Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reflections on a cultural "existential moment"

Can a capitalist culture operating primarily on fear (denied) turn away from bullying people and denigrating the planet?

When the “self” becomes the idol of millions of lives, how does the “public good” have a chance?

There are so many geologic “fault lines” that threaten our civilization with seismic quakes for which we are neither prepared nor are we even willing to acknowledge in our public discourse, or in our public policy. Ironically, as is expected, the anxiety of ordinary people is the most authentic, reliable, and most credible voice of the canary in our shared coal mine, the planet.

Anxiety, even overwhelming fear and loathing, is finding expression, both cultural and personal/digital, through our collective abuse of others and the planet itself. It is as if we are saying, by our attitudes and actions, “carpe diem:” “I’m going to grab everything I can while there is still time, and to hell with whatever or whomever is blocking my personal path to instant gratification.”

Special interest groups, especially those with the loudest and best funded megaphones, have become the tail wagging the dog. Public interest, while needing to pay some attention to the plight of various groups.  Yet those charged with custody of the public good have to have a perspective that reaches beyond the length of their term in office, the next election, or the next Annual General Meeting of the shareholders. Looking down the telescope backwards inevitably narrows our view, limiting the potential to link dots that contribute as root causes to a plethora of public issues. That perspective also narrows the list of tasks needing to be “addressed” through public debate and public policy.

We are living in a time of the proverbial “cameo,” a brooch so small that every person is painting his/her own universe, without adequate consideration of the threats facing humanity and the planet. Thinking globally while acting locally, once a popular slogan, has been replaced by the ubiquitous democratizing of a rampant cleptocracy. And many are doing it by joining ‘victim gangs.’ Perfection in pursuit of narcissism is not a prescription for a healthy and sustainable cultural host of a self-respecting species.
The specific plight of each ‘gang’ (whether it be based on religion, gender, race, or simple status) while needing to be acknowledged and addressed, cannot take energy, focus, creativity or public responsibility away from those issues which confront every person on the planet. It is not merely narrow nationalism that we have to confront, but a narrow approach to the tears of any ‘demographic’. (Detached, objective, intellectual and academic names and vocabulary, including the mounting role of public opinion polls, however valuable, cannot be allowed smoke out our clear perception of the patterns of denial, avoidance, and complicity that threaten to engulf each of us, and all of us.)

Like the man with stage four cancer, on the verge of the end of life, we are very adept at finding those “special treats” and moments that we want to share, prior to our demise. And of course, there is an emotional trauma that comes with each final diagnosis, and we would expect some normal self-indulgence after the shock has been absorbed. However, “ends” when they are dangerous, have a way of focussing the mind on what is really important. We have to decide if we wish to leave “life” in all of its many forms behind, or grab the first plane to Vegas and blow the wad on a good time. As is has throughout history, the threat of death (to an individual or a culture) has left evidence of rebirth and renewal, on one hand, and decay and destitution on the other. This space advocates for the former.

And while the public forums are saturated with vitriol over gender abuse, worker abuse, ethnic abuse, demands for personal and ethnic independence, racial superiority and the demise of all institutions and structures for redress and appeal (thereby favouring the oligarchy that has taken power), millions of ordinary people are ‘sentenced’ to lives unworthy of crawling animals, not to mention homo sapiens. Some will call the last statement a distortion by hyperbole, unless or until they include in their equation the millions in developing nations, where, while poverty is abating, people live in conditions not worthy of those animals mentioned above. Even in the ‘developed world,’ too many people need food banks, and all of the range of new second-hand, new-to-you, used, or rejects outlets that have sprung up in most cities.
We need to confront what are a range of powerful “linemen” as if they all represented the most muscular voices of the oppressed groups, bearing down on our public consciousness, our public purse, our political debates and our collective unconscious in the face of their brute force. The names on the ‘sweaters’ of these linemen include those same forces that have undermined the best angels of our nature since the beginning of time. And while moralists and religious dogmatists have attempted to wrestle them to the ground, they seem to have found new life in recent years. Perhaps it is more that they have been injected with steroids, given the extreme nature of so many of our perceptions, actions and targets of our  approval and awards:

FEAR in its many disguises: greed, narcissism, deception, denial, siloed ideology, militarism, nationalism  (and its children: parochialism, NIMBY, and denial), racism, sexism, ageism all operating with a license to bully and to bury our heads in our private screens.

