Saturday, March 31, 2018

Shining a light into the dark corners of 'white-collar, respectable' bullying

If we are ever going to get to the core of the bullying we are witnessing among adolescents, gangs, and even terrorists, we are going to have to address the “white collar” bullying that we are all experiencing every day. This ‘white collar’ bullying takes place right under our nose and eyes and in our ears. And it involves every single corporation, organization and institution erected for the alleged purpose of selling, servicing or ministering to the public.

It is very hard to rank the culprits; however, banks, drug companies, insurance companies, fossil fuel companies, auto companies, sports organizations, Olympic drug abuses, specific government “leaders” and governments generally, and even churches are all implicated in the methodology of dominance. And those methods include deception, greed, infantilizing, over-promising and under-delivering, outright lying, manipulation of evidence (e.g. autos to subvert emissions testing, and drug companies to minimize side effects), insurance companies in failing to deliver on commitments.

Let’s not omit the growing number of cases of ordinary insurance consumers who file bogus claims. Supermarkets in Canada have been engaged in price fixing on bread for decades, as just one example of the abuse of power that surrounds us on all sides. We learned this week that even the Toronto Blue Jay opening game featured some 40% of the seats that were re-sold by scalpers, like StubHub, who have a contract to kick back 10% to the baseball club on the re-selling of those game tickets. When will the abuse of ordinary people, people who are not educated on the intricacies of private, political, and profit-sharing schemes that rob us of every penny with impunity, stop? It seems to spread like a dangerous and untouchable toxic virus into every nook and cranny of the dark corners of greedy opportunity, so long as its spirit-killing impact remains undetected.

The history of power, whether secular, ecclesial or corporate, linked inextricably and permanently to a model of masculinity, enhanced by kings/emperors/popes/dukes/lords throughout many centuries, stems from the historic model of military hierarchy.

Political control achieved almost always through the deployment of military power, no matter how sophisticated the weapons, brought the church, the crown, and the leaders of various kingdoms into conflict, without bending the model and certainly without rendering it obsolete. And the model “soldier,” to reinforce the effectiveness of the military, has to be courageous, strong, determined, unflinching and power-driven, both as a submission to the authority in charge, and to enhance the potential opportunities for personal advancement and “leadership”. So, schools too took up the challenges of “making men out of boys” as a matter of the “establishment” enhancing the social, political, economic and status potential of those sons. Even today, military uniforms draped over the bodies of young men serve as a magnet in attracting the “fairer” gender, for the simple reason that those young men are imbued  with respectability, responsibility, stability and strength, linked to trust-worthiness.

Centuries of institutional masculine hierarchy has not been replaced by a few years of “evolved masculinity” holding the hand of feminist activism, or even the rise in consciousness of such social media crowds as #Time’sUp and #metoo. In fact the aphrodisiac of power continues to provide polar magnetism in advertising, political rhetoric, salesmanship, and many of the professional careers like medicine, law, accounting and even the clergy. Linked to power, of course, naturally, but certainly not imperceptibly, is the pursuit and acquisition of wealth. Money, dubbed as the “way to keep score” of the game of the pursuit of power, continues to magnetize the career dreams of millions of young men and women. So convincing is this “pot of gold” to those innocent young men and women that North American universities have dropped many liberal arts courses and programs in favour of “career and skills development” programs.

So pervasive is the power and control motive that it finds emphatic expression, not only in physical and emotional abuse, but also in “umbrella” parenting, hovering over every move of their young offspring. Similarly, abuse/bullying occurs when teachers operate as if their classrooms their private fiefdom, and when coaches obsessed with winning turning their practices and games into opportunities to bully their players. Medical schools scheduling their undergrads into extensive duties often mounting the 80-90 hour mark without breaks, as an example of “how it has always been done” and therefore must be continued demonstrate a degree of unprofessionalism and bullying that needs to be curbed. In corporations, too, leadership demands that each supervisee “toughen up” to be able to withstand increased pressure to perform and to produce (in the obsessive chase for profits, dividends and promotions) on the presumed theory that tougher hires will be more reliable, dependable, productive and thereby become jewels in the supervisor’s personal, social, political, career crown.

As one near forty-something put it recently, after accepting a highly demanding job following an occupant of the job who worked up to twenty hours daily, “I knew what I was getting into, but I am not prepared to work the kind of hours purported by my predecessor.” Medical doctors, clearly in short supply, and working, at least in Canada, under a national health care model, are compelled to work “on call” schedules that require emergency room attendance on patients, plus operating room execution of surgeries for those same emergencies, for periods up to a full week, without being able to meet normal rest and sleep requirements of the human body.

