Saturday, November 25, 2017

Men bringing more shame on men....where is the light of healing and reconciliation?

The current tidal wave of news reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour of many prominent men cannot be anything but disturbing to both men and women. It clearly represents a watershed moment in the conflict between the genders, demonstrating that women will no longer be silent and complicit in their own debasement by men.

And their debasement is both a disease by itself and a symptom of a much larger and more ubiquitous abuse of power that abounds in contemporary culture. It is a cliché to note that each of us has become, wittingly or not, a “thing” in the lives of our employers, our teachers, our doctors, lawyers and especially our “suppliers”. We have morphed individual human lives to fit a model of a mini-corporation, a business apparatus or machine that seeks to function in the service of its own best interests. We have so micro-defined behaviour into observable and reportable bytes, bites, digits and sound bites that have become bullets in a scorched-earth game of war between political actors, corporations, professional practitioners, hospitals, universities, colleges, churches, families and undoubtedly individuals cannot escape.

Demographic interest groups have lobbied for decades to seek and attain the attention of the political class, in an overt and determined initiative to gain political clout, a voice for what they considered their own impotence. And that impotence, they believed was neither deserved nor of their own making; it was imposed by a built-in power structure that has been centuries in the making. And one of the most powerful and growing “interest” group is the women’s movement, feminism, radical feminism, moderate feminism.

Perceived as the victim of male dominance, the feminist movement has undergone the normal iterations, starting in the 70’s with writers like Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch. From the beginning of the feminist movement, men have been on the defensive, in a way and to a degree that was neither visible nor accountable previously.  Various faces of feminism have variously wanted to “despise” men, to “tolerate” men, to “patronize” men, and some even wanted to “work with” men as partners toward the goal of male-female equality and equilibrium.

Raising the consciousness of the establishment culture (dominated by male leaders and acolytes for centuries) was only the first goal of the movement. Changing behaviour, attitudes, and numbers of pay and positions of leadership and responsibility was also deeply embedded into the “cake” of the ideology. Equal pay for equal work, membership on corporate boards, and in the executive suites, leadership in colleges, universities, high and elementary schools, and in political and governmental offices, enrollment in graduate schools, maternity leave, parental leave, and even paternity leave, and the human right of access to an education, to quality and affordable health care, access to affordable day care and pre-school…..these are just some of the goals, and attainments of the feminist movement.

While some of these worthy goals have been at least partially attained, there remain many significant gaps, especially the equal pay for equal work, since evidencing a 25% gap, while women fall far short of filling top jobs in major corporations, and in filling politically elected positions, in many western countries.

Knowing that two already established “hot buttons” on the political radar of a prurient nation like the United States are sex and money, strategists for the feminist movement picked the more obvious “nuclear option”…the historic abuse of women’s bodies by men who neither respect themselves nor their female colleagues.

You may be surprised to read that last sentence, pointing to the lack of self-respect of male abusers. Yet, after all, the abuse of power, whether of a sexual nature, a law enforcement nature, a geopolitical or a spiritual nature is almost invariably the impetus of a neurosis, sometimes in extreme cases, of a psychosis, regardless of whether the abuse is inflicted by a man or a woman. Our culture has a difficult time, generally, differentiating between obedience and respect on the one hand and sycophancy, defiance, rebellion and violence on the other. The former comes from a relatively secure individual, conscious of his/her strengths, weaknesses and comfortable in his/her own skin. The latter, whether extremes of servility or defiance, comes from a less than secure individual, perhaps self-loathing, perhaps believing others’ put-downs of value, perhaps falling into the victim trap so prevalent in situations in which the people in power are themselves lacking in self-respect. Those people in power could be parents, teachers, principals, coaches, clergy, doctors and care-givers and how they interact with their charges goes a long way to laying the groundwork of a sense of self that develops through childhood and adolescence.

None of this background excuses any abuse of power, including the abuse of power by men over women’s bodies and wills. Womens’ too often silenced voices of protest have been a repeating pattern in this abuse for decades, perhaps even centuries. Let’s be honest! We are a long way from developing a “freeway” of easy, honest, open, equal and free conversation between men and women. And unless and until that freeway is opened, nurtured, sustained and updated by each succeeding generation, we will travel the back-roads of washboards, ditches, icy patches and outright lethal collisions.

We are currently in the midst of a cultural collision for which there are no formal and appointed detectives or lawyers or judges assigned to the case. It is the court of public opinion that is “hearing” these cases, and the presumed innocence that pertains in the legal system is no longer tolerated.

There is no reason to justify the abuse of a woman by any man, and, as some very old popular songs once intoned, men frequently asked “permission” to hold, touch, kiss and variously ‘romance’ a member of the opposite gender. Whether men lack the language or the patience, or the respect (for both themselves and the woman) to engage their female partners in any physical (or emotional or psychological) shared encounter, there is a long journey ahead, to be able to see a world on the horizon in which men and women are no longer in a competitive and conflicted tension for sexual favours.

However, the current cultural landscape idealizes and idolizes “power” and the “abuse of power”. Tabloid headlines, tabloid reporting, tabloid social media  attitudes and personal attacks supplemented by an entertainment industry on violence and sexual steroids saturate our public discourse and culture. In this moment, we have a confluence of microphones for violence, and a history of repressed resentment, anger and contempt for the millions of incidents of sexual injustice linked to a political climate in which personal character is the single defining issue of the day. Policy, legislation, foreign policy, negotiations, treaties, agreements and the ‘stuff’ of public discourse have all been swept off the public consciousness, to be replaced by the obsessive-compulsive attraction to “sex”….not only as a marketing instrument, and a titillation of the entertainment industry, and a billion-dollar industry in itself, but now as a tidal wave of political and legal import easily and relevantly comparable to a recession, a depression or even another military engagement.

