Saturday, April 28, 2018

Micro-management in pursuit of "corporate" perfection (and ideology?) sabotages the universities

The University of Alberta has ignited a firestorm by making a formal offer of an honourary doctorate degree (he already has 29!) to Dr. David Suzuki. Conservatives like Jason Kenny, the leader of the provincial hybrid Rose-Progressive Conservatives) are threatening to withdraw public funds from the university, should he become premier (heaven forbid!) Fat-pocket donors from the oil patch are threatening to cease writing cheques to the university.

All hell is breaking out, simply because this honourable, authentic, decent, articulate, courageous and yet extremely humble scholar (of biology) has spent his life exposing the dangers, both current and future, of continuing obsessive dependence on fossil fuels. Even Rachel Notley, the NDP Premier of Alberta, says she “regrets” the decision of the university, while acknowledging their right to make it. Of course, Notley’s government is enmeshed with British Columbia over the proposed Kinder-Morgan pipeline that purports to increase the flow of bitumen (in tar sands oil) seven times, from Alberta through British Columbia. B.C., meanwhile, has submitted their “right” to restrict such a flow to the courts, under the cloud that the federal government has already given approval for the project.

So, the Suzuki doctorate has become another ignited “match” in an already crowded “room” of competing, and previously ignited ideologies and political actors, threatening what some are calling a potential constitutional crisis. Trudeau’s latest “dramatic” attempt to pour some water on the potential flame, by returning from Peru last Sunday, to meet with both Notley and Morgan (B.C. N.D.P. premier, strangled to a Green Party contract that demands opposition to the Kinder-Morgan pipeline), went nowhere. Environment and Global Warming Minister, Catherine McKenna, is left trying to be heard on the fed’s commitment to pour millions into shoreline protections, in the event of a tanker spill off B.C.’s coast, following completing of the pipeline.

One engineering professor at U. of Alberta has gone so far to exclaim that this crisis, over the proposal of granting the degree to Suzuki, is the most significant crisis to have confronted the university in his lifetime. Oh, really! (Perhaps only in HIS mind, buried as it obviously is in some alternative universe that seeks to overlook the damage of dependence on fossil fuels on people and the planet on which we depend for our survival.)

A crisis, also incubated in a Canadian university, this time Laurier University in Waterloo, has erupted over the issue of how to manage the new world of guest lecturers, symbols for the human civil right to free speech. Starting with the disciplining of a professor who supported the University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, (he of the defiant refusal to address members of the LGBTQ community by the preferred personal pronoun selected by each respective individual). After her dressing down, followed by her exoneration and an apology from the university, this female professor birthed the LSOI, the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry, as a further attempt to incubate the free exchange of ideas, including an active Q & A after each guest lecturer. However, upon applying for “space” to host an alt-right speaker from the U.S. who holds strong anti-immigrant views, the LSOI was faced with delays, related primarily to the cost of “security” in the event that protesters (naturally expected) generated more than vocal protests at and near the event. Attempting to move the proposal “off-campus” to the neighbouring University of Waterloo, the LSOI was met with similar “rent” costs, jumping from an initial $1400 to a whopping $28.000, after consulting with the Waterloo Police Department.

Of course, Laurier, in the dust-up, has attempted to draft a “free speech” declaration, based on the principle of inclusive voices, but circumscribed by so many restricting caveats that one would have to find an Oxford-trained constitutional lawyer to navigate a pathway through the cautions in order to bring the declaration into real effect. Words, expressing a principle, countered by caveats that effectively deny that very principle, are in a word, merely “hollow”.

And it is this hollowness, this scrupulosity, this tempest in a tea-pot, linked umbilically to the corporate universities’ absolute need for a perfect public image, that is becoming the defining trait of higher learning. As one observer put it, this conflict is at root the pursuit of dollars, on behalf of a corporate university, such a pursuit dependent as it is on the demonstration that there is no political “dirt” or “cloud” hanging over the institution.

Any policy statement that purports to advocate for “inclusive” voices, at a university, under the historical and traditional rubric of promoting all ideas, in order to provide a laboratory for students to use to form their own preferred positions, (Hegel’s thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis comes to mind) that then demands no difference of opinion with a range of specific marginal groups or identities allegedly in an attempt to protect those minorities, in order to preclude and thereby avoid the spectre of real protests, sabotages itself. It also sabotages the very administration responsible for writing the policy in the first place.

Open dialogue, under the over-riding clause that differences can and will be voiced respectfully, articulately, and without personal attacks either verbal or physical, has been a cornerstone of the academic community for centuries. And while that tradition of civility is at risk, in the current climate of intolerance and brutal contempt of anything and anyone with whom we disagree, there is a public expectation that the university will uphold its long-standing tradition of free and open, honourable and respectful, debate of competing ideas. And this tradition, especially when academic dependency on private capital has grown exponentially, can only be sustained by those making decisions for the universities, by their conscientious and deliberate lowering the rank of cash-collection to a secondary place on the university’s value priorities.

