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Friday, December 21, 2018

Remembering a childhood piano teacher

Back in1995, a friend and mentor from my youth departed this orb. She was my piano teacher for some twelve years. I had previously had the opportunity to visit with her, three decades after leaving her tutelage, when we reminisced about old times and former relationships.
Upon her death, I penned these words, recently retrieved from an old storage box in the garage. Her family tells me the words played a role in her funeral celebration, for which I was and remain very grateful.

                                                   In Memoriam

                                              For Eleanor Beatty

Creator God, we giver you thanks for the
Life and spirit of Eleanor Beatty.
Her elegant mind and sensibility were both
Calming and inspiring;
Her steady, measured dependability would
Infrequently give way to her absolute
delight in the absurdity of human foolishness..
because although she kept the necessary
she never lost sight of the more important
counterpoint of mystery.
To the uninitiated, she may have appeared
The epitome of order and balance..
But thot hose of us privileged to really
Know her,
From the hours of waiting for the
Adjudicator’s bell in the festivals,
Or the hours of travel in her old Buick,
Or the focussed but often whimsical
Conversations about forum, history or
We all knew that the form and order
Of the musical scores were, to her,
The songs of the souls crying for
And that is the gift for which we give thanks…
That this unmarried daughter, sister, aunt,
Teacher and friend
Could always see beneath and behind the
Vagaries of the moment, the pains of the
Seasons and the days to the more distant,
Eternal and universal horizon of
Sunrise and sunset…
And accompany us beyond the keyboard;
She was and is for me the
Muse and magician behind the rehearsals,
Far from centrestage,
A spiritual guide to the composers,
Their lives and their work.
A friend who truly understood the
Unimportance of marks and grades
But the immeasureable significance of the
Beat of the metronome,
Connecting each second to the beginning
and end of time…
this is, was and alwuyas shall be my
eschatological soulmate..
whose recitals taught me the difference
between art and ego,
whose coaching taught me the difference
between life as performance and
the business of living,
whose surrogate parenting gave me
the daily and weekly measure of
tranquility and cosmic predictability
I needed
In what seemed the turbulent
‘big sound’ of my heart.
I thank God for every note, and every
Stroke of the metronome
We shared
And each infrequent but poignant
Because she helped me to learn
That life, although often messy,
Is never without the melody of a
Shubert impromptu, of a Bach
Prelude, or a Beethoven cascade…
And she mastered the instrument of my
Heart and mind…opening them to the
Wonders of the creative genius of
The songs without words
That even Mendelssohn would thank her
For keeping alive..
And not mine alone…
         But the hearts and minds of
Hundreds of other young people whose
Tour through musical antiquity
Would not have been so colourful
Or memorable without
“Elfie’s” accompaniment.
                                                                                      December 10, 1995

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Reflecting on "incurvatus"...especially in contemporary culture

Among faith communities, certainly among Christian faith communities, there is at least a veneer, if not a concrete foundation, of sacralising the past. Hallowing the past, beginning with “the Garden” and the “Birth” and the “Crucifixion” and the “Resurrection”. The Eucharist celebrates The Last Supper, in which Jesus accompanied his disciples prior to his death.

Nevertheless, without in any way rejecting or even disdaining the stories carried forward from scripture, Jurgen Moltman writes a theology entitled, The Future of Creation.

After Moltman calls creation “in the beginning a system open for time and potentiality,” he then posits a corollary: “we can understand sin and slavery as the self-closing of open systems against their own time and their own potentialities. If a person closes himself against his potentialities, then he is fixing himself on his present reality and trying to uphold what is present, and to maintain the present against possible changes. By doing this he turns into homo incurvatus in se. (That is a life lived “inward” for oneself rather than “outward” for God and others.) If a human society settles down as a closed system, seeking to be self-sufficient, then something similar happens: a society of this kind will project its own present into the future and will merely repeat the form is has already acquired. For this society, the future ceases to offer scope for possible change; and in this way the society also surrenders its freedom. A society of this kind becomes societas incurvata in se. Natural history demonstrates, from other living things as well that closing up against the future, self-immunization against change, and the breaking off of communication with other living things leads to self-destruction and death…..We can therefore call salvation in history the divine opening of ‘closed systems’. The closed or isolated person is freed for liberty and for his own future. A closed society is brought to life so that it can look upon the future as being the transformation of itself…..

Closed systems bar themselves against suffering and self-transformation. They grow rigid and condemn themselves to death. The opening of closed systems and the breaking down of their isolation and immunization will have to come about through the acceptance of suffering,. But the only living beings that are capable of doing this are the ones which display a high degree of vulnerability and capacity for change. They are not merely alive; they can make other things live as well. (Jurgen Moltmann, The Future of Creation, SCM Press, 1979, p.122-123)

Suffering, of the kind that others impose by bullying, or of the kind that the universe delivers through disease, loss, alienation and death, has been co-opted as the “enemy” against which much of contemporary culture has declared a “zero tolerance policy”. And while legal justice is relative, it is not the most important end goal of acts that inflict suffering. Legal justice invokes a kind of punishment, calling that punishment “justice” without pausing to reflect on the spiritual, psychological impact and “gift” of the suffering. That pause and reflection, especially if it is allotted a significant amount and degree of time and energy, is too often considered self-indulgent, self-pity, and it is especially disdained by those who chant, “That was in the past; let’s leave it there and get on with the future.”