Bullying knows no specific uniforms, being evident in the corporate board room, the operating room, the church sanctuary, the athletic field, court and rink, and especially the job market. And all of this neglects the kind of political propaganda that gushes from the mouths of political actors like trump, putin, kim, and others of the least savory class. These "leaders" not only display unbelievable arrogance and insouciance: they also give cover and encouragement to many who have been waiting in the weeds for the opportunity to abuse power on their "victimizers". Political and public abuse of power also fails to mention, but cannot be separated from, the kind of bullying that characterizes too many of the exchanges on social media, frequently leading to self-inflicted wounds and even suicide.

On this Good Friday, we are reminded of another act of brutality, following betrayal for a few pieces of silver, committed against the young Jew called Jesus, by the mob. The theological explanation includes the necessity of this act of murder in order to make the Resurrection feasible, following only by a few days, the triumphant processing on a donkey of that same Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Talk about fickle, and unrestrained bi-polarity by the crowd, still baked into the cake today). And while the theological perspective includes the “forgiveness” through the sacrifice and the new life following that forgiveness, the history of the church is covered in the blood of enemies of all stripes including different religions, different beliefs, different liturgies, different political ideologies. The theme of resurrection and forgiveness, seemingly beyond the capacity of most humans, has been so overshadowed by the celebration of the crucifixion of the “untamed” and the “wild” and the “unrepentant” and the “apostate” in the eyes of the church hierarchy, as to render conflict, division, bullying and dominance as the primary legacy of faith and religion.

The pursuit of power, in all of its many nefarious forms, (especially when it abuses the respect, dignity, honour and the person who might be in the way of that pursuit) is endemic to the human condition. Once, while delivering an address to a service club, a speaker referred negatively to “dictators” operating business by bullying their workers. Immediately following the address, the speaker was accosted by an audience member who corrected the speaker: “You meant “drivers” didn’t you?” The speaker retorted, “You call them drivers; I call them dictators!”

Police shooting innocent victims; churches excommunicating those who do not “fit” into the proscribed rules; corporations who believe that they can pull off the most heinous deceit, so long as they do no get caught; political leaders who think their legacy depends on the massing of the most powerful killing machines, as a “protection” of their people, the NRA propagandists who argue for the massive sale and distribution of guns as the legitimate path to a “secure” family, school, and society; the misuse of large numbers as a litmus test for all achievements, including increased sales, increased revenues, increased profits, increased dividends, increased numbers of supervisees (as a sign of power, status, and especially respectability); the revenue from movie ticket sales as evidence of the “artistic value” of the movie, the sacrifice of the mission of any organization, including any government to the numbers, without at least an equal, if not greater significance on the intrinsic value of the organization to both its workers and its clients….these are all evidence of the kind of distortion, imbalance, and self-serving “framing” of the value of the organization in favour of those in charge….As David Suzuki long ago reminded us, in his “voice from the wilderness” on global warming and climate change: “The economy should be working “for the people, not the other way round!”

Evidence of nuanced and highly embedded serfdom, resulting from the bullying of those in power grows daily: the labour movement is in tatters around the world; the geopolitical institutions of collaboration, co-operation and resolve to discover and to implement needed strategies to face the threats and challenges facing the planet and all of humanity depend increasingly on “private capital” and not on public decisions by public leaders to serve a growingly marginalized public everywhere; the abortion of the new technology to serve the nefarious purposes of insouciant and narcissistic mostly men, at the expense of not only their nations’ long-term reputation, but of the more immediate and legitimate needs of their people right now; the glaring imbalance of national budgets that rob public services like health care, education, and needed social services to infuse fiscal steroids into the already bloated muscle of the hard-powered military (Russia just this week tested its latest and most powerful missile, capable of striking North America); the manipulation of evidence, including lying, denying responsibility, using distortion and subterfuge in order to confuse by those in power to serve their personal hubristic ambitions, while providing mounting evidence of the inverse of health moral leadership to their people, including the youth in their nations.

While this may sound to some like a ritualistic “Presbyterian” homily, it refuses to accept such derisive reductionism. The abuse of power, by those entrusted with its levers, at all levels of our contemporary culture is not restricted to putin and trump and kim jung un; they are merely the most obvious and potentially most abusive of the army of dictator wannabees, each seeking and finding more “land” to conquer. The only difference between the “lords” of the Middle Ages and the modern oligarchs is that the currency has morphed from land to dollars, bitcoins, tax-free havens, the surgical removal of public protections by a mere executive order, the scorched earth approach to the removal of voting rights, human rights, and public safety and security from the very threats most of these “leaders” deny for their own purpose.