Jason Kenny’s suggestion, should he become premier, of withholding public funds from U. of Alberta, to ‘punish’ the university for the decision to award the Suzuki honourary doctorate, is a dangerous and ominous portend for the academic freedom of the public university. If a political actor is to be offered the levers of rewards and punishment (the bare bones of classical conditioning) over the academic and administrative decisions of that university, then the core identity of that institution is to be threatened. And such a suggestion warrants a public push-back from the electorate, dependent obviously, on the degree to which the public is prepared to fight for a completely independent academic community.

The issue here also opens the question of the need for more and detailed public disclosure of all private donations to public academic institutions, and the strings attached to those cheques, that might impact the academic independence of the recipient institution. Even the hiring policies, as well, merit a close scrutiny, through the lens of whether or not specific academic departments are tilted toward the for-profit corporate ideology.  A preponderance of right-wing ideologues, or left-wing ideologues, will have the unwanted impact of social engineering among its students, whether blatant and overt, or subversive and covert.

And back to the issue of public relations/micro-management trumping the macro-long-term social engagement of the academic institution, it would seem that the micro-side of these arguments is in the ascendancy….as another “power-surge” threatening how we frame and then resolve public issues, both inside and outside academia.

Temple University’s* withdrawal of Cosby’s honourary degree, following his conviction on three counts of sexual assault, however, provides legitimate counterpoint to this argument, as the recipient no longer warrants the award.

*a public university in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Wrestling with the seductions of pride....

Pride and hope and desire like crushed herbs in his heart sent up vapours of maddening incense before the eyes of his mind. He strode down the hill amid the tumult of suddenrisen vapours of wounded pride and fallen hope and baffled desire. They streamed upwards before his anguished eyes in dense and maddening fumes and passed away above him till at last the air was clear and cold again. (James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 86)

Pride was my wilderness and the demon that lead me there was fear. (Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel, p. 191)

There is a deceptively seductive and paradoxical quality to pride. Without it, one is almost literally paralyzed; and with too much of it, one is trapped in a capsule of self-sabotage. Competing for a larger share of pride on the international stage, as an obsessive game in which both trump and putin are currently enmeshed, gives voice only to the hollowness of both voices. Attempting to forge a gordion know committing both peoples of the United States and Russia to their ‘pride’ chase, is also a shell-game of significant proportions, in which millions of people are at risk. Tragically, when they both believe their own favourable press clippings, manufacturing them, themselves for the most part, they have crossed the boundary from pride into narcissism and there is really no chance their people will join them, at the end of the day.

Pride is also underpinning the British “Brexit” vote, cloaked in a mask of national independence and autonomy. Pride, in so many instances, undergirds so many decisions that lead to division, alienation, isolation and abandonment. A Russian professor in the mid-seventies, renowned for his large physical presence, even larger voice, and humungus library, teaching in a Canadian university, was fond of ridiculing the Russians, by sardonically pointing out the Russian solution to every problem: “eliminate it!” There is already too much evidence that trump has adopted this method in his executive decisions about personnel, although some have obliged him by sabotaging their own careers, once again, it can be argued, through a surfeit of pride.

As one of the original “sins,” pride does have a track record of preceding a fall almost as if the blindness to the need for correction, and for any attempt to offer correction, pushes an individual past what the rest of the world will tolerate. Pride of a parent, we all know, can result in extreme emotional abuse as the child is transformed into the means of building, growing and sustaining the parent’s reputation among the neighbours and co-workers, potentially even without either the parent or the child being fully conscious of the abuse of power. We have all met those who, through the words, actions and attitudes of their parents, believed they would never measure up to the parent’s expectations, which, then, naturally become in the grown child’s mind, no longer an expectation but an unmet, failed “demand”.  And that emptiness, that now conscious “failure” haunts the person for the rest of his/her life.

Conversely, pride can and does wrap itself around opposite attitudes, a kind of inverted snobbery, through which people without much formal education, living on a meager salary while doing punishing work, cast aspersions on those who have acquired an education, and possibly an income and professional stature that over-shadows that of their parents. “Why go to university?” they might ask, “if you’re only going to get married and have kids!” Pride, too, wraps itself in uniforms, military, clerical, police, and all forms of law enforcement and public protection. Those wearing such garb, at least at the beginning, have put on a kind of alternative ego, one behind which they can (and often do) hide their true sentiments, attitudes, beliefs and actions. And it is not only in ‘uniforms,’ but also in positions of power and statue, titles, degrees, pride is woven into the fabric of those “achievements”. Too often, children, in order to prove their “mettle” to their over-achieving, and highly insecure parents, have to demonstrate their  having graduated from childhood/adolescence to adulthood by acquiring a degree and a profession.

And when the relationship is reduced to one characterized by transaction, in which one person is expected to complete the other, and not merely complement or supplement the other, the dependency of the ‘parent’ so tarnishes the experience for both, as to render it prematurely obsolete, so devalued as to have been, on reflection, manipulated by the parent.