Taken together, these psychic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual  demons (fears, insecurities, anxieties, desperations, the anatomy of the collective SHADOW)  create a volcanic eruption of blinding gases that obscure the public good, the public interest, the public agenda and the survival of the planet and its people. We can no more expect to eradicate them from our cultural landscape than we can expect to neutralize the volcanoes on Iceland, in Italy, or on Mount Hope. However, we can recognize and acknowledge that we need protective goggles both to protect our vision and our see through the maze of toxic distractions that threaten to blot out the vision of our better angels. Even taken together, the plethora of private initiatives to heal open social and political wounds, to remedy shortages of life supports, and to triage the world’s poverty, disease, illiteracy, terrorism, and all abuses of power, while notable and honourable, fall so far short of meeting the minimum standards of need that this small voice is crying out to be shifted to the top of our shared agenda, from the wilderness of the St. Lawrence River banks. Would anyone and everyone reading this sound a bugle of awakening to re-think how we slovenly fall into the convention of criticism, blame, criminal charges, punishment, defamation, libel, slander and in extremis, solitary punishment, death and elimination of those we consider “despicable.”

Exercising our individual and collective ‘critical parent’ in every situation we observe, in a vain attempt to “right” the hordes of wrongs that meet us, is an approach that has long ago worn out its value, utility and prospects for changing behaviour, attitudes and restoring a needed reservoir of hope and optimism. While the approach has merit in the nursery, and in the nursery schools, and even to a degree on the job. It is, however, counter-intuitive as an instrument for building character and community, both of which are cornerstones of the changes we need to begin to envision, foster and develop. Power “down” as if we had assumed positions of authority over every other human on the planet, demonstrates a haughtiness, self-righteousness, and hubris that is totally unwarranted.

First, in most situations, we have no idea of the circumstances in which “the other” person is enmeshed. Second, several centuries ago, the Magna Carta established a principle that has been eroded, if not decimated in the last several decades. And that statute, although it applies to criminal acts, had profound relevance and application to our less serious offences, perhaps even more relevance and application. Third, we do not enhance our own estimation of worth through our condemnation of the other; rather we demean both ourselves and the other in our subtle put-downs, slights, outright condemnations and outright bullying. Fourth, in our incessant, persistent and irrevocable harshness, we fall into a dangerous trap: the illusion that we feel better for having demonstrated that we are not as “evil” as the person we have targeted. And this illusion is one of the many to which we seem so dependent. Perhaps the detachment from truth and reality is one of the more dangerous cultural dynamic to which we all contribute. Fifth, in our condemnation of “the other’ we extend the kind of historic stereotype of superiority that fails the other and submerges our better intentions in darkness.

Sixth, to defame the other, for whatever reason (legitimate or not) is to “create” a stage for our life on which we encounter mostly “enemies” of various sorts. And while disagreements that require serious reflection, debate and discussion can and often lead to enhanced respect for the other, regardless of the outcome. And yet we have to summon buckets of the waters of maturity, patience and courage from deep interior wells in our being in order to envision such a discussion or debate. And yet, such energy is invariably worth the summoning, the extension to the other, and the promise of deeper understanding of the other, the self and the issue at the core of the disagreement.

It is not only in the single and simple act of blaming others whenever we do something amiss that needs a course correction. The “blame game” also opens the door to normalizing debates about “security” (personal and national) and defense…personal, national and geopolitical including massive public spending on cyber-security and military weapons. Neurosis (and the compensating hubris) in public leadership provides an implicit ‘model’ that paradoxically negates the potential inherent in those leadership positions. It is not an accident that some indigenous leaders decry the band-aid ‘training’ to combat suicide as it overlooks the fundamental need for self-acceptance and self-respect.

We need to adopt a perspective that no loner pays mere lip service to the aphorism, “we are all in this together”. While it is true, especially from an environmental point of view, it is also true from an economic, political, educational, spiritual and survival perspective.

It is to our critical faculties, our broadened and lengthened perspective, bridging east and west, masculine and feminine, objective and subjective, rich and poor, expert and ordinary, artist and scientist, generalist and specialist, indigenous and non, Muslim and Christian and Jew and agnostic and atheist in a world view that is not based on scarcity of any kind: food, health care, education, work with dignity, and decency and respect.
We have to re-think our participation in a system which pits each person against each other person, each country against each other country, each company against each other company, and all of them competing for a finite “bank account” of global resources. It is not through competition that our “best angels” are given birth, notwithstanding that human birthing is a highly painful and delicate and complicated process. It is not based on a preponderant social theory of “the survival of the fittest” that we support and enable the optimum growth and development of each person. And it is not by the superiority of any single group, nation, demographic or ethnicity or faith that human survival can be assured or even envisioned. We may have coined the “there is no I in team” slogan, for the benefit of our specific teams on the court, the pitch or the arena. Yet, we have mountains of bigotry, fear, distrust and outright bullying to acknowledge and then start to remove, without the immediate benefit of profits or dividends to specific investors or oligarchs.