An “open” person, paradoxically, opens his/her eyes, ears, mind and imagination to the suffering s/he has experienced even through acts and attitudes that s/he has committed against others. An “open” societal system, too, remains open to accepting, acknowledging and then fully owning the pain/suffering it has brought about against those within, and especially those without the system. We live in a period of history in which pain/suffering are the focus of much of the public discourse, including the media. And we almost universally do this with pointed fingers at the “other” as agent of the pain/suffering while demanding judgement be meted out to that “deplorable” person/agency. The universe, including our private, inner voices, however, does not relegate pain to the agency of “the other”. The universe and our “inner voice” (as if they are one both) know that we too are vulnerable to the prospect of inflicting pain and suffering. And the pain that we inflict carries with it a penetrating potential of “waking us to truth and reality” to which we were previously blind, ignorant and insensitive.

A person, ensconced in the concrete of blind innocence, denial, and willful ignorance of the pain/suffering s/he has inflicted and continues to inflict, remains “closed” and primarily, if not exclusively, for him/herself. Similarly, a closed society that remains blindly innocent, in denial, and willfully ignorant of the pain/suffering it has and continues to inflict, is also existing exclusively for itself. In the vernacular, we used terms like “narcissistic” to depict a “closed” person and a closed society gestalt.

Not surprisingly, closed individuals breed other closed individuals, just as ‘open’ individuals also breed open individuals. And a society fossilized in the “closed” and inward gestalt of armies of “closed” persons, will effectively breed more in conformity with the societal norm.

It is not an accident that we are currently drowning in rhetoric that divides between “closed” and “open” persons and society. And the implications of this “either-or” pitting the “closed” option as the preferred, and allegedly legally and institutionally emboldened one is dangerous from so many perspectives.

The gestalt breeds an inordinate burden of the health care systems of people so self-defining. Withdrawal, isolation, alienation, segregation, classism, racism, ageism, sexism…..these are all contributory factors in the pervasive process of justified “closed” persons and systems. And the implications are ubiquitous: in our ER’s, our cancer wards, our courts, our prisons, our schools, and even in our own homes. It is not mere the health care budget that struggles under this “drain.”

There is also a “price” for every organization in which “closed” persons seek and find employment. Looking inward, exclusively “padding” the resume without caring an iota about the culture in the workplace, and the hidden “downside” to a growing cadre of “closed” persons, once again, develop almost inadvertently, a culture in which “closed” becomes the norm, and “open” persons struggle to find a place, given the charges of “innocent” and “apple-polisher” and “sycophant” to the authority structure. Remaining “closed” and looking “inward” becomes easily and readily justified in a cultural rationale that goes like this: “We really do not wish to stick our noses into another’s personal life!” even if and when we know that another is so burdened with pain, and so isolated, for any of a number of “reasons” (most of which do not qualify as such) of being different.

An “open” person, given the context of our culture, is also exposed as “different” if not even considered “deviant” given the norm of “closed” that so infects so many cultures, especially ecclesial organizations. And this “closed” persona is also reinforced by the “closed” society of the church establishment, locked as it is in avoidance, denial and refusal to own the plethora of ways it participates in the infliction of pain and suffering, and even directly inflicts that pain directly. Barring themselves from pain and transformation, churches reinforce a cultural norm and an indefensible social and personal “ethic” that paradoxically defies Moltmann’s theological thesis.
By definition, closed persons and closed systems are far more likely to inflict pain, given the natural disposition that undergirds all life, to be open, and receptive to change.

Canada, as a nation, is especially subject to a diagnosis as “closed” in both the personal archetypes of its people, and in the organizational norms of its various groups. Recently, in a conversation with a professional fully engaged in the prevention of homelessness among Canadian youth, I heard these words: “After all the research and the programs and the worthwhile efforts to prevent homelessness, we still find that even youth who have become housed, are still distinguished by their aloneness and their loneliness and we are still working on that.”

Preserving a culture that is “closed” while reinforcing a similar model of closed for aspiring individuals, is a sure way to guarantee that aloneness and loneliness will continue to prevail after all the work to devise and implement innovative systems to prevent homelessness. My wife and I have live on our street for going on five years, in a small Canadian town; and with some dozen houses on our block, one individual has gone out of his way to extend a hand of friendship and neighbourliness, while another two make it a habit to say “Hello” if and when we meet on our respective driveways, coming or going from our homes. Mostly, though, this kind of neighbourhood prevails across the country. And the archetype simply reinforces itself, as if it has been and will continue to be the Canadian model of citizenship.

Of course, if there is an emergency, on our street or on another, immediately upon become aware, neighbours will often shed their “reserved” closedness.
Research evidence continues to mount, too, about the increasing feeling of aloneness and loneliness that pervades the young people in our culture, in spite of the four hours most of them spend every day locked on their cell phones, supposedly in “contact” with their friends.

It is a shared collective and collaborative future that is sentenced to death, with the deepening penetration of the “closed” incurvatus person and/or organization. And, it will take a tectonic shift in both perceptions and attitudes to link the original “creation” to the final eschaton, rendering every moment past and present as an integral and intimate part of the eternal future. Such a shift might have some potential for those who consider themselves Christians, with easy access to Moltmann’s thought and theology.

Releasing any clinging to the past as “sacred” will make such a shift in attitudes and perceptions feasible and accessible. Clinging to an obsession with legal retribution and vengeance will preclude such a shift. Are we up to that shift?

It is important theologically, spiritually, psychologically and culturally!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where is the collaborative world view among leaders?

Paris is burning on weekends!

London is in such disarray as to be literally paralyzed.

Washington is fixated on and paralyzed by the profound complexities of broken laws, trashed traditions and institutions, and unilateral withdrawal from the world of the current administration.

Moscow, the intrepid mischief-maker, is stirring the pot in Syria, Saudi-Arabia, North Korea, Crimea/Ukraine, and potentially in other currently less visible spots.