And this model applies not only within the family but also in the workplace world. The parent model, (not as mentor, coach, advocate and supporter) but as the one who begins from his/her own scarcity, is too often the genesis of decisions that manifest first as success, and later as hollow suits, mansions, expensive cars, and professional titles.

In fact, it can be, and here is, argued that too many of those who seek and land in titled positions are the very ones least worthy of those offices but their insecurity, their tainted sense of self, for whatever reason(s), masked by words like ambition, go-getter, public servant, generosity, public-spirited, kind and even caring….Whether they might be silently and anonymously “competing” with a highly successful sibling, or even a parent, or whether they might be covering up a different sort of scarcity, they believe they can “fill” that emptiness through getting the corner office, the promotion, the bonus, and the stock options. Similarly, many of the unneeded purchases we make, are our hollow and often pathetic attempt to fill up some scarcity, insecurity, couched in silent self-talk in terms like “not good enough”… if the acquisition of some costly item will somehow restore our wounded pride and sense of self.

Another way in which pride serves as a seductive siren is to convince us that we need a product, or a position in order to have “friends” and to be accepted. Another of the many extrinsic “add-ons” that we think, or convince ourselves to believe, will bring an enhancement of our confidence, our sense of self, and at root, our pride.

In these many manifestations, it is not pride but the absence of pride that is driving our decisions, our perceptions, our attitudes, and even our beliefs. Much of the religious “life” depends too on the notion that, as sinners, we “come short of the glory of God” (as Paul writes), and through our association, acceptance and embrace of a saving deity, we will guarantee our place in a heavenly afterlife. Is there really anyone who believes that such “bartering” of our attitudes, perceptions and beliefs, in such a blatantly transactional manner, will assure anyone of such a security?

Here is one of the many nexus points at which the pride of the institution intersects with the pride of the individual. The church’s pride, even hubris, in the unquestioned and unquestioning dogma, rules, regulations, liturgies and biblical interpretations and adherence to creeds. Defining a faith, while relatively significant in order to help an individual join and remain as a member/adherent (with all of the implications of that including writing cheques, instruction, parenting, schooling, and various life-passages liturgies like baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funerals), too often puts the needs of the institution ahead of those of its parishoners.

Certitude grafted to human pride, in the name of God, does both God and proponent a dis-service. Limiting God with human constrictions and expectations, seems paradoxically to be an initiative away from belief. And, of course, to then exclude those who might push back, disagree or protest, is to evoke the sounds and rhythms of unmitigated hubris.

Parents will often tell their children how “proud” of them they are. Such expressions often accompany a child’s most recent achievement or decision, or act of  compassion, mercy or support out of the spotlight. As a conditioning response, such expressions of pride have the capacity to bond parent and child, while initiating a memorable moment of positive learning. On the ‘under’ side of this expression of pride, however, is the obverse: does a parent tell a child of his/her shame if and when the child deviates from the parent’s expectations? The potential of linking the parent’s emotions in a dependency with the child has the negative impact of enmeshing both into an unhealthy reduction of the rich and clean and clear engagement of each with the other.

Pride of place/race/language/ethnicity is another of the many  manifestations of this human trait. And while such pride helps to grow “roots” in young people, it can and often does generate feelings of superiority among the insiders, thereby automatically excluding newcomers from full acceptance and full participation in those vested (and even gated) communities. Just as in the name of God we build walls, gates, hurdles and even barbed-wire fences both to keep some people “in” and others “out”, so too do we do the same in the name of our chosen “group”…We have all heard of the multiple expressions of genuine estrangement, separation, and even alienation of people who do not match the identities within the community, without even having been offered the opportunity to contribute in ways that make them feel welcome. Whether this applies to immigrants, refugees, or even new neighbours, or people seeking to volunteer in their newly adopted communities, the pride of the “insiders” is clearly linked to the insecurity of those same people that they might lose control of their respective levers of power.

Silo’s of pride have been erected inside church spires, service clubs, university convocation halls, political parties, governments, and even under the hoods of exclusive brands of cars, clothes, shoes, schools and neighbourhoods. And because we, generally, consider pride to be among our “better angels” we rarely, if ever, discuss openly how we each contribute to the alienation of others. Our tilting toward transactional parameters for each human encounter, (what have you done for me lately?) is another of our perhaps unconscious genuflections to our pride, in that transactions, by definition, are simple, easily defined and executed, without excessive chance for being judged. We are, then, able to delude ourselves into believing that we maintain our control, the ultimate and highly negative expression of our pride, or just another manifestation of our fear of loss of control.

One of the most feared expressions in our world is, “I do not know!” in answer to a question…not only because for many questions a simple “google” will answer it, but also because, it confronts our limits and our vulnerabilities. Medical students are judged daily by their professors and clinical instructors on the “correctness” of their diagnosis and treatment plans. Not to be clear and certain, being open to the option of being both undecided or uncertain is just not an option, if one is to succeed to pass through the hoops of the schooling. And so, after nearly a decade of such expectations met and even exceeded, how can we expect such “graduates” to submit easily, freely and readily to the multiple complexities of each human being, when faced with new symptoms in a private consult?