And while there is no single silver bullet or pill to begin the shift in human consciousness, nor a single God or god, or superior person, and no single political ideology or national hubris seducing us to hitch our wagons to its “star”, there is a common human foundation on which to begin to imagine not merely an interconnectedness, and an interdependence, but an agreed authentic assessment of our shared gift of vulnerability.

It is in the paradox of our individual and our collective weakness (not in our inordinate pursuit of strength, ego, facades of power and status), that we can find hope, new perspective and even the potential of survival.  If just half of the energies that we dedicate to our individual/family career goals and the pursuit of military/corporate/financial/political superiority were shifted to our shared responsibility for each other and  the planet, and the next several generations, we would be making a substantial investment in our shared and mutually supportive lives. Death demonstrates that we are simply not invincible, and yet, in too many quarters, we deny our own death, and the death of those we love. Serious illness, while painful and excruciatingly taxing on loved ones, in addition to the patient him/herself, is also unavoidable and yet we make it into a melodrama of too often traumatic proportions. Failure, in the gzillions of faces, too, is a constant, breathing creature resting on the shoulders like a phantom voice of potential shame and anxiety on an hourly and daily basis, and yet, once again, we (both individually and collectively) pounce on the most obvious and most blatant “failures” in others, as if we ourselves were, are and will always be immune to the reality of our own failures. In pointing fingers and blaming, are we enabling a coping tactic that helps us avoid/deny/delude/obfuscate our own vulnerability?

With all the talk of women being sexually assaulted, falling behind men in the pay brackets at all levels, finding their numbers stagnant in the top CEO positions in North America, similar flat-lining in numbers of women legislators (although the number emerging for the 2018 elections in the U.S. show a significant uptick), and generally being oppressed, repressed and finally breaking out of their silence in movements like #MeToo and #Time’sUp, both of which dominated the Golden Globe awards show on Sunday….it is time for a re-think of our history in the light of new and pressing responsibilities and opportunities!

There is another take on this story and it does not need the Catherine Deneuve
(et al) letter, talking about a puritanism that has gone too far to express it. Of course, there is a dramatic difference between flirting of all kinds and rape, a difference that is apparently not worthy of serious consideration by those seeking immediate redress, after centuries of oppression and silence. If men and women were to take stock of the substantial differences in genetic, psychic, anatomical and cultural history between the genders, the hard wiring of men to procreate linked to the hard-wiring of women to conceive, (with very different attitudes and emotions associated with each gender’s participation in the process), there might be a different attitude to the battle of the sexes.

And yet there is an even more significant perspective to insert into the public debate.
If we were to take a long look at history, much of it based on military exploits, political, corporate, ecclesial, ethnic, geographic and national power trips and laws based on a need for control of those savage impulses that we consider repulsive and “evil”….and most of it executed and documented by men, we get a picture of a male gender that is haunted by weakness, failure, defeat, inferiority, insecurity, an innate need to manipulate with hands, and an aversion to things emotional and often spiritual, but not ethical. Try to imagine a Decalogue written by a man and a woman, sharing their perceptions of the world and how to be engaged within it. Try to imagine a full-disclosure conversation that was neither impeded by, nor ignorant of men’s competitive spirit and women’s nurturing hard-wiring. (Stay with me, by refusing to dismiss this as gender stereotyping, please!) With both genders participating fully and equally, free and uninhibited, incorporating the many lessons that humanity has “learned” (or at least uncovered, discovered, sometimes applied, too often ignored or forgot) drawing upon the many academic disciplines and philosophic and religious maxims that we have tried, documented and also tried to eradicate, there might be a different starting point for a new enlightened civilization. Try to imagine a “Garden” in which current insights, and a consciousness of how simple “rules” fall short without a restorative justice process to deal with conflict. Try to picture a dialogue that is inclusive of the kind of empirical evidence that demonstrates how the imposition of pain and injustice without a place of appeal and redress in all situations impacts both individual lives and the life of the community/nations without a place of appeal and redress in all situations.