Bejing watches inscrutably, patiently, and from a perch of financial superiority, industrial prowess, military expansion, and ubiquitous cyber-penetration.

Iran and North Korea are likely pursuing enhanced nuclear capabilities, in spite of rhetoric and an agreement to the contrary.

Corporations like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Huawei are under scrutiny for violating privacy rights of their “clients.”

Observers like Richard Haaas, Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S., writes and speaks about the world being in more disarray than he predicted in a book written within the last year.

Children around the world, inspired by a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl who has been protesting the dangers of global warming and climate change every Friday for months, are taking to the streets to give voice to the slogan, “There is NO PLANET B”
Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001. The five warmest years in the global record have all come in the 2010’s. The 10 warmest years on record have all come since 1998. The 20 warmest years on record have all come since 1995.

The Economist magazine predicts that 2019 will witness and experience a serious conflict between populism and globalism.

Russia scales up its conflict with Ukraine, while NATO allies of Ukraine sit on their hands, their cell phones and their laptops, pondering if and how to discharge their responsibility under Article #5, to defend a NATO member under attack.
Mohammed bin Salman clearly instigates the brutal murder of a disaffected Saudi journalist while Canada and the U.S. ponder their response to the murder, through blocking or continuing the sale of military equipment…demonstrating a glaring paralysis over the question of human rights versus profit and jobs.

According to the United Nations, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide reached 65,600,000 at the end of 2016, the highest level since World War II, with a 40% increase since 2011. That number rose to 68.5 million in 2017, due to global wars, violence and persecution.

626,483,739 people live in extreme poverty, 8% of the world’s population. In 18 countries, extreme poverty is on the rise; by 2030, 16 countries will have erased extreme poverty; in 42 countries, extreme poverty is declining, but not fast enough to wipe it out by 2030.

Over 75% of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are in South Asia, West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa and women represent almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally.

In 2016, the UN estimates reveal that 142 million youth between 15 and 17 are not in school. This age group is four times more likely not to be in school than children between 6 and 11. 15 million girls of primary school age will never get the chance to learn to read of write in primary school, compared to about 10 million boys. Over half, some 9 million, live in sub-Saharan Africa.

These data points are not listed in order to provide a layer of sponge rubber distance from their significance.  In fact, in a moment in time when all of these, and much more, are readily available to every human living on the planet, there is considerable cause for the road rage, the impolite and aggressive attitudes that we all encounter whenever we are “in public”…for the incidents of both revenge and withdrawal from the vortex of social and political conditions. We are definitely living in a time when leadership is under fire; responsible citizenship is begging for more than the youthful leadership poking their heads out of the soil of the earth’s cultural and political garden; and in the midst of all of this turmoil, the United States has relinquished its leadership on the world stage.

These ‘dots’ on the cultural intellectual and informational map are also linked with an apparent rise of insular populism, racism, bigotry and selfish narcissism, just yesterday, some 160 countries signed a non-binding agreement on the treatment of migrants around the world.

Called the United Nations Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and regular Migration, the agreement sets out 23 objectives for improving international co-operation on all forms of migration from refuges to skilled workers. Yesterday, December 10 was International Human Rights Day, and yet, tragically, the United States government opposed the pact, warning it could compromise national sovereignty when it comes to immigration. Ten other countries, mostly in formerly Communist Eastern Europe have pulled out. Six more, among them Israel and Bulgaria are debating whether to quit.

What kind of list of challenges would be needed to wake up the gestalt of world leadership as a matter of national security, international stability, global health and wellness, and the preservation of that old cliché, the reservoir of optimism and hope, on which the world, and each individual, still have to rely?

If such a list of threats/opportunities is not enough to sound the global planetary alarm, the wake-up call, the siren-song of fate and the most heroic challenge in history as well as mythology, then what will be?

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Christian Church's "white supremacy" shame (James H. Cone)

Chris Hedges underscore the theological contribution of James H. Cone’s “withering critique of the white supremacy and racism inherent within the white, liberal Christian church” in his latest column in truthdig.com.

According to Cone, privileged which Christianity and its theology were heresy.
Hedges quotes Cone: “When it became clear to me that Jesus was not biologically white and that white scholars actually lied by not telling people who he really way, I stopped trusting anything they said,” from Said I wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian.
Cone also writes, as Hedges reports:
White supremacy is America’s original sin and liberation is the Bible’s central message…..Any theology in America that fails to engage white supremacy and God’s liberation of black people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist.
White supremacy “is the Antichrist in America because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of black bodies and minds in the modern world…It has also committed genocide against the indigenous people of this land…. If that isn’t demonic, I don’t know what is…and it is found in every aspect of American life, especially churches, seminaries and theology.
Two questions emerge:

First, does Cone’s critique apply to Canada?

Second, Is the church’s enmeshment with the archetype of the for-profit corporation an extension of its colonial “white supremacy”?

Notwithstanding the herculean efforts of many well-intentioned people to bring about reconciliation regarding the “residential schools” tragedy, all of those efforts both necessary and long over-due, one has to ask, “Have we really addressed the theological roots of the issue”? Canada continues to face the haunting and daunting spectre of thousands of indigenous peoples who have to boil their water, attend below-standard schools, search in vain for adequate and accessible health care, and a basement-like ceiling on opportunities for work with dignity. Canadian prisons, too, are “over-stocked” (as if indigenous inmates were mere objects) with indigenous prisoners many of whose lives are the direct result of Canadian social policy, historic patterns and the impunity to which previous Canadian leaders (all of them dutiful and serious adherents to one of the establishment churches) were and are indebted.

