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, truthdig.com 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!

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