responsibility for the forces that produced such acts then, it follows that those forces will not be taken as seriously as they could be. And, while we appear indifferent and unconcerned because the offender is “bad” or “evil” or “deranged” or “depraved” or “sick” or (and our infusion of psychiatric code words has grown to an epidemic) a sociopath, a psychopath, a deviant and an “irredeemable” monster.

Our capacity for empathy, and our willingness to find the time and the energy and the mechanisms to take into account our shared responsibility for the conditions which engendered such horrific and abusive acts, when we are disconnected from the worst evidence in our towns and cities, naturally atrophies, and even grows.
If the laborer who starts late receives the same stipend as the one who began at break of day, and the blind and the leper are healed, and the prostitute is forgiven and urged to ‘sin no more’ then why are we so obsessed with our admitted capacity to hurt others. 
If we were to see that of God within everyone, and if we were to begin our relationships from that perspective, we would be far more likely to withhold our vindictiveness, our thoughts of getting back or getting even. If we were concerned about how others impact us, and were to investigate fully, linked to our humble and sincere request of our ‘enemy’, and we were to come to a full understanding of the “wounds” (emotional, psychic, physical, intellectual, perceptive, and cultural) of the “other” we would be far more likely to engender empathy, compassion, and reconciliation than if we adopt the legalistic, moralistic and self-righteous stance of absolute “rectitude” when faced with the onslaught of the other’s enmity.

We have developed a culture in which ‘doing wrong’ is invariably and inevitably berated, disdained, separated from, and alienated when we all know that “there but for the grace of God go I”….and, yet, when that is merely a tokenism, another maxim that we say without meaning or purpose or even authenticity, we fall into our own trap of “superiority” as a cover for our attitudes, our thoughts, our self-talk and our “rectitude.”

And then we build structures to embody the Critical Parent, sanctifying them as agents of a deity, when, if we were fully open, fully vulnerable and fully honest, we would engender a kind of scepticism, and a degree of both humility and togetherness that, rather than dividing the “born-again’s” from the “heathens” and promising a place in “heaven for the former and a place in hell for the latter, we would potentially come to a shared perspective that whatever afterlife there might be is not either earned or received by some act of penance, and the over-riding grace that has to have emanated from the Cross and the tomb and the Resurrection.

On top of this “critical parent” structure, we also construct skill-sets of knowledge and specialization that endow a few with special powers, and permit another group to infantilize ordinary people, most of whom have the kind of decency, common sense and imagination needed to provide valuable insight into whatever crisis they area confronting.

However, if and when there is an stock market tumble, like Black Monday in 1987, we do not hold individuals or specific institutions culpable. Rather we gloss over the cumulative greed of thousands of persons, whose rampant speculation and risk-taking contribute significantly to the financial downturn. Researchers in Cambridge, on the other hand, were reported to be studying the thesis that the 2008 financial recession resulted directed from an exaggerated injection of testosterone, another way of calculating the dynamic, one that would presumably delight feminists while demeaning the male segment of the trading floor, financial services sector.

In a similar manner, we have all felt as if we deserved to seek and to wreak revenge on an institution, or perhaps an individual for some tragic betrayal we have gone through. And, as illustrated so many times in many dramas, the pursuit of revenge carries the weight and the prospect of its own destruction. Iago and Othello both found that out tragically. And while the audience experienced the accompanying and authentic pathos vicariously, the display of both revenge and self-sabotage there will echo through the centuries.

While this is speculation, there is parable that receives much attention in the Christian community, that carries a different and freeing freight, far from the conventional one ascribed to it. The parable is the Good Samaritan, in which a Jew, having fallen in the ditch is passed by by both priest and Levite, and rescued only by the passing Samaritan, the most hated by the Jewish community. Many references to this story have linked the Christ figure to the Samaritan, whereas, the Jesus Seminar generated a very different view. According to one of their members, Professor John Klopperberg, once a professor at St. Michael’s College Seminary at the University of Toronto, the one who comes closest to the “Christ figure” in the parable is the Jew taken for dead in the ditch.

Rather than pontificate the “Christian virtue” of hospitality, rescuing and kind generosity, the Jesus Seminar interpretation emphasizes the vulnerability, the desperation and the need for help, rather than the triumphalism of the rescuer. Not an easy piece of theology to “entice” new recruits to the church, perhaps, but a perspective that, if fully adopted by all Christians, (as examples for others) would reverse the blatant superiority and patronizing attitude that exudes so much of our “caring” for others, both within the church community and, by inference, in the wider world.