As recently as the 1990’s in Ontario theology schools, Huron College and Trinity College, specifically, no a single word was uttered, by way of curricular offerings, in rebuttal of the church’s complicity, or even direct responsibility for the “white supremacy” that has been perpetrated for more than a century, demonstrably in the name of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Political correctness, ironically, consumed much of the “talking points” about such things as the debated rights of gays to administer the eucharist, the rights of women to be bishops, the relative merits of the “Red” and the “green prayer books.

And then there is the ghost of “filling the coffers and the pews, in the manner of the corporate balance sheet that permeated the atmosphere around “successful parishes. It is, was and for too long will continue to be, a prime responsibility of  Christian clergy to do anything and everything imaginable to keep the bills paid, the numbers climbing and the reputation of the denomination unsullied.

I have led public services from which people actually got up out of their pew and walked out, because a “guest” gay priest was celebrating the eucharist. In the U.S. a parishioner confronted me, just before the Christmas services with this question: “Would it be alright for a black boyfriend of my grand-daughter to attend the Christmas Eve service?” And, following three years of serving a small church as a single divorced clergy, I was harangued with the following utterance: “You would never have been given this job as priest here if you had arrived with a black wife!” White immigrants from eastern Europe, who worshipped in that church, reported that white crosses had been burned on their property, when they were young people, and they were not even black….so rampant and deep was the racism of “white supremacy” against even white European immigrants. Not surprisingly, 87% of the people living in this country voted for trump in 2016, and in 2018, 76% voted for the Republican candidate, continuing the indelible crucifixion of any Christian expression of liberation of and for all.

Canadians do not like to speak or read the kind of language that fills the theology of James Cone. We like more euphemistic expressions, that essentially “paper over” the deep divisions that nevertheless define the Canadian cultural landscape. However, just today, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued an interim report:

shot and killed by police…black people are overrepresented in several types of violent police interactions, including use-of-force cases, shootings deadly encounters and fatal shootings (CBC)
There is another under-reported piece of information in the OHRC report:
More white people were carrying weapons in police use of force cases, and that white people allegedly threatened or attacked police more often than black people

The words (previously reported in this space) of an Australian exchange student to a question in a Canadian high school student’s question, “What is the most noticeable difference between the United States and Canada?” come quickly to mind:
“Oh, that’s easy! In the U.S. racism and bigotry are on top of the table; in Canada they are both under the table!”

Trouble is in Canada, there has been little to no co-ordinated, funded and empirically researched data on the rise of white supremacy and organizations that purport to uphold the supremacist ideology, like the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the United States. Only this year has there been an organized and collaborative resource developed to document the various chapters of these organizations and their activities.

Notwithstanding the exemplary work of some leaders in Christian theology in promoting and nurturing ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue in Canada, there is nevertheless, a clear and indisputable link to racial superiority, bigotry and indefensible personal and national treatment of minorities, including various ethnicities and religions that continue to impede the success of all efforts at establishing equal human rights, equal racial justice and a theology that purports to be dedicated to the liberation of all without real and acknowledged voices in the political and cultural landscape.
If Cone spoke for his deceased, murdered ancestors, in the United States, who are the Christian theologians in Canada who dare face the ire of the Christian establishment by calling out the blatant and inexcusable racism of the Christian  church throughout Canadian history.

An underground Christian church that strips all veneer from the politically correct sophistication, acknowledging its complicity and culpability in both distorting and demeaning the core intention of the gospel, teachings and life of Jesus Christ Resurrected, would go a long way to freeing both the laity and the hierarchy from having to protect and defend the indefensible.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Jealousy: grain of sand, a worm and invisible lethal gas

Jealousy is a complex emotion that encompasses feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to rage and humiliation. Some consider it a wake-up call that a valued relationship is in danger and remedial steps are needed.

Differing from envy, in that a third party is always involved, (envy exists between two  people only), jealousy is, while necessary, nevertheless, a dangerous and toxic emotion. It often derails not only relationships but even careers, business deals, political accomplishments and the over-arching trend to co-operation, collaboration and sharing of goals among and between social agencies, political enemies and different nations.

The Shakespearean tragedy that depicts jealousy in its most venal forms, Othello, is so memorable because it focuses on a human dynamic that impacts each and every family. Other tragedies, like Macbeth and Julius Caesar, for example, deal with elevated personages, a kind of historic royalty, whereas Othello, a black moor, whose appointment of Casio as his lieutenant leaving a “wannabe” (Iago) out of power, illustrates the nitty-gritty of how easy and deceptive is the demise of human relationships.

The literary embodiment of evil, Iago, deliberately, deceptively and angrily plots the rumour of an illicit relationship between Casio and Desdemona (Othello’s wife) and goes about planting the seeds of his destructive, quasi-military ‘invasion’ before Othello’s eyes and ears, and especially injecting it into his imagination. Rage, in the form of Iago’s jealousy, invokes and evokes rage, in the form of Othello’s fear/pride of being a duped spouse.

People spurred by jealousy, almost invariably, are plagued in their minds and hearts with insecurities, anxieties, inadequacies, fears often unreached and possibly unreachable even to their possessor, that demand their own price. It is as if jealousy has taken up residence in his/her shoes, a reminder with each and every step, of the danger of being beaten, deceived, one-upped, out-done. Often, too, these men and women put on such a positive, authoritative, invincible and credible “face” in all dealings with the public, and even in their private relationships, that it  provides deep and often impenetrable cover for the latent worm whose existence and voice eventually will out.