It is not possible to turn on any television channel, especially the 24-7 new-channels on cable, without confronting the names of accusers and the targets of their accusations in multiple sexual “assaults”. And while attempting to “right the wrongs” of centuries of male dominance in both domestic and public affairs, and to “level the playing field of male-female relationships” with a view to the achievement of equality, equanimity and justice is a laudable goal, the current narrative of our public discourse is clearly not going to accomplish that worthy goal.

In fact, the current massive “bombing” of the airwaves, the courts and the tabloids with the names of prominent men who have wantonly and irresponsibly abused women, supported by teams of victims will invoke one of the most blunt instruments of human design, the legal system. The court of public opinion, too, is not interested in the nuances, the complexities and the details of the offences. So on both fronts, the legal court system and the court of public opinion, all of the male names are now presumed guilty, with no chance of either defending themselves or bringing clarity to one of the most complex interactions on  the human landscape.

Just as divorce settlements have come to a ‘no fault’ precipitate, after years of throwing blame from one side to the other, there will have to be a similar “precipitate” in the battle to deal with sexual offences. Such a position, of course, will be intolerable for those who consider themselves victims. And for those men currently under a cloud of contempt, embarrassment and quite literal degradation of reputation, there may not be either the public appetite for a responsible path toward redemption, reconciliation and healing. Some will argue that all men under such a cloud deserve the most nuclear punishment available. Others will argue that a different approach, in the long run, will generate a conversation, a full airing of the complexities of the many hidden and ‘private’ details that are neither worthy of public disclosure nor are they likely to generate a more equitable and healthy gender playing field.

Their women accusers, whose “public statements” generate 72-point headlines in the tabloid and mainstream media, will always find another Gloria Aldred to defend them, behind the microphones and in the court rooms. And those who have accepted the public apology from their abusers, will be grouped among all other accusers, without having the opportunity to seek dialogue and reconciliation.

This needed step is never going to be achieved in the current climate. While attempting to “right the wrongs” of centuries of male dominance in both domestic and public affairs, and to “level the playing field of male-female relationships” with a view to the achievement of equality, equanimity and justice is a laudable goal shared by a preponderance of reasonable self-respecting men and women, the current narrative of our public discourse is clearly not going to accomplish that worthy goal.

Shame is the cloud that hangs over the lives, the bodies, the minds and the hearts of millions of young boys and young men, as they wander through a labyrinth of conflicted messages exhorting them to be “strong,” “like a man,” and also vulnerable and sensitive. There are few mentors among their fathers, coaches and teachers who can or will demonstrate a discernment and practice of healthy, evolved and sensitive, self-confident masculinity. And the process of raising the curtain on the many entangling myths that have ensnared generations of men for centuries, and shedding light on a robust and confident and self-respecting masculinity (the very opposite of the kind currently occupying the Oval Office) will take decades, if not centuries. These are not noted as excuses for inappropriate behaviour and attitudes. They are merely a brief snapshot of some of the foundational stones that men will have to acknowledge and begin to shed. And they will need all the help they can get from their female family members, friends, lovers, partners and colleagues.

Meanwhile the current river of shame will engulf the lives and the careers of perhaps hundreds or thousands or perhaps even millions of men, with the potential risk of driving the prospect of reconciliation, healing, equality and equanimity further into the caves of the unconscious.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Glimpsing Chomsky’s kaleidoscopic exposure of American ‘foreign policy’

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
And the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
(From The Man Watching, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, p. 298)

There is a real danger that the contemporary world, especially the people of the United States could fall into the trap of thinking that the world has been brought to the brink of war solely by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Bellicose rhetoric, lies, character assassination, and a general deportment of bravado and blaming may characterize the current president’s record. And yet, the country’s resort to an attitude of dominance, superiority, and a determination to use each situation as another step on the predictable and determined path of sustaining that dominance certainly did not start with the election of 2016.

Writing in the New Republic in 1977, Hans Morganthau points out, “the concentrations of private power which have actually governed America since the Civil War have withstood all attempts to control, let alone dissolve them (and) have preserved their hold upon the levers of political decision.” (Noam Chomsky, Foreign Policy and the Intelligentsia, The Essential Chomsky, p.166) “Private power” is a direct reference to the hold on public decision-making by those with the money, the status and the concomitant “power” to call the shots in a manner that serves their private interests.
Chomsky then proceeds to document the attitudes and vision of the Council on Foreign Relations’ War and Peace Project in the early 1940’s. Proposing a “Grand Area” dominated by the U.S. One paper reads, (The United States) must cultivate a mental view toward world settlement after this war which will enable us to impose our own terms, amounting perhaps to a pax-Americana. Also, in 1944,  the State Department espouses (and exposes) the view and guiding principle of  equal access to oil for American companies, but not others (Ibid, p. 171)

And then there is the question of the persistent resort to military power in the pursuit of  the national interest, successfully in World War II and shortly thereafter in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and then Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally, there has been a ‘moral purpose’ to all conflicts, as if the nation were the agent of some deity, pursuing peace, justice, (and dominance) if and when any perceived provocation triggered its paranoia and the pursuit of its world dominance. Couching military actions under such evaluations as “stupid and accidental” when losses are incurred, without paying adequate attention to the savagery that was really going on, is just another way for the ‘establishment’ to preserve their hold on power by seducing the media and the public into support for their exaggerated and even lawless actions.

A report from the USAF (United States Air Force) details a series of targeted strikes in May 1953 at some twenty irrigation dams that furnished 75% of the water supply for North Korea’s rice production while wiping out supply lines to the North’s front lines. The report continues: The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple food commodity has for the Asian—starvation and slow death. ‘Rice famine,’for centuries the chronic scourge of the Orient, is more feared than the deadliest plague. Hence the show of rage, the flare of violent tempers, and the avowed threats of reprisals when bombs fell on five irrigation dams.” (Chomsky, Ibid, p. 185-86)
Does anyone think or believe that the current regime in North Korea is unfamiliar with this story, and others like it?