David Brooks writes about the concept of humans being social, seeking opportunities to offer help to others, as an innate and compelling human trait. Given the Jesus Seminar’s interpretation, one is prompted to ask, and not merely rhetorically, whether our proclivity for socializing is not better accounted and posited in our shared vulnerability, dependence, need and weakness. Given that we have so sacralised the ‘samaritan’ rather than the ‘Jew taken for dead’, we have in the process (although, admittedly not based solely on this parable) elevated, championed and idolized those whose lives, like that of Mother Theresa and hundreds of others incarnate the ‘messianic’ care-giver.

It is the inverse of what could be attained, if we were all to acknowledge “the light of God within” as our essential truth, operate from that premise, support that premise in every person with whom our lives interact, write and design those pieces of art that depict our walking into that truth, not as some uber-utopia, but as a starting place for a more healthy, and ultimately worthy of support and sustainability in all our thoughts, actions and associations.

Think about the unpacked human potential, that any deity worthy of the name would welcome being released, that could accompany a shift in our perspective from personal, political, cultural and institutional self-sabotage to a perspective in which we have no need to “prove” ourselves to any deity, or to any extrinsic power!

*There have been attempts, citing Matthew Fox as one prominent example, in Original Blessing, to reverse the tide of judgement, punishment and shame.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Wisdom of our Indigenous teacher: Mother Earth Jurisprudence

Tom B.K. Goldtooth* in an interview with Chris Hedges, reported in Hedges’ column in, October 16, 2017, in quoted as saying:

This world is heading towards economic systems that continue to eat up life itself even the heart of workers, and it’s not sustainable. We’re at that point where Mother Earth is crying out for a revolution. Mother Earth is crying out for a new direction. As far as a new regime, we’ll need something based on earth jurisprudence, a new system away from property rights, away from privatization away from financialization of nature away from control over our …DNA, away from control over seeds, away from corporations. It’s a common law with local sovereignty. That’s why it’s important we have a system that recognizes the rights of a healthy and clearwater system, ecosystem. Mother Earth has rights. We need a system that will recognize that Mother Earth is not an object. We have an economic system that treats Mother Earth as if she’s a liquidation issue. We have to change that. That’s not sustainable.

*Tom B.K. Goldtooth is a Native American environmental, climate, and economic justice activist, speaker, film producer and indigenous rights leader.

“A liquidation issue”….as if every natural resource is available to anyone with the money to purchase at the lowest possible price, without regard to replacement and then spew the effluent from whatever process those resources undergo wherever and however is also the cheapest.

Goldtooth has put his finger, his brain, his conscience and his native culture on the target and on the line: our economic systems are eating up life itself. We are collectively, willfully (if completely unconsciously in a drugged state) and compulsively enmeshed in our own demise. It is an exercise of self-sabotage the like of which we have never witnessed in history.

·      The weapons of mass destruction (in our own arsenals and not undetected, unreported or unacknowledged) that can and will wipe civilizations from the planet,
·      merged with the unrestrained, unbridled ambition to acquire nuclear weapons by rogue states
·      linked to the persistent demolition of the clean air, water and land that we all need to survive,
·      linked to the political perversion into personal narcissistic ambition and instant gratification of the politicians and the complete disregard and even contempt for the people and the public good,
·      umbilically linked to an economic system that favours the rich and the powerful at the expense of the ordinary people,
·      linked to a level of detachment, disengagement and a total lack of trust in the system by ordinary people,
·      while the notes of terror, human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and the blatant defiance of the rule of law ring in our heads,
·      while we watch the undermining of all legitimate supports for truth, ethics and a common set of facts that measure our common reality (while the inverse, reality television, plays out on our screen).

And in the midst of such a stew of chaos, the nationalism that was so virulent in the 1930’s and 1940’s, at the heart of World War II, rears its ugly head, aided and abetted by unscrupulous (and elected) people like trump, aided, abetted and enhanced also by a new technology that invades our privacy, robs our credit cards and turns every person on the planet into both surveillance agent and potential criminal.

Epithets like “the rule of law” and a “nation of ideals” and “the land of the free and the brave” have been trashed and replaced by a Darwinian jungle of survival of the richest, the most corrupt and the least accountable. Tribal politics under the “cover” that political parties compete on a level playing field now has morphed into an internecine war of rape and pillage by the rich of the poor. And, without a formal voice at the table of our decision-making, Mother Earth is counted as completely expendable.