The need for a mind-set of restorative justice exists even in the parenting of new-borns, the earliest education experiences, and the elementary and secondary school years. There are simply too many examples of the abuse of power in private lives and in the execution of public laws as an agent of ‘reform’ retribution and the pursuit of “justice” for the harmed. We rely far to heavily on “punitive” and “corrective” and hard-instruments of seclusion as a means to “secure” our personal security and safety. If we were to begin from a premise that each person needs to be accepted, nurtured, supported and mentored (and not punished because we feared our personal embarrassment and shame in the public arena) and then were to acknowledge that each decision of authority demands formal review we might be able to make a modest course correction in how people grow and develop.

There is a reasonable argument that many people in positions of responsibility and leadership (and thereby with their hands on the levers of various “power” rules) are themselves there because they need the status and the standing and the recognition that we have wrapped around those positions: corner offices, bulging investment portfolios, the “loyalty” of ‘troops’ and the respect of the community. And yet, all of these “extrinsic” rewards can not and never will fill the vacuum of an hollow ego and a desperate concept of self. Paradoxically, as the existential moment reminds us, we come to the moment in our lives when we become aware of our own meaninglessness, and also that we are responsible to find/embrace/incarnate/exercise a meaning and a reason for our existence. Similarily, organizations, communities, corporations and even nations cannot continue unless and until they “bottom-out” in a moment of consciousness of meaninglessness, and take responsibility for the needed course correction.

It would seem that today, the “west” is at one of, if not the most critical for a long time, its existential moments. There is no “meaning” in acquiring massive wealth (individually, corporately or nationally); there is no “meaning” in building the biggest military-security-industrial-drug complex in history; there is no “meaning” in shouting the loudest lies and defamations of others as a path to self-validation. And there is no “meaning” in presumptions of superiority, specialness, ‘most advanced’ or most threatening. Such bravado and bravura is, let’s face it, the mere act of compensation for fundamental insecurity, currently exhibited most dramatically and tragically by a male-dominated United States of America. And yet, such bravado has been around in mini-incarnations in many families classrooms, board-rooms and churches and universities for centuries.

If, as is most likely, physical size and voice volume, physical strength and mobility, as well as clear (and simplified) gender roles providing a level of clarity and security came to dominate public discourse and written scribblings, among people who were launched on a path, literally and certainly metaphorically without a “compass”….save for the stars, and their wonder and amazement at their beauty and their plenitude…then there is little surprise that we have what we have in that regard, then a new beginning might conceivably include a compendium of compasses.

Now, two thousand-plus years later, we do not have to go forward solely on the basis of those previous patterns perceptions, beliefs and assumptions, without taking into account new perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and possibilities. The church, and most academic institutions, along with the “pillar” professions of the law and medicine elevate the past beyond its reasonable significance. In the church’s case, history is sacralised, and applied as holy-inspired and delivered morality, ethics and salvation. Ironically, the birth of Jesus, reported to be from an ‘unmarried’ couple, would hardly qualify today in many quarters as a holy birth of the Son of God. We like the manger, the stars and the shepherds and the kings with their gifts, while we turn our eyes and our focus away from the unmarried aspect of the birth story.

While we continue to learn, and to operate still in the dark of trial and error in most fields of academic/scientific endeavour, knowing far less than we would like, and even less than many “clients” would assume, we have learned some significant information, patterns, and healthy and life-giving indications of what Plato once called the “good life”. We have learned much, for example, about the roots of deviant behaviour, crime, rebellion, and even terror and tyranny. And while we are a long way from surgically, or even psychologically or economically or politically or spiritually erasing these behaviours from our culture, we do know, without much debate than injustice of any form imposed and executed by any agent, leaves a significant scar on the recipient. Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, a lesson too infrequently considered by people and agencies in power. Scientific method depends on an experimental construct that, insofar as is humanly feasible, objectivity is attained, by the person and the process of the investigation. And, within the confines of the “controlled variables” these processes and “standards” are legitimate.

It is however, outside of the laboratory, (unless we are determined to transform the culture in a micro-lab filled with scientists, statisticians, doctoral candidates, legal departments and police forces) that cultural, emotional, subjective and ambiguous norms and expectations have a role. And in that light, taking a longer view than the nano-second perspective that currently plagues our consciousness, we can see a glimpse of the universe (cultural and historical and religious and philosophic, as well as artistic) that has been developed on the framework of male needs, perceptions, beliefs and expectations as the preponderant driving force.