And it is not only the inhumane actions of the U.S. that need light shed into their dark corners. It is also the contravention of international rules, like Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. (Of course, the UN has throughout its history been regarded as an arm of United States foreign policy, by the Americans.) Article 51 assumes that the U.S. is engaged in collective self-defense against an armed attack from North Vietnam. However, the facts were discovered to be very different from the original estimate of danger. Quoting Chester Cooper, from The Lost Crusade, Chomsky (p. 127) writes:

Communist strength had increased substantially during the first few months of 1965. By the end of April it was believed that 100,000 VietCong irregulars and between 38,000 and 436,000 main-force troops, including a full battalion of regular North Vietnamese troops, were in South Vietnam. Meanwhile American combat forces were moving into South Vietnam at a rapid rate: in late April more than 35, 000 American troops had been deployed and by early May the number had increased to 45,000.

 Cutting through the “propaganda,” Chomsky notes: The single North Vietnamese battalion of 400 to 500 men was tentatively identified in late April. (Ibid)
And then there are the well-documented instances of bombing the Vietnamese with “agent orange,” a killer weapon if ever there was one, perhaps a prelude to the Weapons of Mass Destruction of which must was made in the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003.

Oh, Iraq you say, just another case of  a sophisticated campaign of misinformation, misleading both the American public and the world’s public interest, into another military conflict, based on tenuous claims at best, and at worst, outright lies? Well, yes, and yet, the pattern persists of exaggerating the danger, for the purpose of “imposing a dominant and irrepressible and insatiable political will on perceived enemies, in the name of doing good, persists into this century, without either abatement or the kind of restraint for which Obama was excoriated for “leading from behind”.

The establishment, in its self-righteous pursuit of its own self-interest, armed with the power of the bomb, the drones, the chemical labs and the Congress, not to mention the sycophant media, and the silent and thereby compliant-by-default intellectual community, rides roughshod over all “other” “extraneous” interests, like the public will and public interest, in the pursuit of ‘national goals’ that are really the needs of the corporatist state: power, profit, control, dominance.

Especially now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, and only the beginning of the rise of China and India, the United States is in the unenviable position of the only world super power, a status that evokes, among Americans, strong arguments for enhancing the hard power, the nation’s economic might and the retrenchment from from global interests and issues. And yet, parochialism, provincialism, deceptions, lies and savagery of both word and deed... all of it is based on a deep and profound residue of paranoia. This paranoia is based first of all on an incipient revolutionary act of a few thousand troops, supplemented copiously by French troops, and then on a deep and profound need to maintain superior status and power inside the country by the elite, followed by a global vision of dominance, in economics and only secondarily in politics, and the obsessive-compulsive clinging onto the elite legacy by succeeding generations.

Proud of its exceptionalism, without paying attention to the underside of that “papier-mâché” maturity of self-contentment and well-being, the United States is in danger of being hoisted on its own petard. And while trump may be the current actor on the American stage, he inherits a long legacy of intemperate, indecent, savage, lawless and destructive ‘norms’ that have been permitted, enhanced and aggrandized both by overt actions and policies, and by the inert blindness of denial and a refusal to invoke a “reality check” on national attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.

Ostracising voices “crying in the wilderness” like Noam Chomsky, and others who, like him, refuse to be silenced, or to be excommunicated from the national and the international debate, however, will never keep the truth from poking its sometimes ugly head through the asphalt of national hubris. It is not surprising that thinkers and writers like Chomsky are frequently invited to address public issues by the media and academia in countries other than the United States but rarely if even by those sectors of American political culture.

Apparently, the old axiom that one cannot be a prophet in one’s own town, or nation still holds firm.

David Letterman wins Twain Prize for humour

In the midst of one the most turbulent and horrific periods on the American political landscape, there was Dave Letterman receiving the Mark Twain prize for humour at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.. And after he had paid homage to those who celebrated his 33-year television career as a host of Late Night, asking rhetorically if the prize could not be presented posthumously, he ended with a Twain quote on patriotism:

For Twain patriotism meant loving your country all of the time, and your government when it deserved it.

Such a nuanced and clarifying moment, in the midst of the political chaos that is contemporary Washington, serves as an fitting tribute to the man who served up a cocktail of interesting interviews, comedic moments and a health dose of reality checking each week-day night.

Having watched probably hundreds of hours of “Letterman” I could not be surprised by whatever mayhem spilled out of the television screen. For me, Letterman was “appointment” television, after the debacle over the sunset of the Johnny Carson show which was purportedly going to pass to Letterman, yet went, strangely, to Leno.

As the President of the Kennedy Center, Mr. David Rubenstein noted in his presentation address, Dave was both “class clown” and “valedictorian”. And it was that capacity to bridge the divide that exists in every high school graduating class in Canada and the United States, always able to laugh at himself, and never forgetting his roots, including his spotty academic record, until he enrolled in public speaking and later spent time on the radio station at Ball State. Both experiences (where there were no maths or languages) gave a podium and a microphone for one of the more memorable icons in American entertainment.

Having been “helped” by many, and taking the opportunity to acknowledge their significant contribution to his career, he reminded this audience, through PBS, of the benefits of helping others, an act after which one will always feel better.
For all of the pomp and intellectual complexity of much of the public debate and the policy analysis of an era in which the “expert” has become ‘god,’ Letterman reminds us that real ordinary people with courageous and independent values really matter, especially when those values are served on a menu of variety and interesting people from a multitude of walks of life.