That grain of sand in the shoe will eventually and inevitably stimulate the worm of conspiracy that crawls around in the recesses of the mind. Discomfort, after all, is relentless. And too often discomfort refuses to disclose fully its worm. Something just does not “feel” right as the stimulus of the grain of sand awakens the interior “worm” of jealousy.

It is often, if not always, in a moment of intense anxiety and fear that the worm can no longer stay hidden, silent and imperceptible. Just when we need our most confident, most creative and most authentic and generous “self”, out burps this measly worm of our most mean-spirited and most unexpected and most hurtful (both to the host and to the victim) Shadow feature. Not only do we discover a part of ourselves we find reprehensible, the rest of the world is also “treated” to another example of the dark side of human relations. And if we think we are immune to the attitude, the insecurity, the pain of its re-discovery (most of us have encountered this “worm” previously) and the implications in this new situation, we have to face ourselves anew.

Like Iago, sometimes it is our closest confidante (Emilia, his wife) who takes the cover off the plot and its perpetrator. Sometimes, it is a colleague or even a supervisor who sees and possibly brings the ‘diagnosis’ to our attention. Often, however, it is in our own private, secret and most penetrating self-aware moments, long after the specific situation has morphed into the dust of history, that the full truth of what was really going on back then becomes clear.

Jealousy, for example, of a matron who deeply desired, and considered it her “entitlement” to have been the recipient of, a preferred appointment, in an organization her family had worked diligently to preserve and support, shows its ugly face and voice, unexpectedly, in a meeting whose agenda and list of attendees included the actual recipient of that preferred appointment. Flowing out from the eruption of jealousy is the seemingly requisite and inevitable “pay-back” of vindictive revenge, often directed at the author of the decision to ignore the ‘insider’ and offer an outsider the privilege and the honour of the appointment.

This two-headed monster, jealousy-and-revenge, seems unwilling to undergo separation. Like the proverbial Siamese twins, “JR” (evoking that old television iteration of Iago, J.R. Ewing from Dallas) sleep, eat, read, think, and even pray with a binary yet unified voice. Insult, abandonment, and outright character, political, career assassination are only a few of the weapons and goals of persons so jealous, and “offended.”

Such a dynamic is endemic among the pre-pubescent set, the adolescent demographic, the college fraternity and sorority corps, and on into adult and professional life.
With pre-teens, the prototype known to most is the jealous co-ed whose favourite “male” has abandoned her for her best friend, her sister, or worse, her deepest enemy. Among professional adults, a rejected personal relationship, in favour of another, is too often one of the primary motivations in the revenge of the jealous wannabe, who can and often does seek and find co-conspirators to bring about the demise of the one who rejected the relationship.

Those with a “high” yet brittle concept of right and wrong give us examples of jealousy when a colleague reaches some lofty perch of success, without having to own or acknowledge a deeply flawed attitude, act, or belief that counters the “right way” as perceived by the jealous observer. Exposure of the fatal flaw, then, often becomes the goal of the righteous warrior, in the name of the public good, as well as the private satisfaction of a personal jealousy. Tabloid newspapers feed on such jealous revenge. Movies, and television dramas, too, mine this character and plot gemstone for its predictable audience-generation, as well as the advertising dollars and audience ratings that accompany such productions.

Parents, too, sadly, can become jealous of their opposite number, especially if that other parent appears to have a more reciprocal, mutual and deeper relationship with the children.This emerging dynamic is especially noticeable in the event of an unwanted separation and divorce. This “face” of jealousy is, unfortunately, discovered too late, long after the children have grown and left the nest. And yet, it had to have played a significant role in the family dynamic, without the “other” parent even being suspicious of its existence. The children, too, are often innocent of such a dynamic again until long after they have left home. Yet the subtlety, persistence and ethereal dimension of this jealousy can erode much of the implicit trust of any healthy domestic relationship.

From a grain of sand in the shoe, as an irritant, to the interiority of a “worm” infecting the unconscious, both of these images inside the individual, there is also a cultural dimension to this personal/psychological phenomenon of jealousy. Like an invisible, odorless, permeating gas, jealousy also attends, infects and drowns the attitudes of groups, political parties, churches, and even towns and cities who perceive that their “opposites” are being showered with “success” (however that may be measured) at their expense. At the root of that demon is the zero-sum game, whereby the only way “I” win is if “you” lose. In such a cultural dynamic, however, it is highly improbable that either “participant” in the “game” comes out a winner. Scarcity, that imperceptible and inescapable core of fear, is so sophisticated, so imperceptible, and so pervasive,  like carbon monoxide, or carbon dioxide that it can and does kill, by eroding what might appear to be an otherwise health, strong, and durable familial/organizational picture.

Too often dismissed as mere “office politics,” this personal jealousy leaps out when professional individuals in a large organization, foiled in their attempt to achieve a top position in that organization, subtly express their vindictive jealousy by an off-hand slight of tongue against the occupant of the rung on the corporate ladder they so desperately sought. “S/He communicates only on as “as needed” basis, as if none of us have either a need or a desire to know what is really going on!” Translated: ‘S/He should never have been given that post, and I would certainly communicate more openly and more effectively that s/he can or does.’ Depending on when and where such a judgement is uttered, its spirit carries a large cloud of jealousy and serves to undermine the successful occupant of the top office, with or without his/her awareness, unless or until a colleague exposes the disloyalty, or an agenda item authored by the “winner” is trashed and left for dead in the corporate trash.