And in that light, much of history is directly and/or indirectly dependent on men’s (specifically the male gender’s) fears, insecurities and the lengths to which we (men, and with the complicity of many of our female colleagues and partners) will go to hide, bury, deny, obscure, and even compensate for those insecurities. Neurosis, (and occasionally even psychosis) is at the core of too many of our cultural expectations, and our collective conscious and unconscious denial of that basic notion, is and will continue to impale not only how we perceive and debate gender issues but also how we treat the planet, how we see “foreign” countries and their leaders, how we teach our children to compete in a very harsh and competitive and unforgiving Darwinian universe.

Much of our history and tradition are highly dependent on extrinsic, empirical data, on which we base many of our frightened perceptions, observations, attitudes and conflicts. And so long as we concentrate on the empirical, and our capacity to engage with, compete with, seek to dominate and to win in that ‘conflicted’ conception of the nature of existence, we neglect things like the balance of nature, the equilibrium that even in nature where the fox feed on the mouse, the eagle and the falcon feed on the creatures of the field, their existence depends on their taking only what they need, as does the existence of indigenous peoples. Just because we have the tools and the skills to hunt and to butcher and to sell and to buy more than we need, of red meat, white meat, processed meats and all of the grains known to the seed storage vaults and dependent on the farmers’ skill, insight and intuition to plant, nourish, and to harvest.

And the plenty we have produced, and refused to share to the extent of our ability, willingness and longer vision, impales us not only on the dilemma of growing evidence of starvation (while we spread our bodies into obesity) but the growing petard of having to watch planetary inhabitants in too many countries wear masks in order to breathe, eat miniscule portions in order to survive, take home barely survival incomes for their families, and face the prospect of limited educational opportunities for their children, while our children have an ocean of opportunities for good quality health care, for a decent education, and for working opportunities that far outstrip those of the people and the communities in the developing world.

We have taken “superiority” and “being first” and “being exceptional” and “being educated” and “being skilled” and “being innovative” far past its reasonable limit, when viewed from a global perspective. Our rape of natural resources, to feed our greed for power and money through the production and sale of industrial products, linked to our blatant and indecent lumping the human component of labour into the same “cost” file as the raw materials needed to produce our cars, our computers, our cell phones and our MRI imaging devices and our CATSCANs, our sophisticated medical devices, and our blind (even if it is unconscious) adherence to a metaphysical construct that permits and fosters our belief in our capacity to define what is evil, based on the kinds of impurities we detect and work assiduously to remove from, for example, airplane parts in a plating shop.

Purification, perfectionism, linked to a degree of “special status” inferred on us by us, (perhaps originated by the male construct of the power to design and to execute and to critique and to improve) cannot and must not be permitted to substitute for a moral and ethical process than begins with our uncertainty, our not knowing, our incompleteness and our acceptance of our vulnerability, an uncertainty that we all share, that lies at the heart of our truth-telling at our most humble moments.

We have fallen into a deep morass of hubris, like a tower of London display of jewels, as if we not only mined those precious stones, polished them, inserted them in crowns, tiaras, bracelets, rings and necklaces, but also became those very jewels, in the galaxy of human history. Stardom, in our cultures, like the jewels in the tower, are reduced to inanimate, magnificent “things” to be displayed for our entertainment, one of our most productive revenue streams, functioning at the highest level of their “game” whether it be corporate leadership, ecclesial leadership, athletic or theatrical prominence…but nevertheless no more highly developed from a moral, ethical, spiritual, social or familial perspective.

Turning each person, at least in the “west,” into a function performing the directives of those who control their lives through wages, contracts and benefits (however miniscule) obviates the basic principle articulated by Immanuel Kant, that no one is to be the mean to another’s ends. Or course, the most vehement proponents for our way of organizing our social and economic culture will argue that every person who has a job might not have that opportunity and the concomitant income without the ingenuity and the risk-taking and the competitive edge of the originators, inheritors, managers and executives of the corporation. And yet, the emerging evidence demonstrates that many thousands, if not millions, have generated non-profits to meet a plethora of profound and urgent needs in the farthest corners of the planet.

And those “socially conscious” pilgrims are shining a light into the potential for a tectonic shift in world culture from a male-dominated, male conceived, male-operated, male-theorized, and male-propagandized top-down power structure that inhabits the very core of all of our public and private institutions. This hierarchical pyramidal structure depends on absolute loyalty, absolute perfect public images, demonstrated targets of innovation, production, sales, and “leadership” of others. It permits of no variance from the established rules, routines, margins of error, and revenue streams that “knowledgable” and expert professionals have determined are the “culture” of the organization.