Perhaps, it is not only among medical professionals that we have excessively “hot-housed” the plant of pride, as our shared, universal cosmetic to “fake it until you make it”… a code for “success”. And while there are no regulations for the growth of this “plant” and no scientifically measureable side-effects of its injection into our multiple conversations, and no signs on the horizon that our public consciousness is about to question our deep dependence on its vapours, spreading through most of our conversations, we might want to ask ourselves what aspects of our lives make us proud, and what aspects of our lives ‘cover’ for other features about which we are much less comfortable.

It is not when we are puffed up that we are “at our best” but rather when we are honestly humbled, honestly vulnerable, wounded, weak and needing and seeking help, support and compassion that we are potentially most authentic. It is at such times that all the pretense and the masks have fallen away, and it is in such a state that we are most open to real human encounters, not to mention also those sacred moments with God, however we have come to envision the deity.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Can we recognize and escape the rim of suction on our whirpool of self-sabotage?

It is time to rethink and to transform how we make decisions about public policy. The institutions designed in the Middle Ages, or earlier, are simply incapable of adjusting to the pace of the discovery and the flow of new information.

Not only are we all drowning in torrents of new and often conflicting data, as well as the new tech devices that transform our capacity to integrate, access, collate and even to curate new information, but we are also, at least in the west, falling behind in our shared, collective capacity to “read” the many new linguistic expressions, some of them digital, (like emoji’s) and some of them encyclopaedic like the access to great thoughts from the whole of human history. Whether or not the flood of megabytes is a significant cause of the obstructionism that blocks much of our politics, as well as the trend to the extremes (especially to the right), seems a little “inside the beltway” from this vantage point.

Not only can we no longer tolerate the “do nothing” (or as little as possible, and protect our careers as the prime purpose of our existence) attitudes of our politicians. It is no longer satisfactory to speak of differences between the right and the left as a way into a public comprehension of the needs and the aspirations of the body politic. We have to being to speak of how to tilt the playing field in all of our public decisions, away from favouring the corporations and their insatiable appetite for profit, through greed, narcissism and, not merely an attitude but a belief that “our interests are and must remain paramount.”

Our political aspirants have to study at the school of survival, not their own political survival, but how the planet is going to survive, if it truly is. We have to support candidates whose careers, world views and activism demonstrate a commitment to the long-term health and healing of the planet, including all of the species living on it, including the human species.

It is no longer acceptable:
·        to put gun production, sale and distribution ahead of public safety
·        to put corporate production, sale and distribution of toxic plastics ahead of the health of streams, rivers, lakes and oceans
·        to put private insurance companies’ pursuit of profit ahead of universal public access to quality health care
·        to put corporate pursuit of profit ahead of responsible worker protections, safety, security, pensions and health care, as well as life-long education
·        to put access to higher education under the sword of Damocles of student loans and debt
·        to make social engineering trump unique human individuality in the acceptance, retention and graduation of professional school candidates in business, law, education, social work
·        to reduce our institutions of higher learning to skill and trade schools, dependent on the mastery of technology as the primary condition of graduation
·        to eliminate from universities the programs and departments that focus on the ancient, nuanced, complex and even ambiguous wisdom of history, even if the methods of delivery remain digital and contemporary
·        to spend the preponderance of national budgets on the military, including cyber security, at the expense of needed programs to educate citizens about their responsibilities in their communities, states/provinces, nations and world.
·        to “gate” the public figures behind a wall of secrecy, subterfuge, media spinning and dereliction of duty, while permitting them to manipulate their constituents with partial, distorted and misleading press releases from their spin-doctors
·        to emasculate organizations like the United Nations, and other international agencies supervising and monitoring such important files as health, water, literacy, poverty, disease, the environment, and hopefully the deep internet, human rights in all countries, and public access to reliable and verifiable information in all countries.
·        to starve and leave homeless, millions of people, in all countries, when the world’s wealth and capacity to feed includes the option of eliminating those blights on us all
·        to carpet bomb, maim and kill with various weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological, and conventional in pursuit of dictatorial, terrorist or criminal purposes
·        to permit the denial of such inhuman atrocities through various tactics of obfuscation, distraction, and outright defiance sustained by inordinate tyrannical power
·        for banks and financial institutions to charge a usury fee of 19+% on credit cards
·        for corporations to poison, maim, disable or injure their clients/customers  through willful, deliberate, conscious deviance in inferior construction quality
·        for pharmaceutical behemoths to produce drugs and other substances that have not been rigorously put through clinical trials,
·        for auto manufacturers to produce emission systems that have been “rigged” to avoid environmental testing regulations,
·        for fossil fuel companies to so dominate the transportation industry through their monopolies and oligopolies of alternative and renewable energies
·        for tech giants to operate under a business model that serves only and exclusively their corporate profit and dividend interests, while simultaneously permitting, aiding and abetting the abuse of their clients’ private information
·        for trade agreements to be signed without rigorous provisions on human rights, worker protections and wages, and environmental protections

It is not a matter of whether or not any one or all of the above noted “unacceptables” is considered part of a conservative or a liberal agenda. It is not a matter of whether or not these minimal requirements are specifically directed and designed to address primarily the needs of men or women, or members of the LGBT communities, or whether they are designed to help, support and lift up blacks, indigenous and aboriginal peoples, people scraping by in city ghettos in major cities of the so-called developed world, or refugees and migrants fleeing the oppression of military conflicts, terror threats, human rights abuses, tribal cults or ideological/theological dogma restricting access to health care and education to specifically targeted demographics like young girls.