Terms like “gilded age” and “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” and “dictator” and even “abuse of power” seem limp and like warm dish water, given the extent to which power is being sucked out of the hands of ordinary people everywhere by a class of opportunistic and psychically bankrupt leaders. These self-serving, deceitful, apparent anarchists work hourly and feverishly to seduce a segment of people (those who feel especially angry and starved of recognition and respect) to prop them up in their life-long ambition for self-aggrandizement. Many of their supporting cast are themselves in awe of the bravado and the machismo and the recklessness with which their “leaders” pursue their private agendas.

And the “public interest,” the “public good,” the humanitarian goal of human respect and dignity and even potentially survival, embodied in such relatively simply and relatively easily attainable goals like clean air, clean water, accessible health care, decent and honourable work, and peace and security from nuclear and military and espionage threats….all of these noble and worthy dreams lie on gurneys in too many hallways of too many metaphoric hospitals while patronizing drips of saline bromides drip ever so imperceptibly into their shrinking veins.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Can we find the will and the muscle to ensure our human survival?

There is a strong “current” in the political/diplomatic world that mirrors the dramatic shifts in climate we are also witnessing. Some might call this a global “pathetic fallacy” where the climate and the human drama are “in sync”…the outside world reflecting the atmosphere and the temperature and the “forecast” of what is going on inside the corridors of power.

Only this scenario differs from the traditional “pathetic fallacy” in that from a moderate reading of the evidence, one has to conclude that human agency is at the core of both dynamics. Humans, and here we mean specifically the worst demons of our kind, are increasingly demonstrating their power and influence, while the more moderate, more modest and more trust-worthy of our angels seem to be idling silently on the beaches.

 Our climate is under considerable, mounting, empirically verifiable strain, so much that if it were a human body, it would be in Intensive Care, and extreme measures to stop the bleeding, and to restore full consciousness and to bring the “patient” back to full health would be underway. And there is little reasonable dispute about the human agency in our self-sabotaging contamination of our air, water and land. Nor is there any serious dispute that steps to slow the disaster are uneven, meagre, and insufficient. Some countries are taking the evidence seriously, while many, including especially North America, seems complacent, uninterested and uncommitted to serious remedial actions like saving water, using clean energy in all transportation, and transitioning to a primarily “plant” diet.

Concurrent with our darkening horizon on the climate “front” we are witnessing  growing storm clouds on the geopolitical “front”…nerve gas, from whatever source having poisoned a Russian double agent and his daughter in Salisbury, UK, and some 100 “diplomats” have been sent home to Russia from a host of European and “western” nations, in protest. Our collective response, however, much like our disjointed and meagre responses to the dangers of climate change and global warming are unlikely to have much impact in changing the attitudes and actions of Putin and his cohorts in the Kremlin. Attempting to restore the “glory of Russia” as if it were a physical edifice that could be rebuilt by building invulnerable missile systems, capable of carrying nuclear bombs that can strike anywhere in the world, mirrors (or perhaps imitates) the “make America great again” slogan of the U.S. administration’s budget increase of $54 billion to the Pentagon.

As these immature, emotionally, psychically and spiritually bankrupt “leaders” empty that word of its integrity and authenticity, (demonstrating a kind of hollow braggadocio worthy of a Kim Jung Un) bellicose rhetoric, impulsive and helter-skelter actions like tariff announcements, transgender bans, retaliation and school-yard taunts parade across the headlines of dailies and televisions screens. Tawdry sexual affairs, secreting of billions of ill-gotten funds in foreign bank accounts in countries desperate for the business of these thugs, and total disdain for even a modicum of respect for the people these “leaders” serve (as if they were even conscious of their legal, moral, political and historic obligations in that regard) characterize the new “norm” in this global reality television show.

We have, con-jointly, participated in morphing our public debates into little more than another reality television show, populated by scripts that feed on the narcissistic motives of the worst among us, contemptuous of even the existence of the people, who by their ritualistic fixation on the “extreme” drama and their collective silence (far short of the intense and authentic protest of the adolescent chorus protesting the proliferation of all weapons!)