Based originally on a military model developed to the battle field, where high risk and high mortality rates impose and enforce a degree of discipline that provides the highest degree of survival potential, the model falls into an obvious mis-application when the purposes of the organization do not embrace the same degree of risk and death.
Not only do our organizations suffer under the medieval chain-link armor of this system but the individuals engaged surrender such a large portion of their uniqueness, leaving them with an impaired vision of their own potential.

Oh, once again proponents of the “system” will argue that there is more than enough “room” to flex political, imaginative and systemic creativity and ingenuity to assure all individuals a fair opportunity to reach their full potential. Underneath, however, lies the obvious construct of how power is defined, executed and expected to prove its worth.
The economy, too, it is argued, is also designed to “work for” the management and the workers, while we all know that everyone, including management and factory  floor worker “serves” the bigger picture of the profits and losses, as calculated by experts paid by the organization to find the best (most profitable, least costly) solutions. Humans, through history, convention, productive and technological design, are the slaves to a hierarchy of power-brokers who own land, money, investment documents, political contacts and the power to decide how they are going to build and operate their enterprise.

This model, call it convenient, call it efficient, call it effective, call it proven, call it warranted because it has “earned its stripes” in exigencies over many centuries, nevertheless perpetuates, and reinforces a social structure that permits deviant individuals to take power, and permits the powerful to engage in military or social conflict for their own benefit and purposes, without the balancing weight of the will of the people.

Democracy, if it were once “bad” but the best we have devised, has morphed into such a thalidomide version of its origin, that we can no longer have confidence and faith in the basic principles of its design.

So long as we continue to “worship” at the altar of the extrinsic, empirical, external power, accumulation of wealth, status, power and control, we will miss  the inverse: the emotional, the intuitive, the spiritual, the intimate, and the unconscious. It is not that these two “sides of the same “heart/face/psyche/spirit/identity” are or can be surgically separated, if we even wanted to carry out such a procedure. Intertwined as co-habiters of the same body/mind/spirit, the conscious/unconscious yin/yang* of the universe, inclusively and inseparably woven into our beings, generates an energy, a tension, a rhythm, and a pulse that maintains, sustains and engenders life.

This very early notion of two different kinds of energies, and two different genders, served humanity for centuries. And then, as an integral and significant  participant in the 20th century, Carl Jung theorized that all males have a significant “component” to their unconscious (ANIMA) and females too have a significant “component” to their unconscious (ANIMUS), a parallel concept. Unfortunately, this anima/animus notion has found a treacherous path to the collective consciousness in the ‘west. Western men especially have yet to acknowledge, never mind accept, tolerate or add the notion of an ‘feminine’ aspect to their nature, their self-concept and identity. Women, on the other hand, have always known and accepted that they have an ‘executive’ energy, and underlying the current gender war is this basic difference.

So long as the men cling desperately to a stereotype that neither expresses our full identity, nor serve us in our pursuit of healthy and mutual relationships with the opposite gender, we will continue down several rabbit-holes that lead inevitably and inexorable to our self-sabotage. Once sharing a portion of the responsibility for the propagation of the species, and to that end, also sharing in the partnership of  two parents for those children, men have seen our “sine qua non” evaporate into the provision of purchased sperm. First, in too many cases we had been emaciated into a mere shadow of ourselves, expressed in the form of a pay-cheque; and then, without even a requiem, we were relegated to the sperm bank by millions of women.
Whether or not we, individually or collectively, deserved our fate seems to depend on the source of the argument. Women whose contempt for men, (misandry) had been initiated in the home, and later in the workplace, found their men “no good” or less then they deemed requisite for a mutual relationship.

Tagore, the Indian poet, thinker, writes** “I speak with a personal feeling of pain and sadness about the collective power which is guiding the helm of Western civilization. It is a passion, not an ideal. The more success it has brought to Europe, the more costly it will prove to her at last, when the accounts are to be rendered. The time has come when Europe must know that the forcible parasitism which she has been  practising upon the two large Continents of the w3orold….must be causing to her moral nature a gradual atrophy and degeneration…..Earnestly I ask the poet of the Western world to realize and/sing to you with all the great power of music which he has, that the East and the West are ever in search of each other, and they must meet not merely in the fulness of physical strength, but in the fulness of truth: that the right hand, which wields the sword, has the need of the left, which  holds the shield of safety.
The man from the East, with his faith in the eternal, who in his soul had met the touch of the Supreme Person…did he even come to you in the West and speak to you of the Kingdom of Heaven? Did he not unite the East and the West in truth, in the unity of our spiritual bond between all children of the Immortal, in the realization of one great Personality in all human persons?