Many years ago, while writing about leadership in organizations, the tension between the task and the human side of the enterprise was the focus. Beginning with scientific management and moving toward the “human side” leaders learned that engagement of and respect for the people in the workplace was essential for leadership to function effectively. Names like Weber, MacGregor, played prominent roles, as did writer/thinkers like Barnard. Over the last century, there have been some waves of hope followed by waves of depression among those who advocate, not merely in token terms, but in real transformative terms, for the dignity, respect, honour and creative imaginations of those people on whom the enterprise ultimately depends. And they are not the investors, although they are certainly relevant. And they are not the chief executives, nor the board members, nor the middle managers, most of whom have been summarily vacuumed out of the organization chart. They are the people who comprise the nuts and bolts of the organization, the people who conduct the business, who interact with the public, who generate the new ideas and the new methods, who extend their work day when special circumstances demand, and who, at the end of the day are proud to represent the organization, not begrudgingly cynical and bitter about the over-riding tide of increased demands for production with little or no thought to the human implications of the latest “ask”.

Similarly, in our government bureaucracies, we have grown, simultaneously, and paradoxically, complacent and fat at the top, and cynical, sinister and lean to the point of political and even literal starvation at the bottom of the ladder. And the politicians listen only to those in the fat “inner circle” on whose loyalty they depend to continue in their “power positions”. Increasingly, both inside government, and outside the halls of governmental power, the same cynical, sinister, detached and insouciant attitudes prevail at the top, fearful both of losing the battle to keep the stock price rising, the investors mesmerized, the board members flattered and the profit train rolling…and in government the voters so seduced that they return well over 90% of incumbents to  elected office.

Ordinary people, that vast 99% are barely noticed except for the demographic statics on unemployment, social welfare cases, rising house prices, wait times for health care access, and occasionally a bruising headline that indicates our lakes and oceans are dying, our indigenous people area committing suicide at alarming rates, our children are being slaughtered in their schools, our returning veterans who do not take their own lives are struggling under the weight of paralyzing PTSD, or our young adults are overdosing on illicit drugs.

All of these “problem” headlines are neither accidents, nor mere numbers. They are real sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, neighbours, co-workers and potential neighbours and co-workers. And their “classifications” as problems are universally the direct or indirect consequence of specific governmental or corporate policies and decisions either to choose to or not to choose to do “the right thing”. There is no scarcity of awareness among the vast population as to what constitutes the “right thing”….in the sense of how would I want to be judged if I were taking the decision for the whole common good? Hiding behind the political shenanigans of party pressure cookers, of rumours and innuendos, of character assassinations and back-stabbing betrayals (oh, you say, “just the ordinary stuff of office politics”!)….is and can no longer be the camouflage that hides our elected, and our appointed “leaders” in both government and the large corporations. How an individual career path is unfolding is not on the agenda of the public good. It is not the stuff for which we are prepared to shovel out our tax dollars, nor are we prepared to continue to shovel out our taxes for misguided military adventures, nuclear weapons arsenal enhancements, nor the obvious and heinous abuse of the public treasury by wanton narcissists flying around the world in their private security bubbles.

It is not a change in policy that we seek: it is a fundamentally different paradigm of how power is operated, who gets a seat at the table in each organization, who votes at each level of the organization, what mechanisms of appeal exist at all levels for re-consideration and even for veto’s of misguided decisions. The single military general, the pope, the CEO, the Chairman of the Board, the titular leader has to “go”…and the team replacing both the power and the responsibility of that dictatorial monster has to rotate, evolve, undergo constant and profound learning, travel to other operations of a similar kind and size….and even have to undergo a recall as well as a re-election provision.

Stage managing a theatre of pandering to the powerful in organizations, those in positions of titles, seniority, bloated stipends and even legacy (from inheritances) only infantilizes both the panderer and the panderee. Patronizing, whether by the media, or the rookies, or the most aspiring to that vaulted climb up the career ladder sacrifices the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the most essential chemical in any effective, (and that includes profit, in the private sector) organization. Repeating the patterns of the past, because they are what we are accustomed to doing, while comfortable, and a form of pandering to the establishment, has to be replaced by innovation, change models that incorporate the initial idea, a respected and funded team of evaluators from as many departments as is feasible and affordable in order to “do the due diligence” on the idea (both in comparable and in disparate cultures, near and far) an implementation strategy that invokes “buy-in” and enables a period of trial and error, including formal time for discussion, revision and re-implementation.