In fact, it is reasonable to posit that loyalty, that treasured grease facilitating many relationships in the public arena, cannot co-exist in a culture of jealousy. And to take on the project of “training” or educating any organization about the dangers of/and options to counter jealousy/revenge is a fool’s errand, a tilting at windmills for the most idealistic of “fools”. This is one of those human qualities whose life, it seems, cannot be extinguished. Attempting to counter its seductive power and influence, however, is one of the more demanding of disciplines.

Squaring the circle of “large ambition” with the square of “humility,” as the world has attempted to do in eulogizing George H.W. Bush this week, so stretches the rational mind as to render one the servant of the other, likely in his case, humility he as a mask for deep, unrelenting and nuclear ambition. Literal identification, without acknowledging the complexity, interior competition, and the public and private confusion, ambiguity and humanity of the incompatibility of the two, is a reductionism “up with which we can not put”….to borrow from Churchill. Bush’s commitment to the pain and success of ‘the other,’ evidenced in his life-long letter-writing blizzard, does provide the link in the chain between the two: ambition and humility. It has been reported that Bush did not really have a “political base” but rather an “army” of letter recipients, in an otherwise alienated and alienating culture of American politics.

One thing seems clear: those whose “healthy self” has been nurtured and reared by effective, honest, authentic and loving parents, teachers, coaches, and even supervisors are more likely to be strong enough to avoid many of the lures of jealousy, and its nefarious worm, revenge that decimates both the perpetrator and the target. Finding the “better angels” within, and in the broader culture, in the classroom and in the boardroom, in the drill arena and on the playground, and among the most indigent and the most favoured continues to be a goal worthy of the commitment of each of us.

There is no culture, religion, ethnicity, geographic region or linguistic entity whose life and health are not enhanced by the pursuit of such a search for those better angels. And there is no single person who does not hope for the success of his own private search to be reinforced by the success of the larger culture in that search.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reflections on AI on the human landscape

There are so many historic iterations of the opening of Pandora’s Box, pouring the many frightening “evils” into the world, (albeit along with hope). The latest might be the surge of Artificial Intelligence onto the technological landscape.

“Sold” as a significant “benefit” to the human race, AI nevertheless has the potential to overrun the human capacity to keep it “under human control”. The word is out that the U.S. military has commissioned a fleet of autonomous transport vehicles, raising the spectre of those vehicles eventually carrying a missile into “enemy” territory. A “perfect strike” has already been achieved, in research, by an autonomous virtual aircraft, repeatedly driving itself into a “target,”   while repeatedly killing everyone on board. Artificial Intelligence, by its nature, “learns” its programmed “goal” and then proceeds to accomplish that goal, without regard to any of the “human” implications.

All warnings about the need to slow down the research and development Artificial Intelligence, even from futurist thinkers like Elon Musk, have gone unheeded by those charged with such social, political, economic and cultural responsibility. We are not only awash in technology; we are not merely enmeshed in its gleam; we are apparently addicted to its opioid-like power to seduce us and render our better judgements etherized on the floors of our cutting-edge laboratories.

Already having unleashed social media devices “to bring us together” although they really generate significantly enhanced loneliness and depression, medical devices that were purportedly going to enhance the lives of people in their need, drones and cruise missiles that so sanitize the killing of all targets in their sights, manipulated as they are from thousands of miles distant from their firings, we are clearly prepared to take our hands off the “steering wheel” of this revolution. And leading the way into the new “world,” of course, is the military establishment with its massive impact on the United States’ national budget. “National Security” and “family protection” of course, eclipse “warfare” in the public relations spin of all activities military. And there seems to be no bounds on the level of permission the American people are prepared to defer to “defence” against foreign enemies, even surpassing the public goods of health care, education, environmental protection and poverty reduction.

Sycophancy at the altar of technology, as opposed to genuflections at the altar of the Almighty, illustrates and proves a degree of deep and long-seeded fear and loathing about our readiness to hand control to “another” ANY other, including a machine. Therapists spend hours learning about locus of control issues, whereby humans willingly, if unconsciously, hand over the control of our lives to another, whether that “other” is a parent, teacher, boss, or organization and recently a piece of technology. 

Power released to an agency other than ourselves can and will always redound against those engaged in the release. Unworthiness, in our genuflections to “experts,” and in our genuflections to authorities, only generates more feelings of unworthiness. It also unleashes a level of co-dependence, while releasing us from responsibility for our own decisions, thereby “permitting” the kind of projection of which we are all too familiar.

It is not that technology, including the spectre of Artificial Intelligence, does not hold a myriad of rainbow pot‘o’gold benefits. Cleaning floors, welding bolts, recording and transmitting information, research, medical diagnoses and even treatments, guarding front and back doors of homes, surveiling public spaces for unwanted and illicit events, linking all corners of the planet to a real-time reporting of events, both dangerous and inventive are just some of them. And, the community of engineers, visionaries, soft-ware developers and their supportive corporate and educational sponsors are certainly justified in their pride of accomplishment, not to mention the financial dividends of their investment of time and dollars.

Especially felicitous in meeting personal conveniences, as well as top-down organizational/governmental/corporate systems, the gestalt of technological devices, nevertheless, needs, even demands, a creative, mature and detailed set of responses that could/would/must hedge against its domination, and potential destructive advances. It is the interface of the human species with this galloping frontier, unlike the frontier on the ground that motivated and generated the westward advance of the population, land development and eventual cities that became the U.S.A., that troubles most observers.

The human capacity, discipline and restraint to withhold excesses of ambition, greed, impatience, and all opportunities to seize power (in whatever might be the latest iteration), however, as disclosed by centuries of human history, are so tragically MIA, that more than this scribe are uttering laments, even dirges, of anxiety. As with most of our human encounters, there is the great likelihood that we do now, and will continue long into the future both to adore the technology, and to fear its dangerous potential.