Tagore goes on to challenge the East to find meaning and insight from Science, as the other half of the planetary/human coin.

There is much to ponder in Tagore: the different horizon on time, the relative importance of the eternal/Spiritual/oneness/balance/respect for the other/equality/mutuality among them. There is no hint of outdoing, (unless one has and uses only the right hand), no suggestion of a starting point of scarcity, competition and consequently of winning/losing, or fighting/destroying.
       
The West’s preponderance and proclivity of and for division, segregation, parsing the whole into its multiple parts, as a way to “understanding” is a path that relegates the whole to the periphery, if not the trash. Whiteness, (skin colour) is also associated with, if not actually merged in conventional conversation and thought, righteousness, superiority, and the inevitable consequence of racism we continue to wrestle feverishly, and unsuccessfully, to the ground. People of brown, yellow, red or black skin are thereby marginalized by definition, prior even to their attempt to participate (hoping to integrate) in western civilization. Establishing the west’s fear/contempt/disdain/bigotry of anything and anyone “different” (making permanent the metaphor for “superiority” under such ruse-like monikers as “special” and “gifted” and “superior” and “dominant” while avoiding the racist charge) has been embedded in our education, in our religion and in our economy and political structures and institutions. Most of us grew up in towns and cities where one could count on one hand the number of people of non-white ethnicities, and the scars of prisoner camps for different ethnicities (perhaps varying from country to country) continue to haunt the pages of our history books, our government apologies and reparations, and the coffee shops and the malls of our cities.
Time, too, has a very different complexion in the East from the West. Being part of an eternal perspective, naturally, mitigates against the obsessive-compulsive scramble to chase every potential opportunity of every moment, to make another “score” whether a new client, a new sale, another profit, another dividend, another promotion, another new possession, including a house, car, wardrobe, jewellery, or even partner. The proverbial ‘rat-race’ is not an accident; it is a sign that one is ambitious, committed to one’s career (and thereby to the corporation) and climbing the ladder of “success”….and so on both the literal and the metaphoric level it “serves” to advance the reputation of the “player”. Action, trumping reflection, can only lead to imbalance. Some western corporations have created “time-out” rooms for employees, where they can pause from the hurly-burly of the office, and hopefully come up with some new “idea” to serve one of two goals: increase profit or decrease costs.

This “urgency” of the moment, is a suit worn by most employed individuals, from the bottom of the corporate ladder right to the top, as a sign that everyone is “engaged” and not “goofing off”. Our western puritanism, our competitive nature, our collective blindness to the self-sabotage in which we are deeply mired. And this self-sabotage is never mentioned in the health care reports that sound alarms daily about the scarcity of funds, resources, staff and facilities, and especially the super-abundance of patients. Of course, we are getting sick living in a culture that is so demanding and so unforgiving and so relentless in its expectations of us, our children, our colleagues, and our public leaders. If we do not have a personal schedule that is filled with appointments from early morning to late afternoon, if not also into the evening, then we are simply not “playing the game.”

And implications of this lifestyle are not restricted to the health care budgets, the cancer wards and the cardiac wards and the emergency departments. The notion that actions are the single most important communication, in the workplace, automatically deposes the notion of long-term, and also medium-term thinking and planning. And yet we are walking among shelves and digital files of non-fiction works that decry our lack of ingenuity, creativity. And the gap in these qualities is not restricted to the production and the sales of products and services; it is also restricted to our approach to the individual worker.

S/he is another “thing” just like the raw materials imported to produce whatever widgets are at the core of the business. Some are weaker than others, and thereby easily and readily disposable and also disposed. A few seem to have a halo around the cranium, especially in the eyes of the various supervisors, especially the one who made the hire. (ego and career development/promotion is not restricted to the new hire; everyone is padding the resume, using whatever modicum of evidence available.
The “brotherhood of man” notion explicit in the piece from Tagore, of course, is a beautiful ideal, for many. Yet, what if it were actually more than an ideal? What if it were,  as well as being a lofty principle, based on a reality to which each of us need more exposure. And through exposure, we would be challenged to “let it in” not only to our cognition, but also to our affect, and even further into our public discourse, our institutions including our governments and our legal systems. Several hundred years ago, on the island of Great Britain, others, today called Quakers, posited that there is “that of God in everyone” a theological principle so radical then, and also today, that confronts much of what passes for Christianity. It is a starting point for self-consciousness, and by extension to an attitude toward the other, without having to distract from the many imperfections, faults, errors and hurt each of us inflict especially on those we care deeply about. Linked to each other in the spirit, as Tagore posits, seems all these years later, to have become a scientific and existential truth. And there is a cogent argument that failing to embrace such a human unity, in physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual terms could well proven to be the Achilles Heel to the human race.