The idea that such a proposal simply costs too much has to be considered a non-starter, until, and only until the research team has done a full costing, including both increased costs and enhanced savings of any new idea. And the margin between increased costs and enhanced savings has to be lowered in order to infuse the organization with a mind-set, a culture and an attitude that the “that was then” and “this is now”…..

We are far too dependent, as a culture, on the patterns and the comforts and the spread sheets and the software of the old systems, and the old modus operandi. We are conditioning our new graduates to comply and to conform to what we consider “proper” simply because it is “our’s”…..and such an attitude in an incubator for arrogance, as well as obsolescence. Our access to global information, the best practices, is no longer restricted to the stacks of the company’s archives. Our access to how people function has so outstripped our willingness to adopt new approaches as to leave us in the position of literally, metaphorically, culturally, economically and spiritually imprisoning us on our own self-sabotage.

And this self-sabotage, while perhaps permissible in a time when calm prevails in geopolitics, and safety and security prevail in the cyber-net, where terror is not a raging bull of violent hatred and murderous slaughter of innocents, and where dictators do not possess or have enabled access to nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction, and when carbon emissions do not threaten our access to clean fresh, free water, fresh clean air and verdant lands for growing plants, and where the destruction of thousands of species every year is not occurring under our eyes, and where we are not struggling under the weight of demands and expectations of perfect performance at all levels of the work and professional arena….cannot no longer be tolerated.

The colour of our skin, the burr in our dialect, the size of our mcmansion, the number of degree diplomas hanging on our office walls, the altar at which we worship, the unique flavours of our various diets and the size of our investment portfolios…all of these no longer have any meaning, (as if they ever really did!)

What matters, and this is blatantly and proudly borrowed from the existentialists, is that we create the eminently knowable conditions for our children, grandchildren and their children to find legitimate paths to meaning for their own lives, without having to pander to ANYONE….their parents, teachers, priests, rabbis and imams, their doctors, their professors, their town and city councillors, and the real estate and industrial developers who build the sky scrapers and the factories and the new tech corporations….

And the opportunity, rather the challenge and the requirement to tell the truth is instilled from the very beginning of life and inculcated into all of the classrooms and the offices, banks, hospitals and universities, especially those funded by public dollars.
And the paradigm and the structures that evolve incorporate the values of equality, including equal rights to express the most difficult truths. We have to disavow ourselves and our institutions of  the dogma that conflict is to be avoided, tempered and twisted into such shams as to become little more than a mirage, clouding our pursuit of our shared, knowable, legitimate and simple needs.

Just as each human has primary needs for physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual support….so too does every social organization have similar needs, obviously instilled and sustained perhaps in different ways. Nevertheless the needs do not change….and our social programs, our health budgets and our justice systems have long since broken under the strain of the competitive, conflict-based, short-term designed, narcissism imbued personal isolated ambitions.

We have siloed ourselves into a mere ghost of our true identities, for the sake of complying with the corporate culture, the for-profit success, generated primarily by beating someone, some other team, town, province/state or nation or nation’s leader. In winning personally, we also lose collaboratively.

Unless and until we fully tell the truth of our contemporary dilemma, (it is not simply trump, kim jung un, putin or even General Motors. We are imprisoned in a life-defying, life-destroying, dream-suffocating, circular whirlpool to the bottom….and we do not even recognize that we are whirling around on the edge of that whirlpool…..and for the fortunate few who risk, they are transported out to the outer reaches of the estuary of hope, creativity, community and intellectual, emotional and professional well-being. (With thanks to Margaret Avison for her  poem, The Swimmer’s Moment!)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Can the U.S. find its "EGO" sailing between the Scylla* of Comey's Persona and the Charybdis* of trumps's unleashed ID?

*(Scylla, the six-headed monster that threatens ships by grabbing heads of sailors; Charybdis, the whirlpool that sucks ships to the bottom….both in the Greek Mythology story of Odysseus.)

First, Hillary Clinton tried to position herself as the “righteous” alternative to trump, way back in the presidential campaign of 2016. And now, James Comey, fired Director of the FBI, is taking on the reprehensible, “unfettered to reality,” “morally unfit for office,” winning candidate in that presidential election.

The country, among other things is being “treated” to another morality drama, of the kind that have been surfacing for centuries in theatres all over the world. While there is reason to concur with Comey on his “verdict” that impeachment would be too easy and would let the American electorate off from their catastrophic error in judgement (in electing trump) and that a more transformational turfing from office through the 2020 ballot would serve the long term interests of the nation, many will continue to pursue the impeachment option. The ratings, and the emotional ups and downs of the impeachment highway are simply to delicious to be sacrificed to the Comey ‘principle’.