·        The proliferation of a new kind of serfdom in the workplace, aided and abetted by the thugs on top, and
·        the prospect of an significant increase in military rhetoric and conflict in more and more locations (witness the appointment of one john bolton who has written abundantly about the need to bomb Iran and to wage war on North Korea to the National Security Advisor’s Chair),
·        masked by a stock-market that jolts up and down with every knee-jerk tweet from the Oval Office
·        and mounting evidence of betrayal of private information for the purpose of manipulation votes in Great Britain, the United States, Nigeria, and who knows where else
·        the disclosures of an adult film actor of an affair, plus hush money just 11 days prior to the 2016 American presidential election
·        the disclosures of millions of questionable loans to the president’s son-in-law, plus evidence from foreign governments about their open and blatant desire and plan to manipulate the neophyte “diplomat”

….taken individually, these might not amount to too much to worry about. Cumulatively, however, they erode whatever modicum of confidence in public institutions, national governments, and public officials remained following the election of November 2016.

The report of the provincial and federal Auditors General, (the first time they have ever collaborated on any report) on how prepared Canadian provinces and the federal government are to meet the threat of climate change and global warming, leaves all Canadians scratching our heads, wondering, “When are we going to get our act together, take this threat seriously and show some political will and muscle sin our own defence.

Whether or not we have entered a new and different “cold war” with the Russians, and whether or not China is about to subvert the international trading system, and whether or not the North Koreans are going to limit (certainly not eliminate) their nuclear program, and whether or not a new arms race has already begun, and whether or not the Second Amendment could be abolished (as advocated today by former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, in the New York Times)…and whether or not the United Kingdom will leave the European Union (with or without a second vote, based on the subversion of the first)….

These are all questions hanging in the air. And depending on which country we live in, and which accounts we are reading and listening to, we are, most of us at least, apparently on the high side of fear, anxiety, despair and in some quarters, despondent about the potential for a lowering of tensions, threats and divisions.

Underlying all of the issues, too, is the ancient history-long divide between races, religions, ethnicities and economic classes. No matter the names on the conflicting cohorts, (the Rohinga’s versus the Muslims, the Protestants versus the Catholics, the blacks versus the whites, the caucasians versus the indigenous, the master versus the “slave” (workers, whose status, support, security and respect have all atrophied in a wash “down the many rivers” of commerce), the rich versus the poor, the developed world versus the developing world……there is a deficit of both political will and creative approaches to beginning the process of reconciliation in most of these “control dramas” (that’s what they would be called if they were occurring between two people).

All of these differences, conflicts, cleansings, wars and insurrections are not going to matter very much if and when there is not enough food, clean water, and fertile land, with life-sustaining temperatures to sustain human, animal and plant life. Sharing responsibility for our individual and collective survival seems like the handwriting on the walls of all of the cities, towns villages and underground tubes. Although it is certainly not an original concept, perhaps if we were all to focus directly, seriously, persistently, passionately and purposefully on the prospect of a a shared planet with finite resources for survival, and each of us make the commitment to change our attitudes, our behaviours and especially our willingness to sacrifice for the survival of not only our children and grandchildren, but also for the survival of all of the millions (billions) of people around the world who, one has to guess, want a world in which their children and grandchildren can live healthy, productive and rewarding lives, long into the future.

Is this dangerous moment in time adequate to help us all remove the blinders, the denials, the excuses and the resistances from our minds, ears eyes and hearts…those same resistances that keep us locked in our enclaves, our ghettos, our sanctuaries, our executive offices, our board rooms, our bars and restaurants…and stretch ourselves beyond our current comfort zone, in order to achieve a universal comfort zone of sustainable survival for all, no matter our specific identity?


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reflections on Balbriggin beach

Sitting on a bench on the shore of the Irish Sea this afternoon at Balbriggin IE, with gulls circling, flocking to ancient black rocks, and parents of both genders pushing strollers with infants tented in plastic, the scant breeze turning barely perceptible waves onto the shore, before high tide, my wife and I were literally and metaphorically completely detached from news of Cambridge Analytica, professor Kogan, and the trump campaign.

We knew nothing of the ‘hunt’ for Zuckerberg, the millions of dollars invested in Cambridge Analytica by Mercer, nor the fact that his daughter was/is? a board member of the firm, nor that both U.S. and U.K. governments were on a steroid-induced troll for whatever breaches of law, ethics, and business ethics were embedded in the election of trump.

And we really could not have cared less about all that!

We were/are ensconced in a visit into places like the Long Room, filled with 200,000 volumes of historic texts, the busts of dozens of world thinkers, writers, scientists and scholars. Having just crossed the Ha’Penny Bridge yesterday, where, as on  the bridge over the Seine, romantic couples had placed padlocks, emblematic of their relationship securely onto the bridge’s frame, we strolled Temple Bar, detoured into McDonalds for a brief reprieve from the seering cold wind and happily joined hundreds from all over the world to line up for an opportunity to view the Book of Kells, at Trinity College Dublin.