And yet, we wallow in the swamp of exaggerated differences based on skin colour, language, religion, ethnicity, geography, age, gender, and especially in the west, status, power and wealth. Territorial, anxious, even quixotically and impulsively, lashing out at the least and most recent slight, especially the slight that comes via the digital device soldered to our hands our eyes and our ears. Seduced by the envelop of our own exclusivity, as if we belong only in the bubble that is our private universe, as if we were independent of every other human being on the planet, (unless and until will need the other for some personal narcissistic instant gratification) and as if we either reject or deny our mutual interdependence with our families, our classmates, our neighbours, colleagues and fellow citizens (of the world).

Even geographic neighbours (like the United States and Canada) barely know anything about the details that matter in the other nation. Of course, we magnetically attract and voraciously gulp in the cliché stereotypes from each. For Americans, Canadians are excessively (and perhaps falsely) polite and persistently apologizing; for Canadians, Americans are excessively proud, boastful and loud and, oh yes, also violent and obsessively armed with personal guns. Neither image is totally inaccurate; nor is it a full and developed (and developing) picture of either the majority on either side of the 49th parallel, nor of each individual. With the development of digital technology, time and distance, theoretically, can be spanned in a virtual instant, punching holes in  national borders, and providing slight glimpses of the world from perspectives previously hidden from view. And yet, cyber invasions amounting to all-out new forms of geopolitical conflict have shifted the battlefield from sky, landmass and ocean to “cyberspace”. On the post-secondary student stage, there are many more opportunities for travel and study in “foreign” universities; and hundreds, if not thousands, of not-for-profit charities have sprung up to address critical human needs in all corners of the globe. For this, we are all grateful and inspired. It is at the official, national, institutional levels that the human visa continues to be painted in dark, gloomy, frightened and frightening eruptions of the private neuroses (psychoses?) of too many leaders.

Trading on a reservoir of predictable and perhaps even growing fear among the ordinary people in every country, too  many leaders are preying upon and taking deliberate steps to nurture those anxieties, as a path to attempt justification of their illicit power schemes.

And how can anyone (group, club, political party, church, university, court or legislature) be expected to counter the torrential winds of fear, climate irregularities, militarism, competition, division, and power games that have spread their tentacles into the very unconscious of the individual, as well as into the collective conscious and unconscious?

Our openness to a very different (and highly controversial) posture asserts that, we cannot, will not, and were never supposed to “dominate” nature as the early writing about “having dominion” over the earth declared. And, to put a finer point on it, our strength is not in our ability to ‘win’ or to ‘dominate’ or to ‘control’ or to lead (as top down hierarchical rules would imply and even require)…

Our greatest strength, paradoxically, and this is especially true for men, is in our vulnerability, our unknowing, our inability to fix everything, our competitive impulses. And in our iron resistance to that paradox lies our blindness to our own self-sabotage, a dynamic that continues to repeat itself in personal lives, in organizational histories and in geopolitical encounters. We are not in a competition with each other, including the other gender, nor with other ethnicities, nor with other cultural traditions, nor with other scientists, nor with other political ideologies, no matter how strenuously we twist ourselves out of shape to prove the opposite. And this initiating principle has to be laid squarely at the feet of our male forefathers, whose need to prove themselves (and to counter their fears of defeat in each and every aspect of their lives) has for centuries blinded their ability to perceive, accept, acknowledge and to work with their (our) truth.

*In Chinese thought and religion, two principles, one negative, dark and feminine (yin) an done positive, bright, and masculine (yang) whose interaction influence the destinies of creatures and things.
Editor’s note: Of course, in western contemporary culture, such a concept would be considered highly charged as sexist, reductionistic and outdated. Those allegations, however, do not justify a refusal to acknowledge the principle, nor a denial of the relevance and the significance of the ancient wisdom.
**East and West, Tagore Part IV




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