Noam Chomsky in The Essential Chomsky, too, reminds us of the importance of the “value-oriented critic” of foreign policy. The “experts” in foreign policy will always disdain the “generalist” because his/her analysis is missing the details of the narrative, that always “make any issue more complicated” than the generalist perceives and posits. However, Chomsky assertively pays homage to those generalists among us. (Chomsky himself is an academic linguist with a deep and penetration intellect, who from his lair at MIT has been shifting wheat from chaff in public utterances by public figures for decades.) The fact that all of the miniscule details of any issue are not included in the generalist’s assessment of any political situation does not, and for Chomsky must not, make his critique any less valid.

Letterman’s most recent ‘gig’ involves a new contract with Netflix for $15 million, to host some modest number of shows. And it was Marty Short, the comedian from Hamilton Ontario, Canada, who, in separating Letterman from Twain, used two words, “Netflix sellout,” in what has to be the most prescient and penetration satire of the evening.

Dressed in Elizabethan garb, former recipient of the Twain prize, Bill Murray welcomed Letterman into the “king”-dom of winners, while munching on food he ordered as part of his schtick. Paul Schaffer, Letterman’s orchestra leader for all of those decades, in his comparison of Twain to Letterman, “I actually was invited to Twain’s house.” The reference is to the total and utter privacy Letterman has sought and secured in his private life, although both his renowned son Harry, and his wife were seated beside him. And there was a brief, but memorable appearance by Letterman’s Columbia University Psychiatrist, “shrink”…who repeated the comic’s litany of self-deprecating whining and “pity-party” utterances from his sessions, and then wondered abruptly, “How do I get out of here?

Sardonically, when Letterman appeared to accept his prize to a standing ovation, he quipped, “Oh right, a standing ovation on PBS!” a spontaneous quip about his checkered history with television networks, with PBS having the smallest audience.
Humbly and accurately comparing himself to his renowned benefactor, in whose name the award has been presented for twenty years, Letterman noted the many writings of Twain, compared with none by himself, and also underlined how each of the guests this night are “far funnier that I”.

The “Moses” beard and balding white hair documented the sunset years of the man whose untameable personal angst “Shadowed” his public performance and persona, giving all others the hope and the promise that if he could do what he did for decades, successfully, there is hope for all of us, no matter how self-doubting we really are.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Letterman, and to the Kennedy Centre, thanks also for once again recognizing the important glue and paste that attempts, often without recognition or even notice, to hold a culture back from violent rupture.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reflections on boundaries: 'givers must set them, takers never do.'

George Orwell tells us that all literature is political.

Well, today, it seems that every act by an individual human is also political. We are documented, photographed, scrutinized, dissected, analysed, interpreted, re-interpreted and effectively atomized by others, each with a view to “using” the evidence to support or refute some point of view. We have, effectively, become a digit in the global war of ideas, ideologies, dogmas, biases and conflicts. And how and if we set boundaries has a great deal to do with the cumulative impact of the shifting balance of power in our towns and cities, and also our nations and in the geopolitical seas.

And there is little dispute that individual boundaries have taken on an importance that no previous generation has even contemplated. Do we permit our signatures to appear on line? Do we permit our photos, whether we were aware they were even being taken, to be uploaded onto social media? Do we permit others, passersby, to take pictures of us wherever and whenever they choose? Do we even have a choice in some of these options, given than everyone has a camera, everyone has become a ‘shutterbug’ and the level of discernment and judgement about how to treat others has fallen off the charts of what only a decade ago was considered decency, respect and privacy.

Decades ago, as Margaret Atwood was rising in public awareness and exposure, as a phenom writer, she declared that she was becoming a ‘thing’. Today, we are all, on a much lower level, become a thing in the world of public perception and judgement. A single act, recorded with or without our awareness or permission, can and often does become another bullet in the “assault rifle” of whoever has a grudge and seeks to act it out. Some bullets are “paintballs” destroying reputations; others are “rubber” bullets, that inflict pain without serious injury; others, in the deployment of the unscrupulous, (and who is not free from being unscrupulous when seriously offended?) quite literally condemn. And all of these “shots” are fired with impunity, sometimes anonymously and certainly without recourse to appeal.

New digital technology, for example, has unleashed the most venal and base human venom, seemingly without a “training” period, without a modelling exposure, and certainly without adequate and rapidly evolving legal protection for the victims. In some ways the internet has become a sewer of human hate, violence without responsibility and shifts in the rising and falling tides of human attitudes, manipulated by the most unscrupulous, the most self-serving, and the most opportunistic among us. It has also become a willing, if somewhat unthinking participant, criminal activity that, heretofore, had to be inflicted directly, person to person. Now that activity is committed on the unknowing and the unaware by those with the least to lose, the most to gain and those with the secrecy and impunity that criminals have dreamed of for centuries.
Coarse language in the political arena has become the norm, not the exception. Personal attacks, including wanton disregard for the privacy and the safety of others, have risen exponentially. “Locker room” or “bar room” talk has been exposed and normalized (by the negligents like trump), and we are fed a daily diet of secrets dug from the closets of too many celebrities. At the same time, only 72-point accusatory headlines are actually heard, eliminating all need for specific details, nuances, subtleties and corroboration from public discourse, unless and until the matter goes before a court of justice. The ‘court of public opinion’ tolerates no subtleties, nuances and contexts. We have neither the time nor the patience.

Parallel to this rise in both extremes, judgement and revenge, is the drop in the kind of literacy that depends on the creative imagination, both to generate and more importantly to interpret and to assimilate the fullness of meaning. We have, collectively and collaborative, as well as tragically, succumbed to the reductionism of a bi-polar culture, declared by George W. Bush, “Either you are with us or you are against us!” That simplistic dichotomy (“I do not do nuance!”) is itself a form of self-and public deception. No reality can be reduced to an “either-or” positing everyone as “friend” or “enemy” depending on the issue. We have drained all the ‘gas’ from the shock-absorbers of our persons, our families, our towns and cities, and woefully our geopolitical discourse.