Add to our individual and collective responses to the technology directly, the prospect that those in control of its development, sale and distribution are also “infected” with those same human demons that originally poured from Pandora’s Box: greed, insouciance, deception, pride and indifference, among many others.

It is in our capacity to “hope”…the beginning of planning, and the promise of a brighter future, and the candle of faith that our species has to place its trust. Etheral, ephemeral, subjective and immeasureable, hope nevertheless casts both a lamp and a mirror into the darkness of any night of anxiety.
Leonard Cohen’s Anthem reminds us,

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack  in everything
 that’s how the light gets in.

And in his explication of the poem, Cohen says, “there is a crack in everything that you can put together: physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.” (from the Quartz website, previously published on a fan site.)

Could we ever actually consider less, slower, more modest and more regulated as the light of hope, another hopeful paradox, given the current penchant for more, faster, more extreme and no regulation?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Reflecting on a proposed cultural tectonic shift from "rescuing" to "prevention" on homelessness

Ø Invention,

Ø Creating new cultural elements,

Ø Diffusion, the spread of cultural traits from one society to another

These three models are proposed as methods of changing a culture. And there is a mountain of evidence, not to mention public resistance, historic allegiances including the pursuit of something commonly called stability, (another word for security?) and that old reliable, increased cost, that paints a picture of Canada as highly resistance, in the macro sense, to cultural change.

To be sure, we have opened our national ‘doors’ to immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, (whether there has been adequate and sustaining assimilation and integration of those new arrivals is another question entirely). And we have, as have most developed nations, transformed much of our economy to accommodate the digital revolution. Our health care system, something we call national, with full (?) and equal (?) access, affordable and still in need of more evolution, is a monumental societal change, one of the more bountiful legacies of the last half of the twentieth century.
Similarly, flowing from the last half of the twentieth century are “employment” insurance, injured worker compensation, pensions and old age security. More recently, child care benefits and parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a new child have been added to the social safety net. The Charter of Rights, (1981) has given legal foundation to the human rights of all citizens, and several cases testing its provisions have secured Supreme Court affirmation. Another recent cultural change whose implications will cataract through the next several decades in the legalization of marijuana, not merely for medicinal purposes, but for recreational use.

On the other side of the ledger, however, the integration of minority language rights  (French specifically) into provinces with substantial French-speaking populations, for example, Ontario have suffered a serious set-back as recently as this week, when the premier of Ontario terminated the French Language Commissioner’s Office, and withdrew support for a French language university in the provincial capital, without incurring much by way of push-back from the province’s editorial writers. Similarly, the Ontario government has also eliminated the office of the Commissioner responsible for oversight of Environmental Protection. Framed as “budget cut-backs” these regressive governmental steps, nevertheless, demonstrate that social and cultural change seems highly dependent on the mood, ideology, personnel and commitments of the government of the day. Adding to this equation of the tendencies of specific governments are the temperature, the ‘humidity’ and the velocity of what are perceived as the cultural/political/societal/attitudinal/geopolitical/economic winds that blow from continent to continent, across oceans and mountains.

Following the second world war, optimism in North America was running quite high, portending to support for and even political impetus for such massive projects in the U.S. as the Inter-state highway system for which President Eisenhower’s name is most closely associated. The St. Lawrence Seaway was also shovelled, and re-routed, along with the moving of entire communities when mega-projects and the political thinking and will needed were at a peak.

These big projects were on the engineering stage, and needing only the money, the expertise and skill, and the public political support for their construction. They opened up transportation, travel, trade and new relationships between and among American states, and between Canada and the U.S.

On the level of the governmental bureaucracies, in both Canada and the United States, however, thousands of new jobs, perhaps even millions, have been created in large public bureaucracies to provide the social safety nets that have been designed and delivered to provide a “hand-up” to those in need. Pension boards, childrens’ protective services, community policing (another highly influential and positive shift in the way police relate to their respective communities), greater integration of social services with schools, along with increased exposure to the labour market for secondary and post-secondary students have made a significant difference in the opportunities available in contemporary education.

However, just as became tragically and desperately evident immediately following the 9/11 massacre in Manhattan, siloed bureaucracies are inordinately isolated, separated, alienated and too often in competition with other bureaucratic silo’s. There has been a long and deep history, on both sides of the 49th parallel, of “protecting our turf” so that we keep those jobs, and those secure boundaries around our specialties, around our people, and most certainly around our executive leadership. Schools have retained off-duty police officers to monitor school dances for years. Occasionally, a social worker will interact with a guidance department, to discuss and implement a ‘treatment plan’ for a student in or from a troubled and troubling family. Workplaces entertain students for “employment-peeking” opportunities; colleges and universities regularly host “orientation” (recruiting) days on high school campuses. On a case-by-case basis, there is a trace of a pathway cleared from the underbrush of political and bureaucratic tradition.

As in many other spheres, towns and regions, partly resulting from the tidal wave of technology that opens books, offices, research, and ‘best practices’ around the world, for whoever might be interested. We all have access to what Vancouver, and more recently Toronto, might be doing to combat their serious and tragic opioid/fentanyl crisis. Police departments have immediate access to both technology and successful experiments in their use in visionary departments in other jurisdictions. Similarly, the medical profession’s integration of DNA’s hub value in the treatment of diseases like cancer, through new medical school research, medical journals, and pharmaceutical advances on the cutting edge of unique, personal and demonstrably effective “cocktail” of medicine.

So, there is considerable evidence that supports the breaking down of political “walls” that keep many best candles/practices securely “vaulted” under organizational/corporate, municipal, provincial, and national “bushels”.