Principles and laws, rules and regulations, including the armies deployed to secure and sustain their legitimacy, clearly have a significant place in any civilized society. Reprobates, and even anarchists like trump, it is argued, would run amok without legal restraint. Churches of all stripes have based their very existence and their protracted history on the preservation of a kind of moral and ethical foundation, based on some sacred communication from some deity. Adherence to these principles, in many cultures, including church attendance, support and prosletyzing of their “saving” theologies also seems to enhance the personal reputation and social standing of individuals, both clergy and laity. Somehow, it seems, if one has a church affiliation, one is seen to be more trust-worthy, more authentic, more decent and respectable, and more honest. In a parallel manner, libraries are filled with books that argue, also convincingly, that people who do not even believe in or countenance a deity of any kind can and do live highly ethical and moral lives.

Much of public discourse, perhaps naturally, focuses on the basic question of whether leaders, policies, practices, regulations and their implementation are ethical/moral/just/legitimate/authentic. Righteousness, somehow inextricably enmeshed with the “good life,” is seen to be highly valued by a large seam of the cultural rock formations. And if ever there were an embodiment of righteousness, it is James Comey. Finding and uttering the legal justifications for moral positions (torture, interrogation, loyalty) has been his signature even since that burglary his adolescent home incurred, thereby enhancing his perception of the fragility of life. The injection of both reality (the break-in) and the accompanying anxiety has undergirded his biography since that fateful day. Based on the finely tuned, nuanced and highly disciplined arguments, made in the Oval Office under presidents Bush and Obama, prior to trump, and even in the hospital room (by his presence) of John Ashcroft, then Attorney General, along with the successful prosecution of crime bosses in New York, and elsewhere, Comey’s reputation, on both ends of the political ideological spectrum, is quite literally “platinum”.

If there is a higher (more valuable) “metal” to connote his moral, ethical, and legal exemplary reputation, who  knows what it is?  And, in the contemporary world of the political arena, there is little argument about his personal reputation. Needless to say, also, the nation, including all of the thousands of students, those in law and in other professions, has benefited significantly from the Comey interpretation and application of the “law and the constitution”. Role models serve an important purpose in American society.

Having said all of that, however, it is also important to add that rules, regulations, laws, and their implementation and enforcement depend on the most sound judgement of those engaged in the process. Not all laws are enforced with a measured, reasonable and legitimate force; not all laws even deserve to be enforced with the kind of nuclear energy that others require. Not even all laws are as worthy and legitimate as others; some even are so heinous as to warrant removal from the list of those currently in force. The full comprehension of the complexities of the context, linked to the most sensitive and courageous and sustainable judgement of those in law enforcement, will still not guarantee a “fair” application and implementation of those laws that are legitimate. There is a kind of super-imposed legitimacy to the empirical, the linear, the immediate and the often superficial aspects of the situation in too many instances. Attached to that “halo” of the sacred, is a public figure like James Comey, (and obviously many others). The “rule of law” must have its corroborating, supporting and sustaining heroes.

Nevertheless, what comprises objectivity is often little more than the subjectivity of those in power, skewed in the direction of their own unconscious leanings. Whether Comey injected his personal subjective judgement on the potential outcome of the 2016 election into his decision to “investigate” (again) the Clinton emails or not, is just another example of the dangers of such an infusion, especially an infusion that is unconscious.

Underlying all of the many complex processes and perceptions that go into the writing of laws, as well as their interpretation, implementation and enforcement, are the anxieties of those writing the words, debating their relative importance, voting on their passage, and interpreting and enforcing those words. And anxieties, as we all know so well, both from our personal lives and from the abounding evidence in the public theatre, flow like a raging underground river through all of our perceptions, expressions, relationships, and activities, both domestic and professional. Politicians write only those laws they deem to be the sine qua non of their potential electoral victory in the next election. Those climbing the career ladders of the law enforcement hierarchy, too, have a peculiar tendency to interpret and to enforce those laws that have the greatest potential of attracting the stamp of approval of their political masters.

And then there is Comey, seemingly a man unalloyed with the normal human vulnerabilities, especially that of subjectivity, in the “prosecution” of his law enforcement roles, in New York, in Virginia, and latterly in the F.B.I. To confront presidents, on their own turf, in the Oval Office, depends on a strength of both conviction and will that cannot be denied. In fact, such “character” is legitimately considered exemplary, especially in a political context in which adherence to law, truth, decency, integrity and honour is nearly totally missing.

However, as has become quite evident in the vindictive and scathing accounts of his conversations with trump, Comey is not without a reservoir of rancour, bitterness, and contempt.

And while such emotions are legitimately shared with millions who agree that trump is unsuited for the presidency, Comey’s personal attacks undermine not only his own “objectivity” and detachment, both qualities demanded of all law enforcement agents, at all levels. His venture into the rejection of any medical “unsuitability” of trump for office, preferring his own “morally unfit”, demonstrates a kind of self-righteousness that is more an indication of his own personal anxiety and fear, than it is an objective and empirical evaluation of the president.