It is as if we have declared a new kind of “war” without having to deploy the lethal weapons so treasured in the last century. And the subtleties of the truth, the complicated evidence, both empirical and motivational, and the patience required to absorb and comprehend the fullness of our own reality, and that of others have been left behind in the ditch, as we rush to our next thrilling headline and political orgasm.

Never have boundaries, both personal and civic, been more essential.
And in that light, I refuse to upload a Facebook page.
I reject all the invitations to join twitter.
I have never even searched snapchat.
The menu of other more esoteric digital options remain outside my purview
While, years ago, I did upload a linkedIN page, I have not referenced it in years.
I refuse to purchase a local daily newspaper, infused as it is with stories of personal criminal activity, in the accusatory phase, rarely in the adjudication phase.
I refuse to watch Fox ANYTHING.
I refuse to watch entertainment that depicts violence for its own sake, or criminal activity that elevates the criminal “element” to the heroic.
And it is not only about internet access that boundaries are needed.
I had to reject invitations and urgings to join a bureaucratic hierarchy, sensing some potential smothering of responsibilities and duties that demanded a level of sycophancy (political correctness) that seemed incompatible with who I am.
I also turned down job offers based on hollow promises and seductive sales pitches that were blatantly self-serving on the part of the person offering.
Surprisingly, I also turned my back on attractive pitches for relationship based on travel ‘baubles’ and personal ambition that could not and did not mask a need for a degree of personal control that would hobble the strongest and most disciplined character.

On the other hand, I have failed to perceive the dangers and the threats of relationships based on bottomless needs, a seriously injured sense of self, both mine and another’s, and the dangers of rationalized and frightened judgements and decisions made for personal career “ethics” that were really a dismissal, without adequate evidence, for political convenience and career advancement.

I have also failed to perceive the difference between “withdrawal” without options and remaining in difficult situations while seeking and finding new options and supporting agents. My father’s dubbing me “the loon” of the family is engraved in memory, as the one who dives for extended periods of time beneath the surface (from association with others into deep privacy) and returns unpredictably for short periods.

Those who offer criticism, without understanding the fullness of any situation, I find less tolerable (I am less tolerant of) than those who listen to authentic contexts, legitimate depiction of the whole situation and demonstrate an awareness of the complexities of the situation about which they are disturbed. People who shake hands with their “elbows” in an act of aggression and a signal shouting “beware” offend, by their physical presentation, putting their verbal and smiling greeting in jeopardy. Those whose pasted-on smile and insincere expressions, almost involuntarily, I find I have nudged into a category of “detachment” and disinterest. Unfortunately, the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ aphorism often gives way to an intuitive interpretation of previous experiences that include a hint of danger, a scent of insincerity and inauthenticity. Showing up, in a manner that requires no scepticism or doubt, is a sign of incipient trust and a desire to follow up with that person. Conversely, not showing up, after accounting for a natural shyness, is evocative of withdrawal as if there might be reason for only mild interest.

Perhaps these ‘colorations’ of a perceptive lens of others emerge from decades of living in a family of origin in which uncertainty and unpredictability were the norm, supplemented unpredictably with short periods of unctuous generosity and warmth. What to trust and consider normative, in my experience, as opposed to what to be wary about, is “baked into the cake” of my identity. I did not ask for this imprint; I did not even know it was happening. No one specifically targeted me with these markings; they merely accumulated through multiple associations developing patterns of authenticity/insincerity, and calmness/violence and penuriousness/altruism. And much of these patterns became clear, almost like a turning of the kaleidoscope into a new consciousness, when a supervisor/trainer in pastoral counselling said these words: “The world can be divided into two groups: givers and takers.” As if a new drum had been struck, a new light turned on, and an arresting singing voice had intoned the words, I had what is commonly referred to as an “aha” moment.

Having been adjudged as “generous to a fault” and “dishing out soul food” and “too close to the students” by professional colleagues, whose observations were taken at the time as less than kind, I had an intuitive sense that I belonged to the “giver” category, more than to the “taker” category.

It was the next step, discovered considerably later than this “aha” moment that has freight here. The question of boundaries has a special application to the giver/taker comparison. Personal boundaries, especially for the ‘giver’s among us, contains an important truth. As one cliché has it, ‘givers need to set boundaries; takers never do’! And when ‘takers’ become leaders (as is too often the case) it is the body politic who must ‘set boundaries’….and that “must” takes on greater significance and meaning when takers attempt to govern.

If, for example, one lives a life during which one merely “purchases” obedience, compliance and sycophancy, one is unschooled in the existence and the importance of boundaries, whether those boundaries are the “fences that make good neighbours”, or the school ‘rules’ that govern classroom behaviour (no gum, no vulgarity, no cheating, no truancy), or the rules of the road (red lights, speed signs, stop signs, turn signals). Crossing minor boundaries, of course, is a sign of a need for control, a fear of losing that control, and an indication that “others” as represented by the respect for the common rules that re designed for the protection of all just don’t matter.

And while there is a thrill in rebellion, known by most adolescents, whose rebellion is “without a cause”, when that adolescence and that presumed arrogance and insouciance of the adolescent characterizes a leader (and by extension) a nation, the nation has effectively stalled in an undeveloped state. Maturity, whether of a person or a nation is in part attained when the need for boundaries trumps the impulse to rebel.

And the discernment of that moral, intellectual, social, psychological, political and even spiritual dominant/recessive value is one of the most significant signs of maturity in any potential leader. By extension also, it is a sign of the maturity of the people who comprise the nation’s electorate.

Never mind the subtleties of policy difference about who should pay more/less tax, or whether coal or renewable energy is ascendant, or even compatible, or whether the nuclear arsenal needs embellishment or reduction….the question of a leader and a nation’s “moral compass” as manifest through the values and the attitudes of its leadership and the people who bow to that leadership is trust-worthy, honourable, trained on the pursuit of justice, fairness, equality and dignity of every human being over-rides those policy differences and divisions.