Some of our ancestors had emigrated to North America from the Emerald Isle, and we came to absorb the land, water, air and culture on which they were reared. And some of what we have discovered is worth noting: waterless urinals, (saving 100,000 litres of water annually), sun-fuelled compactors of refuse on the university campus, hotel room lighting that is turned on only after the hotel “key-card) has been inserted into a controlling slot. When the guests remove the card, and leave for the day, no electricity is used in the room. Similarly, corridors adjacent to the “lift” (elevator) doors remain unlit, unless and until a person steps off the elevator, triggering their illumination.

Electric trains link all major cities, including Dublin to Belfast, the home of “the troubles” and both ad signage and hotel-hosted religious conferences continue to evangelize for Christ, without raising a whiff of either public engagement or disdain. As one local put it on the beach where he was raking geometric images, as part of a self-designed psycho-therapy regime, the division between Catholics and Protestants simply does not matter to anyone. He was schooled by Franciscans, while as a father, he worked to establish a non-sectarian school attended by his sons, and students of all faiths, and no faith, in the suburb of Dublin. The mere recollection of the visit of Rev. Iain Paisley to this small town, ‘where he was not warmly welcomed’ kindled a deep connection and silent applause in this rebel who, at sixteen, departed a parish in Canada, after a Paisley clone announced that “Roman Catholics were going to Hell” in a public sermon, on behalf of a bogus religion and ideology that was/is an agency consummated in some kind of icy hell, and delivered as a means of disruption around the world.

The announcement (advert) on the television by some pharmacist of the growing incidence of bowel illnesses in the last decade (he was selling an agent to counter the discomfort) acknowledges what the geometric beach designer and millions of others around the world already know, that current conditions in most, if not all workplaces, have left conscientious professionals suffering deeply under the strain of abuse by clients, pressures to comply with new regulations and expectations from employers, and threats to personal security, privacy and personal contentment and psychological peace that found some of on that beach far away from it all.

And this dis-ease that has forced panic attacks on the ‘beach-designer’ and placed millions in jeopardy of similar psychic pressures, often repressed and unacknowledged, results from many variant stimuli. However, the culmination of these militant political, cultural and fiscal “viruses” (including Cambridge Analytica, trump, bannon, mercer and the millions of corporate feudal lords at the top of millions of employers) demands a push-back from ordinary people, those clinging to their jobs, or digging for their opportunities to work, or scurrying away as refugees from poverty, war, disease and hunger….all of us crying, like the unfed Polar Bear which screams, “We will no longer merely gather up the crumbs that you plutocrats let fall from your tables, your cash registers and your investment portfolios!”

It is no longer adequate to debate the ravages of corporate greed, as an ideology of abuse. We must move beyond the abstract! Our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our spirits are withering on the slender and unwatered, un-attended vines of what once passed as beneficence on the part of major employers, once concerned about their workers, the lives of their families, and the thrill that comes from demonstrable support and nurture of those families.

It was a brief moment of heart-warming (if ever-so-minimal) beneficence that emerged in an early afternoon replay of Undercover Boss, on Channel 4 in Dublin, earlier today, in which the CEO of True-Value Hardware Corporation, a former undercover agent for the FBI, met and had secret conversations with workers in one of the company’s franchise stores in Massachusetts. And then, after removing his “cover,” he had frank, supportive and mentor conversations, supplemented by the commitment of real cash for support for loan pay-offs, educational trusts, “familymoon” for one married worker who had not had the opportunity to have a real honeymoon. But the real difference in these conversations was that he was asking for and committing to a mentorship relationship in which he proposed speaking once a month every month for a year, to guide the recipient of the company’s support and trust, and to incarnate the belief that these people were worthy of such personal/corporate encouragement.

As reality television, the piece has some entertainment value. However, as a cultural tip of the arrow of healthy recognition of the value of those in the trenches, all of the trenches, and not merely tokenism for television ratings, this CEO could well enable others to find the courage to step into the growing void of hopelessness, and despair and lost lives that populate the fast food outlets, the hardware warehouses, the insurances brokerages where phoney claims by amoral fraudsters not only push up all premiums, but trash those who have to work in an environment that escapes even the bare minimum of conscience and ethical considerations.