Literacy, of the kind that takes words, their meaning on both a literal and a symbolic and metaphoric level is sliding like the glaciers into the rising oceans of self-interest, identity politics and a culture of ‘gimme or I will kill you’….that, on its surface and in its deepest implications is a culture of death (the Greeks called it Thanatos, the will and the desire to die).

It takes all of our best energies, our most fervent prayers, our best brains and our health imaginations, not to mention our most profound hope to begin to conceive of a world that is not set on self-sabotage leading to self-destruction.

Extreme activities that challenge our physical and emotional limits, leading to the edge of death evoke Hemingway’s African hunts, bull-fights and all activities that demand that one pursue life to the edge of death, as if that recipe generates the fullness of one’s life and potential. (Ironically, and paradoxically, Hemingway took his own life, in 1961.) Surely we have moved past such an antedeluvian definition of masculinity and know the many positive impacts of that evolution.

Instead of putting our individual personal pursuit of our physical and our emotional limit, risking death itself, can we begin to redirect this deep reservoir of human potential and energy into something far more life-giving, life-sustaining and honourable legacy generating: providing a healthy and sustainable future for our grandkids?

Technology pretends to “connect” us, merely at such a minimal and fleeting and ethereal level as to author its own irrelevance. Our worship of these devices, as our new and most fascinating altars of worship in a religion that defies all deities, while we put our energies into our self-gratifying resumes, as just more steps on the “adventurous” hike to ‘success’ only to learn that our objectification of our very persons is and will continue to be our undoing.

The subjective is not confined or restricted to our need for baubles, BMW’s, corner offices, multiple degrees, sun-drenched homes and vacations, bigger diamonds and trophies both metallic and spousal. We are limiting our perceptions of our very human identities, by trying to do everything, say everything, buy everything and trumpet everything that we believe will get us the “best reviews” as if our comportment with the “best practices” of customer relations is the limit of our potential.

And while we have been doing this self-defying ritual and liturgy, turning our lives into sycophantic disciplines of the corporate ideology and even the corporate theology, we have filled our cancer wards, our cardiac wards, our bars and drug treatment centres will millions of prematurely dying human beings.

Do we even care?

Certainly, we cannot be uninformed about the damage we are both participating in and being victimized by. The evidence dominates our newscasts, our health reports, our economic forecasts and our research into our shared future.

Will voices like Tom B.K. Goldtooth finally be strident and melodic and rhythmic enough to register on our individual and our shared radar screens?  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Reflections on self-interest

So, okay, we are all motivated, driven and directed by something called self-interest. Some would argue that all of nature is the expression of self-interest. Others would suggest that how we define self interest is a litmus test for our ethical and moral identity. Perhaps our highest ideals too often get immersed in the sea of our self-interest. For, if there is a difference between our ideals, our highest hopes and our best angels ad our self-interest, maybe we have not thoroughly thought through the nuances of our situation.

It says here that to the degree that our highest ideals and our self-interest are perceived/conceived/interpreted as supportive of each other, our light is visible and endangered. Self-interest, in terms of basic survival needs such as food, water, shelter and health, of course, are considered legitimate; that is why they are dubbed “basic”. Our need to learn and to become part of something like a family, a team or even a culture, is also considered legitimate and basic, if more abstract and psychological and emotional. And then there is the need, (and it is also a need, as well as a self-interest) to see the world take care of its weakest, most vulnerable and most in danger. And right now, that need, and that self-interest, has to include the protection of the planet’s health, including the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we grow from the land, and the systems (including the agreements, commitments, promises and collaborations) that offer the hope and the promise that our children and our grandchildren will have a future of which we can be legitimately and humbly proud.

At the same time, we have to recognize that for many people, including too many people in positions of leadership and responsibility, self-interest has come to be more stringently conceived as personal career achievements, salary/income, political/corporate/institutional status, connections and networks, and in general learning how to climb the metaphor and proverbial “ladder” by which others will consider “me” successful. Public discourse, including media coverage, endorses, supports and even enhances the exclusive importance of everything extrinsic…the measureable, the quantifiable, the conventional and the socially and politically recognized and endorsed things for which we teach our children is the fundamental purpose of their education in the broadest sense of that notion.