And right now the United States is in the darkest hours of a narcisstic self-indulgence, as epitomized by its leader, so dark in fact that it risks falling into the proverbial river of its own Shadow, just as the narrative of the Greek myth reminds us.

Boundaries, for example, between the intelligence and national security arms of the federal government and the political leadership have simply dissipated. The Director of the F.B.I. has been fired. The Director of the C.I.A. has been ordered to meet with a conspiracy theorist who debunks the “Russia-collusion” case. The Attorney General has lied under oath about his ‘knowledge’ of the Russian connection to the presidential campaign of his president. The fourth-ranking member of the Department of Justice  Dana Bente, has been fired, nearly co-incident with the filing of indictments against Manafort and his acolyte. The president complains bitterly and publicly that he does not have complete control of the Justice Department. Some sycophants in Congress are publicly pursuing legislation that would impale Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in limbo, if not on the political ash heap.

The charade at the heart of the American constitution is the “separation of Church and State” as a consequence of the original settlers in the new America dramatically throwing off their previous experience in England where church and state are “siamesed” in both ideology and methodology. However, as we all know, there is really no truly effective method to extricate matters of the spirit/faith from matters of the state when it comes to writing and passing laws that impact individual lives. Whatever a legislator’s church’s “position” on many issues, especially those around sexuality and family planning, will likely be the position taken by the legislator. And, that is precisely how that legislator is going to vote. So at the heart of the American experience is a flagrant enmeshment of church and state. However, in most other matters, the American penchant for writing everything into law has resulted in specific rules and practices of separation of certain state functions from the political realm and the actors therein.

A notable example is the primacy of the public, though elected representatives, over the Pentagon and those who serve. The irony and historic paradox of three or four military generals at the centre of the presidential administration is, for some, a ballast of reason and moderation, and for others a historic shift of some considerable proportion. Some have even speculated and written that “three generals may be keeping us out of military conflict, given the bellicose rhetoric and the world view that seeks and finds enemies under every rock and board room table, on every newscast, and in every other capital across the planet.

And then there is the matter of whether the current occupant of the Oval Office is or ever has been, or even will be a formal member of any political party. His “playing the game” by throwing cash at which ever politician and political party that he deemed would meet his highly narcissistic needs, ambitions and dictates.

The evidence suggests that long before his presidential ‘run’ he was blurring lines between truth and libelous fiction, the birthing debacle for example, the question of discrimination against blacks in his buildings, skating on thin ice around and through what would have been bankruptcy proceedings for any other mortal (watch for evidence that his Labour Secretary Wilbur Ross was his guardian angel on this front….and now have those roles been reversed?) Ross’ vice-presidency of the bank favoured by Russian oligarchs as a safe haven for their excess cash is just another instance of lines of integrity, full disclosure, separation of personal ambition from political office, and acquiescing to the traditional and normative practice of segregation one’s estate from one’s personal eyes, hands and executive influence have all been obliterated. It is not exaggerated to ask if this gang really care about the separation of their massive wealth from the public office they currently occupy.

Clearly, by refusing to divest his properties and to create a full and unreserved blind trust for his holdings, their boss, the president, has cleared the way for their own defiance, and their flagrant blind eye to the morality and the ethics the world has come to expect from American leaders in the last century.

There is trump’s musing about pardoning anyone and everyone, including himself, should Mueller’s Russian collusion probe uncover facts that incriminate more than a handful of sycophants. Once again, there simply are no boundaries, not even  vestige of a single boundary, around financial disclosure, around respect for women, around respect for the legislative and judicial branches of government.

And then, there is the massive blurring of lines in the diplomatic arena: Russia, a longstanding enemy, has suddenly (a la 1984) become a “friend” of the president. And just today, that same American president in a speech in Beijing, declared that the trade surplus that exists between the U.S. and China is not “China’s fault” but rather the fault of all of his predecessors who made deals that did not place the interests of the United States “ahead” of China….all of which begs some questions from American history.

The Manifest Destiny foresaw ever-expanding boundaries until the country finally reached the Pacific Coast, enabling negotiations for purchases of land, in a spirit of national pride and expansion. Conversely, the Monroe Doctrine,* set boundaries around American tolerance. However, there is a national impulse that seeks to engage, if not control, places not currently or formerly under the specific “aegis” and boundaries of the continental U.S. Whether colonies, the most glaring example today is Puerto Rico, are able to access equal or commensurate support from the ‘mainland’ however, remains seriously in doubt. Is this territorial ambition to expand matched by an equally energetic and muscular follow-through on commitments made in the name of the nation? The answer seems to point to a “no”. The American argument between military removal of a dictator and the re-establishment of a functioning societies (nation building) remains unresolved, as political voices shout their support for each side. 

Boundaries, of the kind that would demonstrate a kind of national self-confidence seem to be missing from the history of the United States’ pursuit of military weapons, given the compulsive acquisition of a larger arsenal that all other “armed” and developed nations. Boundaries that would keep town and city police comfortable as law enforcement agencies, and not another arm of the Pentagon, seem to have been disregarded following 2001, with the dramatic shift of “hard power” from the Pentagon to local police agencies. Is this another “American deferral to a default position that appears on the surface as strength, when, looked at from a more detached position, is really another sign of limitless anxiety, fear and powerlessness.

Really strong and self-confident people, communities and nations know without doubt that their positions have merit, their people are strong, and their military can be a supplemental and complementary adjunct to civic power, not the first “line of defence”.