We are at risk of drowning in a tidal wave of narcissism, demonstrated by the trumps, the bannons, the mercers and the zuckerbergs (rumors of his potential run at the White House in 2020 cannot be overlooked or denied). And the decent, atheist geometric beach designer’s images, like the implicit and intrinsic value of each of us in this world dominated by the moral insouciants, will be washed away by the next high tide.

And its arrival is merely hours away, in geologic time!   

Monday, March 12, 2018

Let's rethink crime and punishment in North America...

There is a glaring gap between the justice and rehabilitation processes in North America and those operating in Europe. This space has previously explored the humane treatment of prisoners in Norway. Just this week, CBS’S 60 Minutes shone a light on the German prison system, dedicated as it is to restoring the individual to the community, while considering the “punishment” to be the incarceration without needing additional abuse.

Conditions inside a prisoner’s room, including a private bath, his own decorations, are dramatically different from those in prisons on this side of the Atlantic. There seems to be a kind of social vengeance inflicted on prisoners in North America, probably more severe in the U.S. than in Canada, but nevertheless, a harshness, coldness and insensitivity that borders on abuse.

Some statistics might demonstrate a significant difference in incidents of crime in Great Britain as compared with the United States (from Nation Master website*):
Ranked 44th.
Ranked 10th. 138 times more than UK
78,753 prisoners
Ranked 15th.
2.02 million prisoners
Ranked 1st. 26 times more than UK
6.52 million
Ranked 2nd.
11.88 million
Ranked 1st. 82% more than UK

Comparing Germany crime rates to those of the United States:
Ranked 43th.
Ranked 7th. 6 times more than Germany

Ranked 29th.
Ranked 9th. 19 times more than Germany

Ranked 79th.
Ranked 43th. 5 times more than Germany

Ranked 5th.
Ranked 1st. 11 times more than Germany

Ranked 24th.
Ranked 9th. 3
times more than Germany
*These figures are based on 2014 data.

While a detailed an academic analysis of this data is not our purpose here, nevertheless, the nation with the highest prison population (among the three countries listed (Germany, UK, US) also has the highest crime rates. And although Canada’s incarceration rates do not match those of the U.S. nevertheless, the incarceration methods fall far short of those in Germany, and in Norway.

What are the foundational differences between the cultures in North America and those in Europe that mediate very different prison systems? In fact, U.S. prison officials have begun to visit Germany for one, in order to learn how their culture and nation treat prisoners, with a view to “modernizing” and “moderating” the extremes in prisoner treatment, and prison guard attitudes and approaches. Reports of excessive use of solitary confinement in Canada, over the last few months, have exposed a degree of abuse that has prompted public investigations and calls for much less use of “solitary”. And solitary is just one aspect of the deprivations, above imprisonment, that North American prisoners endure. Cells are bare, stripped of normal human amenities, decorations, including personal cell keys, a significant trust and privacy feature in the German prison documented on 60 Minutes.

There are clearly different attitudes, histories, philosophies and psychologies being applied to the German prison system, one from which both Canada and the United States could learn much, in order to reduce costs of confinement, and generate both lower crime rates and lower recidivism rates. And yet, there seems be little more than a silent whisper from isolated voices crying in the political wilderness where public attitudes are either dissociated from or unconscious of the current conditions in North American prisons.

Judgementalism, in extremis, describes public attitudes to unacceptable, unlawful and criminal acts in North America. For example, word of “mouth” evidence, on social media, not under oath, nor under critical cross examination, and certainly not before either a trained jurist or a jury of one’s peers, have become accepted as normal in the public reputational assassination of many, especially men, who have crossed the lines of propriety and personal security and safety of many women. And while the subjects of these accusations are not in prison, the gender conflict exemplifies a deeper theme running through the cultural granite of our times.

Only if and when we collectively, socially, culturally, and politically come to embrace the notion that for the most part, the people who commit crimes have already had a gut-full of all of the abuses that can be perpetrated on humans will we begin to appreciate then full reality of their lives, including their misdeeds. And only then will we be able to shed the blinders to our own “colonizing” of these men and women as another of the many abuse of power that are embedded in our “developed” and “enlightened” culture. (Leave aside the sociopaths, the psychopaths, and the sex offenders, for whom neither the roots of their condition, nor the approaches to deal with them have been clearly discovered.)

There are, at its roots, too fundamental motives driving our approach to crime: first, we seek “justice” for the victims, and that norm implicitly means prison, hard labour, stern and hard-assed discipline while incarcerated and few if any meaningful steps to restore the individuals to return to their homes, and begin to function within the society. And second, we do strongly seek to “remove” the problem from view, as an example of deterrence for others. And while there is a long history of stern punishments, there is little evidence that either the punishment or the deterrence generate the desired impacts and results we seek. Capital punishment, for example, has long been proven to have a negligible impact as deterrence, and yet 38 U.S. states have re-instated in over the last two decades. Thankfully, Canada has not restored it, and there appear no signs to move in that direction.