David Brooks can and does argue eloquently for our preference for joining the “informal” network, as compared with the official organization chart in our workplaces. We all know who are the real, as opposed to the titular, leaders in our workplaces, in our schools, in our hospitals, and also in our governments (although this kind of ‘secret’ is rarely exposed publicly, preventing the endangering of those formal and titular leaders. Nevertheless, our “preference” (innate, individual, unique, lasting and idealistic), if we were to be fully  honest with ourselves and the others in our lives, is for a self-interest that acknowledges, conceives, and aspires to the intrinsic aspects of our shared lives. “Achievements” that cannot be purchased, awarded, achieved through promotion, strategized, and verifiable through some form of empirical measurement device, even, and perhaps especially, the measurement device known as public opinion.

Of course, it is important that young people be introduced to the notion of finding their respective place among their peers, with respect to specific skill development. Whether they swim, run, jump, join basketball, volleyball, hockey, soccer or tennis teams, they will learn the specific training and agility skills deemed important for their participation, at whatever level they choose. Meeting their peers from other towns and cities, too, will enhance and round out their internal ‘view’ of who they are, as well as how they fit into their respective skill level.

And who they are, that intrinsic, inestimable, perhaps even ethereal and spiritual dimension is the one everyone hopes is and will remain the most significant in each child’s development. Not which church s/he will attend, nor which language s/he will speak, nor which sport s/he will master, nor which corporate “position” s/he will hold….nor which profession s/he will enter. It is not that each of these identifiers matter not at all; it is that they will never fully define one’s identity, one’s highest aspirations, or ideals or one’s potential.

Back to self-interest, in the light of one’s “achievements”….Of course, there is a significant impact on one’s sense of one’s self, one’s self-confidence, one’s sense of limits and one’s potential that accompanies one’s “formal” achievements. However, there is also a potential seduction that entraps one when “achievements” dominate one’s identity. Performance, often called “the human doing” is an intimate component of our human person. It is not, however, the fullness of our humanity. And, while we are busying ourselves thinking and believing that we are attending to our “self-interest”, we are really competing for the attention of others, competing with others for a limited and finite extrinsic reward and squandering time much better “spent” on our internal, intrinsic, spiritual, affective, and psychological well-being.

The game in which we are all engaged to a greater or lesser extent, is a classic example of blind, myopic hubris, dedicated to a short-term, narcissistic, personal and ultimately unattainable quest.

If and when we come to our senses, coming to the shared  responsibility for our survival, our planet, our fellow humans, the fellow creatures whose lives we are plundering mostly for hubris and greed and just as important a matter of self-interest and getting that new promotion and that corner office, or being recognized by that professional institute, or that publication, or that academic department, or that Supreme Court Justice.

Part of our dilemma, and our myopia is our enmeshment in a time frame that extends just about into the next minute, or day, or perhaps week…and not into the next century, when, of course, none of us will be here. We are so infatuated by our personal accomplishments, our personal daily goals and tasks, our immediate responses to our relationships and our immediate attention to the next birthday gift in our family. Defining ourselves, obsessively as “busy,” “dutiful,” “responsible,” “mature,” as demonstrated in our exemplary performance of those daily/hourly/monthly tasks that fill our calendars, while purportedly leaving those “big” issues to others to solve, (academics, politicians, financiers, journalists and public relations professionals) is one of the contributing factors that have led us into the mess in which North America finds itself.

We cannot and must not leave it to the diplomats to act as our agents in extending the boundaries of self-interest in their negotiations with other countries. We have to start with the personal, private and sustainable extension of our own self-interest to include every creature on the planet, and to include all of those natural resources that are essential for a healthy life. The dramatic and epic restriction of our concept/definition of self-interest is one of the primary blinders on our imaginations, on our ethical and moral compass, on our capacity to enter and to sustain healthy relationships, on our willingness to resist the highly sophisticated bullying and patronizing that comes out of every single one of our mouths, pens, laptops and phones.

Watching House of Cards, for the first time last night, I was appalled, because of my septaguinarian naivety, to watch a young reporter invite the Kevin Spacey character to have sex, in order to cobble the precise vote numbers on an environmental bill before Congress. And then, looking down into the camera, he proudly and sardonically asserts “she never meant anything to me” about the woman in question. She claims she had to do it to get the precise number on the vote, (presumably to meet some deadline in competition with a hoard of reporters pursuing the same data piece.