The porous swiss-cheese-like labyrinth in which the health insurance companies operate inside the American health care system, too, indicate that there really are no heathy boundaries between the Congress and the insurance lobby, another sign that co-dependence is the dominant trait of the American system of governance. Politicians, as mere puppets of the insurance and the pharmaceutical industries, as well as of the military supply chain, the intelligence system leave the system so unprotected that no farmer would or could entertain a similar open-field if he wanted to keep and protect his herd of cattle.

When the current president shouts about “closing the border” and “keeping out the infidels” (read Muslims) he may have a glib and clenched-fist rabble of worshippers whose fear is in charge of their heads, without pausing for a second to recognize the irony of their position: loud and angry voices taking the lid off the cauldron of their fears. And that fear has been and will continue to be manipulated, whether by trump or bannon or any of their fickle cheer-leaders.

And of course, the leaders in Congress, especially the Republicans, have gone awol on their boundary with the White House. Just yesterday, Paul Ryan uttered the fatal decision: We are with trump!” as he effectively (if unconsciously) crossed his Rubicon. There is no going back after such a declaration, meant one guesses, to be a disciplined statement of leadership by a party leader vainly attempting to get his ‘troops’ in line. He might think to call John Boehner, to find out how a master political leader made out with the Tea Party, before making such a vacuous announcement.

Boundaries, dear reader, help us to get a picture of who one is, what one will tolerate or not, what kind of principle and foundation undergird the approach, whether it is a single person, or an organization or a government. And without verifiable boundaries that can be trusted, one is little more than a fallen leaf on a stormy lake, about to be blown wherever the wind decides.

*the policy, as stated by President Monroe in 1823, that the U.S.opposed further European colonization of and interference with independent nations in the Western Hemisphere. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Another hymn to resistance and resisters

What is it about the circle around most “communities” that serves to “protect” the insiders and exclude the outsiders? There is a kind of bias against outsiders just as there is against immigrants, refugees, and anyone who is “not from here”…How ironic since the space between “there” and “here” has so collapsed that we can no longer legitimize the difference as a “tradition” worth keeping or even justifying.

If young people invade our town or city at the end of August and the first week of September, in order to attend university or college classes, we tend to appreciate their “economic infusion” into our town/city. If their homecoming parties stretch our law enforcement capacities, naturally we expect their student organizations to reimburse law enforcement, while no doubt their institutions will defer, on the strength of the argument that, in effect, as tenants, shoppers and incipient citizens, they are already paying their fair share of those “exceptional” costs. Those students are, nevertheless, never going to become an integral component of the town/city of their institution, unless they were born there. In that case, they have an upper hand over all others, in the lines for employment following graduation.

The “thinking” goes that “we are merely favouring our own” as honourable and compliant and supportive organizations and people born “here” will be more likely to “fit” into the culture we have established over decades or centuries. And while there is a grain of truth and reality in that “thinking,” there are some major flaws.

First, in such a practice, we are merely adding reinforcements to the prevailing culture, which may not be healthy either for the potential ‘outsider’ who might seek to stay. The culture most likely has a mental moat around its castle, the preserve of the insider clique(s) that govern the town. Acceptance of divergent life-styles, gender and racial differences, new ways of thinking, believing and practicing a faith, is too often considered an “invasion” and a “threat” to “our way of life”…..whatever that might mean. It could mean that outsiders will take jobs away from “our kids” who deserve them. It could mean that the way our neighbourhoods have functioned as “white bread” unilingual, single race-based, compliant with the inherent power-structure that has been around for decades, if not longer.

Second, new ways of thinking, perceiving, judging and accepting differences are thwarted before they are given a chance. That “fort” mentality, no longer epitomized by a building, or often even a lookout, remains as a permanent icon in our culture, preserved by our resistance to the “new”. Oh, we protest, with slogans like “our history supports innovation”, knowing all the while that we are merely attempting to put mascara on our cultural “superiority” (pig). And this “pig” lives, to some degree or other, in every single town and city in which I have lived on both sides of the 49th parallel. A town in which churches dot most street corners, conversely to what one might expect, cannot  be considered “religious” or even spiritual, but merely seeking and finding various token expressions of something they are trying to show the world, that this is a “God-fearing” town. Similarly, shopping malls, once the golden nugget of every town’s aspirational development, as the new address of some ‘major’ department store that previously did not have a location there, do not, will not, cannot do much to soften the fortress mentality of the inherent power-structure, a bias against new-comers, and a bias against all expressions of racial and ethnic diversity.

Behind these obvious “building icons,” that include schools, colleges, banks and doctors’ offices, lie another layer of stratification that is not nearly so visible: the division between those who “own” land and those who “rent”. Of course, the “owners” are those who are more likely to have “committed” to the place, are more likely to stay and raise their children and more likely to “advertise” the place as a “good place to live” especially if and when their organizations are looking for new hires. They are also one of the criteria by which the “insiders” are defined, culturally known and accepted, and those most likely to find social acceptance even when their behaviour crosses community norms. “Well, that’s just who he is!” is a phrase often heard at moments when an insider fails to conform. Conversely, if and when a newcomer “crosses” a similar norm, and even one that is much lower on the significance scale, one hears, “These outsiders are going to destroy what we have built here!”

Property ownership, business ownership, professional practice (especially of an native to the community)….these are all of the “pillars” of the social structure and the power structure….and depending on the pathway of entry, whether it is sprinkled with new “investment” dollars or not, the community acceptance will be available or not. Those coming into the community, as tenants, are generally considered less “responsible” and less desirous, as compared with new property owners.

This narrative, repeated in hundreds of towns and cities across the country, (and most likely other North American and European towns and cities) is being threatened by a variety of population “invasions”….Some come from conflict zones, some from economic destitution zones, some from over-population zones, and some from similar towns and cities where the highest educational and professional training opportunities have been available and accessible for a long time. Over-arching these demographic dynamics, of course, is the new infusion of digital and social media, making it possible for each of us to examine critically the daily news, the real estate prices, the cultural dynamics, the educational opportunities and the cultural “integration” of each of our towns and cities, around the world.