In Germany, for example, prison guards are given two years of training in approaches to dampen down the tension, the unrest, the irritability and the dangers within the institutions. It is very quiet inside the prison depicted on the 60 Minutes documentary. Leisure activities, for men, including crocheting, knitting, volleyball and reasonable healthy activities that men who have erred and hurt others seem to appreciate, not to mention the trust the program begins to build inside their psyches.

Incidentally, in both Germany and in Norway, recidivism rates are much lower than they are in North America….surprise! Hardly, when the root causes of crime are much better understood, appreciated and a vindictive motive does not have the kind of cultural acceptance and application there that it seems to have in North America.
There is also an implicit arrogance, superiority and blind insensitivity in a culture that considers those who commit crimes less than social “dung” and worthy of the kind of treatment that even animals do not deserve. And that arrogance has its roots in a religious self-righteousness for which the Christian church has had a considerable impact on generating.

Original Sin, that cornerstone of religious belief, that separates and alienates all human beings from their highest and best angels and motives and behaviours, starts with a notion of a God that could only be a model of vindictiveness, vengeance, contempt and punishment. Such a God is not worthy of the name. And those who sought to inscribe the original narrative as a guiding archetypal beacon for the rest of human civilization, while honourable in their intent, were blinded by their limited perspective. And the implications of Original Sin continue as a tidal wave centuries later.

Starting from the position that we are all wretched sinners, evil, and seriously bereft of redeeming qualities, without the intervention of God (in whatever form and purpose we conceive that entity to intervene in human life), only underscores a position not merely of vulnerability, but of self-debasement, self-loathing and basically a rejection and alienation from all things good represented by our better angels. Comparison, especially with a deity, can generate only hair shirts, starvation diets, mendicant discipline and all measures of attempting to redeem ourselves from our core evil.
And redemption, as an act of human will (often obsession) can and take many forms. Also redemption can lead to a sense of hopelessness and insouciance that “I am no good and never will be any good” so what the hell, I might as well act out my identity.

It is identity, after all, that tends to have the impact of either releasing our talents and gifts or, too often, of repressing our persons into some constricted version, under the pretense of false humility. And if we were to conceive of the expression of our talents as our insurance policy assuring us of a place in heaven, we are, as usual, bartering with a deity, on our own terms. This identity “thing” so elevated in our political discourse, has become a defining and archetypal concept of contemporary culture.
Identity, as men or women, as indigenous or non, as black, white or brown, as rich or poor, as educated or not, as Christian or Jewish or Muslim or atheist, agnostic, as gay or straight, as immigrant/refugee or native….these are all merely descriptors that have taken on an iron-fisted chain on the ankles of our relationships. While there is relevance and significance to their import, they can be and often are used as “bullets” against us. Similarly, our misdeeds, especially those that cost us our freedom, ours jobs, our relationships, and even our lives, do not define us. We are, in a word, not reducible to a moniker, or a headline, a single encounter, whether that encounter elicits praise or contempt. Nevertheless, once tabbed with an incident that is out of line, (always another’s line) we must carry that reputation like the albatross around our necks, from society’s perspective. A similar dynamic imbues families with permanent clouds that are encased in whispers like “we don’t  talk about uncle Jack, the drunk”). Our penchant and even preference for “trashing” the other, given the least provocation, is humanity’s blind-spot to our own implications in the drama and the identity we are trashing.

Who of us is free of the same kind of “blemish” for which we have cast the other adrift? Who of us can say with honesty that we feel better for having, frankly slandered another for doing or saying something we find unacceptable and then blithely gone on our way and done something similar or even more contemptible? It does not take quantum physics to deduce that each of the incidents in our lives are connected to every person and every moment in our lifetime, and in the lifetimes of our ancestors.

 And those connections, through honest reflection, sharing and evaluation matter. They cannot be relegated to another time and space, in which we have no hand. So immediate provocations, like drinking too much before committing an unlawful act, do not explain the incident, neither as justification nor as ‘motive’. Even the culture we all participate in cultivating, like a shared garden, plays a significant part in the attitudes that generate our actions and our beliefs. Responsibility for that “garden” however, is generally denied even by the people and the  systems we have designed to “protect” us from tragic events. Replete with flaws, each of us need a more circumspect view of our own “perfection”…and our pursuit of an unattainable perfection in our culture. We are not a “Lexus” culture in the sense that perfection is our ultimate goal. And our obsession with perfection, rather than freeing us, really constricts us from thinking and acting outside the box, experimentally, taking risks, and discovering that our self-and-family-imposed limits do not define us.