In “Grey’s Anatomy, a middle aged female doctor meets an old colleague, who wonders out loud in front of her current spouse, if her child is “his”….to the chagrin of the current spouse. When he presses her to stop this routine, she retorts, “I have seen many penises that were not yours and I like what this (teasing) does to you.”

Call me an innocent who is unable and unwilling to find these exchanges “normal” or “acceptable” not so much from a sexual (pornographic or power) perspective as they are from the perspective of the concept of self-interest.

In the first case, the reporter’s self-interest is defined so narrowly as to enmesh her person and her sexuality with the pursuit of a mere number, in order to further her journalist career. Spacey, of course, is demonstrably limiting his self-interest to demonstrating his macho-testosterone-driven “I do it because I can” dominance. (Have we heard this explanation as justification before recently?) In the second case, (Grey’s Anatomy) the female doctor is playing a blatant power trip on her current spouse, by using her former relationship as the club. Far from jocular teasing, this exhibits a degree of intoxicated and narcissitic self interest that takes great pleasure in the discomfort of her current partner. (It would be the last conversation I would have with her, if I were in his shoes!)

Self-interest, when defined in such narrow and brutal and demeaning parameters is little more than selfishness, perhaps having a tinge of the dramatic, but a dramatic palette that is devoid of a rainbow of colours, on the part of the writers, the actors and the audience. It is the poverty of fearing the extension of self-interest that is currently plaguing the trump administration and thereby endangering the American people if not also the planet.

By decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, in the face of strong evidence that Iran is in compliance, corroborated by the other signatories to the agreement, trump is incarnating such a narrow, myopic and hubristic/narcissitic definition of self-interest, presumably in order to polish his personal reputation as a ‘historic figure in American history. By gutting both Obamacare and NAFTA, arguing "self-interest" when really it is making his indelible and indefatigable mark on history, he is demonstrating again his looking down the telescope backwards to the most narrow definition of self-interest imaginable. When one’s reputation is the defining feature of one’s concept of self-interest, the rest of the world is, by definition, excluded, patronized, relegated to a colonial, second-class status. And this kind of abuse of power always brings about its own demise.

When self-interest is exclusive of the interests of the “other” whether that other is a partner, a colleague, a client, a supplier, even an enemy, there is only tragedy that comes from that exclusion. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago’s self-interest was in getting revenge against his boss for failing to appoint him lieutenant. And ultimately, his deceit was unravelled by his spouse. In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman’s notion of self-interest had so devolved into a passing recognition by the “mayor” to demonstrate his importance in a vacuous social status scale.

trump’s self-interest is blocked by his own insatiable, yet hollow, ego that demands massaging every moment of every day by everyone within earshot. There is clearly no “other” in his “scope” so blinded by his own importance are his eyes, his ears, and his inflated yet hollow image of himself. The only “other” that matters is an enemy, examples of which he searches for and purports to find minute by minute, regardless of the truth and validity of his assessment.

In the White House, this is highly dangerous. Outside, the example of the “leader of the free world” adoption of this short-sighted, narcissitic definition of self-interest cripples any and all potential attempts at co-operation, collaboration, collegiality, compromise, and resolution of any potential conflict. It is the kind of attitude, and behaviour that characterizes a two-year-old whose whole world revolves around his person. However, in his case, he is seeing and hearing and grasping and discovering new things every moment of every day, and eventually he grows out of this “stage”.

The example being offered to young people, to aspiring graduates and even to the twenty-somethings who are trying to start a career, from this president is dangerous in the immediate term, but also in the longer term, as it legitimizes this kind of self-interest, masked as “national interest” and supported by others so blind in their hubristic anger and contempt for the “other” that they are willing to risk it all betting on this imposter.
We are already witnessing the spike in opioid deaths on both sides of the 49th parallel, perhaps in general as expressions of hopelessness in the face of the duplicity, the outright shirking of responsibility the failure to attend to the broader interests of the public good by so many in public life. If our public “actors” and models of leadership and moral example default on their definition of self-interest and their way of modelling that behaviour, can we expect anything less than hordes of young people emulating their example.

Unfortunately, for the world, trump is cemented into this stage in a kind of mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual sarcophagus of his own making. Living in both the world of the living and the world of the dead, however, is outside the bounds of reality, except the reality of his own mind.

Is this another extension of the proverb “children raising children” gone to its wildest length? If it is, permissive parenting, the current vogue, will be inadequate to bring the denoument we seek.