We are no longer living in a time and place when our power structures can remain hidden in our private clubs, in our major cathedrals, in our corporate board rooms, or in our town and city council chambers. And yet, as their hold on power, and the public trust that has sustained that hold on power for centuries both atrophy symbiotically, the evidence mounts that they are resorting to extreme and highly dangerous measures to attempt to retain some semblance of control and power.

Just this week, a fifty-something single mother, an employee of a marketing firm in Washington, while out on her daily bike ride, found the presidential limousine parade passing, as she was contemplating the state of the world, the ruin in Puerto Rice, and thinking to herself, “Oh, right, and you’re going golfing again!” When she raised her middle finger on her left hand, in a silent protest, an Agence-Press photographer snapped the shot, put it up on social media, and, although only the back of her head and her finger were visible (not her identity), her friends began asking if the image was of her. Of course, she agreed that it was, innocently thinking and believing that, without any indication of her workplace on her person, and on her own free time, she would not be in any danger. Going further, as a matter of courtesy, she gave a “heads-up” to her employer, who then FIRED HER for being unprofessional!

As a former member of the diplomatic corps, and a person who carried a personal sign that read, “Not my president” on the day following the election of trump, this mother of three insists, from her position of having been dismissed, that she would certainly raise her finger in protest, as the presidential motorcade passed her bike, if the occasion were to present itself.

One of the more obvious ironies of the story is that this former employee was tasked with monitoring social media for her company, in search of any evidence that defamed the company, or besmirched its reputation, so she considered herself in full compliance with all company protocols on her personal and private bike ride. (The story is reported in the National Post, November 7, 2017)

Desperate decisions like the one taken by this company demonstrate the fragility not only of the company itself, but of the politically correct society that walks on thin ice as its new asphalt. Of course, we all know that trump would revel in his “parting the waves” power to have this woman fired for her “insolence”; yet it is his very insouciance and arrogance that so frightens so many, some into voting for him, some into protesting his even being a candidate and others cowering at what might befall the world given his license to hold the nuclear codes in the palm of his hand.

Although he is an outsider, an insurgent, in terms of his having remained outside the inner circle of both national political parties, he nevertheless now has command of forces over which he has absolutely no understanding or appreciation. And his hold on power, (however tenuous and fleeting it may prove to be) is, among other things, a signal that “inner circles” have not sustained the trust of the ordinary people.

The corruption of power, including the absolute corruption of absolute power, is a fact of history that serves both as an aphrodisiac for many and a illegitimate and illicit drug for many more. In the former instance, it shines and glistens like the gold that has painted the orbs and the dinner plates of royal palaces for centuries. For the young and the innocent, and even for the students of history and culture, power and the people who wield(ed) it are the signposts of history, the biographical narrative of muscle, blood and mere mortality of every ruler and each member of those families. And this portrait holds, not only for the Hapsburgs, the Napoleons, the Czars, the Emperors, the Windsor’s, but also for the prominent families in each town and city in the world.
For many young people, whose eyes and ears are barely opening to the sights and the sounds of the “elites” in their towns and cities, there is something larger than life, especially if those eyes and ears are barely able to afford food, new and fashionable clothing, the notice of the teachers and principals, (except and unless behaviour of a negative kind brings them to “notoriety”).

The fired woman, however, is a incarnate resister of the abuse of power, not merely by the current administration, and by her company, but of all of the forces of conformity that seek to seduce our young.

“The seductive inducement to conformity-money, fame, prizes, generous grants huge book contracts, hefty lecture fees, important academic and political positions and a public platform—are scorned by those who resist. The rebel does not define success the way the elites define success. Those who resist refuse to kneel before the idols of mass culture and the power elites. They are not trying to get rich. They do not want to be part of the inner circle of the powerful. They accept that when you stand with the oppressed you get treated like the oppressed.” (Chris Hedges, The Cost of Resistance, November 5, 2017)

Those of us, like the fired worker above who wish to remain outside the “inner circle” and refuse to ‘kneel before the idols of mass culture and the power elites, who are not trying to get rich, and who (often have difficulty) accept(ing) that when we stand with the oppressed, (we) get treated like the oppressed….are the resisters.
We may not be loud, or dangerous (except to the power elite), or do not carry membership cards in either the Far right or the Far left, but we are a minority to be taken seriously especially as our numbers continue to grow, ever so slowly.
We know that the power elites will never be eliminated, or even dissipated to a mere token of their current numbers and status. We also know that they find us extremely objectionable, even detestable, and heap scorn upon us whenever they get the opportunity.

And these elites can be in the government, or in the civil service, or in the schools or colleges or universities, or even in the churches. And this last situation is so tragically and ironically completely counter-intuitive to the message of the Christian faith, whether we re-examine the parable of the Good Samaritan (see this space, on an earlier date) or we re-think the story of the Cross. Our identification with the oppressed, as Hedges and others argue, is our “cross” of identification.

“Resistance accepts that even if we fail, there is an inner freedom that comes with defiance, and perhaps this is the only freedom and true happiness we will ever know. To resist evil is the highest achievement of human life. It is the supreme act of love. It is to carry the cross, as the theologian James Cone reminds us, and to be acutely aware that what we are carrying is also what we will die upon…..The final, and perhaps most important quality of resistance, as Cone writes, is that it inverts the world’s value system. Hope rises up out of defeat. Those who resist stand, regardless of the cost, with the crucified. This is their magnificence and their power.” (Hedges ibid)

Even with a mere raising of the finger in a silent, and somewhat cheeky resistance, the fired worker signals her commitment to the resistance movement against what is now the “power elite” that governs the United States.

Would that we could and would celebrate her courage, her dedication and her resistance!