Individuals, with all of our complexities in our DNA, our histories, our families of origin, communities and countries of origin and our ethnicities are becoming caricatures of human beings, in the manner in which we are being perceived,  programmed, manipulated and deceived by diverse and self-serving powers in politics, religion, corporations, educational institutions and even in our small work units. And we are especially encased in a vault of social and political correctness for which we are clearly unwilling to take personal responsibility. And that “correctness” is made more accessible and definable the more “labelling” (as if we each have a “brand”) we apply to others. The corporate modus operandi is so prevalent, and so pervasive and so easily adopted and accepted and then elevated as the “norm” that individuality has been replaced by the attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and judgements that are amenable and accepted by our workplace masters. And such parameters designed and applied in the programmable service of profit and reputation of the “brand” for which we work that what we think and how we act become enmeshed with “what would “daddy” think”…..just another application of the Freudian “super-ego” projected onto an outside source.

Whether that “daddy” (or mother, or priest, or teacher, or principal, or boss or police office, or the law itself) approves and endorses our identity, naturally, is a process through which all young people go. And, insofar as childhood and adolescence goes, there is an appropriate application of an external “locus of control”….that is how we learn.

However, relaxing the “external” and moving toward an “internal” locus of control, is a necessary and evolutionary process for which our culture seems deaf and dumb to engage in, and to foster. Power, and the agents who hold it and represent its application, is a very seductive “drug” that grips many, whether they wear law-enforcement uniforms or not. In fact, only slightly less magnetic than money, power can be considered a strong motive for both legitimate actions of humans but also illegitimate, illegal, immoral and criminal actions. And those who feel, believe or have been convinced that they have no power, (or less than they think they deserve) are the very ones who move to “take power back”….as if they were entitled to that power in the first place.

Perhaps if we could/would begin from a different question about any person who is acting out, disobeying, committing acts of destruction, theft, physical/emotional/psychic abuse….we might get some insight into the “history” of the biography that is at play. Rather than beginning with the predictable and condemnatory question, “What is wrong with him?” we could ask ourselves, and then as a society, “What happened to him previously?”

The old adage, “God don’t make no junk” would support such a significant change in our personal, private and public/social/political attitudes! Rather than looking for the “sin” in the act, we might begin by looking for the pain in the individual in question, in custody, in our legal/criminal/social and cultural view finder. Broken relationships, in our early lives, too often lead to brokenness as the only expected and predicted outcomes in later years. Short-sighted critical parenting, as compared with a vision of compassionate support and remediation and rehabilitation, based less on the crime/criminal and more on the whole person, both in our definition of the crimes and in our pursuit of “justice” is already finding resonance among small segments of North American culture.

This space calls on all decision-makers in all organizations, including prisons, courts, legislatures, and organizations that ‘support’ those in trouble with the law, especially the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society, school administrators, medical schools, social work schools and especially religious leaders to examine critically their individual and collective approaches to “wrong-doing” of all kinds and varieties. Such a critical examination would focus not only on the public fiscal costs of our current and historic approaches to the people who are found to be doing “wrong” but also on the human costs to those very lives.

There is a new development finding air-time and space in the United States entitled “treating Childhood Trauma” that begins with what is termed an ACE test: “Adverse Childhood Experiences”.

The test asks ten questions primarily focusing on the kind of family the child was raised in. “Were you physically abused?” “Were you neglected?” “Did someone go to prison?” As reported by CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, the Centre for Disease Control, a high score on the ACE test makes one five time as likely to be depressed and can cut life expectancy by as much as twenty years. Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist with a doctorate in neuroscience, declares on the program: If you have developmental trauma, the truth is you’re going to be at risk for almost any kind of physical health, mental health, social health problem that you can think of…That very same sensitivity that makes you able to learn language just like that as a little infant makes you highly vulnerable to chaos, threat, inconsistency unpredictability and violence. And so children are much more sensitive to developmental trauma than adults.

The program has been adopted through substantive training of staff in an orphanage in Milwaukee WI, and spread to the police department in that city.

Would that all professionals in the law enforcement, social work, education, medical and spiritual fraternities would/could be receptive to such an approach!

And would that potential significant shift become normalized and available to the millions of needy children around the world. North America would be a wonderful place to start.