Nevertheless, when the homeless hub designed and released, by webinar, to the public a road map for the prevention of homelessness, including a heavy emphasis on prevention, some of the participants’s eyes and ears recoiled in memory of how our Canadian culture has adapted/adopted prevention as a cultural paradigm when faced with similar and very troubling social issues. Teen-pregnancy, for example, as an issue begging for prevention, and has been recipient of religious “abstinence” programs, “promise-keeper” covenants, political campaigns that protest the distribution of birth control, and the chestnut, the campaign to eliminate therapeutic abortions. On the other hand, even practicing Roman Catholics have spurned the dictates of their hierarchy, and welcomed contraception with open arms.

An old adage seems relevant: children are falling in at a water-fall, with large numbers of “people” pulling them out at the bottom of the cataract, while a few go to the top of the falls to determine why they are becoming victims to nature’s force. There is an immediate gratification for those rescuing drowning children at the base of the falls. There is a ‘rush’ that accompanies that gratification. The process of the rescue is quite simple, easily accomplished, and eminently bonding between rescuer and rescued, often for life. Each rescue receives public and merited attention and commendation, whether through the stories within the community, or perhaps even from the wider coverage of the large media. Politicians, especially, like to find photo-ops with “local heroes” wherever they can.

Almost ignored, in most social traumas, are those at the top of the falls, struggling without many resources, without the limelight of social/political/cultural affirmation, to remove those conditions that are generating the crisis before it develops. Compared with the “rescuers” at the bottom of the falls, these “prevention activists” work behind the scene of the tragedy, without the promise or expectation of public adulation and awards, without the resources that a public considers needed, and without the immediate gratification, or even the assurance, that they will overcome the force(s) that suck those children into the vortex of the cataract. University science labs are filled with researchers “at the top of the falls”; social policy designers depend on the findings of those researchers. However, there is a significant ‘time-gap’ between the discoveries of the researchers, and the design and promulgation of social policy, and another between the policy and the implementation.

Shifting the public consciousness from the rewards of rescuing to the drudgery of prevention is analogous to the task of shifting the direction of an ocean liner from north to south. It takes a lot of patience, diligent hard work, a committed team/crew and some decision-makers who have the open-mindedness to even consider the benefits of the shift, the conditions necessary to turn the wheel, and the patience to wait for the long-term results that will show up in reports that the number of kids falling into the waterfall has dropped significantly. Only then will it be feasible for many of the adjacent observers to “see the light” of the larger social benefits, and the relative folly of those years/decades/centuries of pulling kids out, without preventing their falling in. It is often the “time gap” in the perception of relative “urgency” between public figures (the politicians/tax payers) and the researchers/policy designers that impedes the reception and implementation of a significant shift like the one from “action/rescue” to “prevention/delayed gratification. Individuals are most often disposed and enmeshed with the opportunities for instant gratification; social policy think tanks, on the other hand, find their gratification in their design and teaching of new approaches, based as it usually is, on the compilation, collation and curation of multiple pieces of research from various scholars/practitioners.

While classical conditioning (the timing and relevance of behavioural rewards to generate desired behaviour) is not the only variable to shifting a culture from “rescue to prevent,” it does have application to the process.

“Invention” is one ingredient that we can all count on to emerge from the social and scientific “laboratory” research, and “prevention” of homelessness clearly qualifies as a highly inventive (if not actually revolutionary) approach to this growing social blight.

“New cultural elements” like:
·        pointing a social, political, media, educational, religious ‘cleg’ light onto the “top of the falls”,  
·        innovative funding based on the hiring and releasing of outside-the-box ingenuous bureaucrats by politicians and social agency decision-makers, including volunteer board members,
·        training for all constituent agencies in the benefits of the new “approach” that includes a difference between the “ticker” approach of the stock market with its urgent immediacy, to a longer social and cultural perspective of the benefits of long-range planning and implementation of such a “shift”
·        building bridges to all sectors to enhance awareness of and participation in the frontal initiative to address the roots of homelessness from a preventive perspective, as a pathway both to fewer victims and reduced social costs. This includes debunking the “complexity” and up-front “costs” of such a far-reaching and “macro” approach, in order to reach individuals before they “fall”
·        providing leadership in continuing research, public conscious-raising, private fund-raising, political pressure and social change

Linked to this “new cultural elements” is the digging out and “transporting” best practices from all successful practitioners in the field, from other communities in the region, from other national neighbours, and from countries facing similar homelessness across the globe. These little screens have wireless access to the little screens in all of the laboratories, lecture halls, media newsrooms, governmental offices and legislatures, courts, and international agencies charged with economic and social and political “wellness” of our varied and complex cultures. And from those little screens, with diligence, discipline, collaboration and a renewed sense of altruism among all participants, in that “we are all in this together,” each community can acquire relevant information, social and political models and a new sense of hope and optimism that our most treasured jewels, our youth, need not fall through the cracks of indifference, apathy, anger, frustration, the abuse of power, and/or the incidents of poverty, disease, displacements. These cracks develop inside loving families, inside caring schools, within the sanctuaries of religious organizations, inside athletic teams, the military, and within all social/political organizations and corporations.

We can all become more sensitive about those conditions on the top of the “falls” within our purview, and the potential for young people to “fall” and to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to the notion that we might each have to shift our own “comfort zone” from detachment, refusing to intervene in another’s plight, keeping our time and treasure secure and safe, and believing that we are not “good” enough to become a part of the cultural shift that could lead to fewer “falling” into the whirlpool of homelessness, including the impacts of the well-intentioned social agencies currently operating on the front lines.