Make no mistake, this space is replete with negative judgements of trump, and open and loud expressions of hope that he will be removed as soon as possible. However, Comey’s highly personal and subjective judgements, while easily and readily concurred with, by this scribe and millions of others, (of all political ideologies) seriously bruise, if they don’t actually render the nuanced, sophisticated, highly structured arguments he presents against trump, considerably less convincing.
Of course, we can easily see and accept Comey’s committing to note-making after every encounter, in person and by phone, with this president. And we can walk comfortably in his shoes of utter distrust of trump. And we can also identify with his personal contempt for the highly amoral chief executive.

Nevertheless, there is a quality of absolute “perfection,” an air of “how could you even doubt my judgement, never mind dismiss it?” about the Comey diatribe. Many of the talking head-pundits are applying the assessment of “ego” getting in the way of Comey’s professionalism, and his objectivity. A preferable analysis would look to his own perfectly crafted mask, the Persona, that “face” we all put on to meet the faces that we meet. There is a “perfect” public performance, both in this iteration of Comey, and in the years of practice that have molded, shaped, polished and crafted that mask. And while it resembles a super-sized ego, perhaps, just perhaps, paradoxically and ironically, it’s depth and granite proportions exhibit a profoundly insecure person, not unlike the president, although having taken a completely different approach to the potter’s crafting of his own MASK.

Carl Jung writes about the need for mature humans to differentiate their ego from their “persona” (Mask) and if and when we don’t, then Jung dubs such a fusion “enantiadromia”…In such a case, missing the separation of the public “mask” from the interior ego, a person is much more vulnerable to the incursions of the unconscious, and the Shadow. And if and when the Shadow exerts an inordinate force and power, there is a kind of imbalance in the psyche.

This is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a quite distant observation, made merely from the public utterances of Comey, and a study of the Jung notions, based on other biographies this scribe has undertaken. Let’s not ignore or deny the highly significant role played by the “persona,” that collection of strategies and tactics that have served us well over decades, in order to present the “best” face to the world. To some degree, we all do this to keep our reputations intact, and even to burnish those reputations as if we become our own script-writers, and then fill the shoes of the actor playing the role we created. Image, that elusive first impression, so sought after, pursued, for which millions of dollars of psychological “make-up” are spent. This is not to say that Comey is/was insincere, inauthentic or even misleading in his heroic, herculean “No’s” to this and other presidents.

It is more an anxiety on the part of this scribe that Comey’s person/presentation are so skillfully crafted and delivered that he will undercut his own objective of securing converts to his view. “Holier-than-thou” personages often run afoul of their own self-righteousness, even if, and perhaps expecially when, their views are precisely on point.
Right now, in the current cultural, political and psychic-spiritual context that is the United States of America, trump represents the exaggerated and extreme voice of the Id, the unstrestrained muscle that says and believes it can and will do whatever it wants. He demonstrates no access to, or respect for his ego or his super-ego. And so in a cultural metaphor, we are watching the drama of a dialogue of the deaf poles in a cultural bi-polarity….with Comey providing the extreme voice, at the opposite end of the spectrum. If trump is exclusively Id, then, in Freud’s terms, Comey is Super-Ego. And in order for the person/family/country to live a healthy, balanced, mature and fulfilling life, it has to find a place for the national Ego.

Having, it says here, sacrificed the Ego to both the Id and the Super-Ego, the country’s more mature, more balanced and more insightful and moderate instincts are not on stage. Some would argue that the polarization of the political parties has demonstrated a bi-polarity for decades. However, Comey, in giving voice to the ultimate public sanctimonious voice, offers to the nation (and the outside world) a voice that could have the potential of driving the national dialogue back to the middle, the messy, unpredictable, paradoxically, “moderation” that avoids both the extremes of trump’s anartchistic Id, and Comey’s unattainable Perfect Persona.

The law, like so many academic institutions, has little regard for the unconscious, since it is unable to be captured, measured, predicted and repeated, and verified….all qualities to which science bows in obeisance. Nevertheless, both the individual and the collective unconscious, including the Shadow (those traumatic and painful moments in a life that defy dealing with at the time of their occurrence) have an energy, a force and a healing power, when finally they are unpacked.

Empirical, verifiable and measureable variables, of the kind that science, the law, medicine and most of the cyber world depend upon offer little to no place or respect for the unconscious. And it says here, quite tentatively as an unprofessional, that a nation or a person who attempts to life fully without permitting the unconscious a place of honour and respect, will find that live significantly restricted, restrained and without the full benefit of full lungs. It will hold in much of its emotional responses, as Comey may well be doing, for a variety of reasons. Among them is a fear of self-disclosure, a fear of rejection, a fear of having to face imperfection, and a fear of being found “not to know”.

It is a collective “need to know” and to appear to know, and to masquerade to one’s self and to others that one knows, far above the actual perfect physical performance of a skill or task that entraps many people.

Comey’s erect stature could be speaking to a psyche so starched, varnished and laminated that if he were to bend, his psyche would break. On the other hand, trump’s dalliances, mysognyn, utter disrespect for others, the law, the constitution and the outcomes of any of his decisions, (except as they impact his personal reputations) is precise counterpoint to Comey, and is Comey to trump.

Question: can and will the United States of America finally see how far it has traversed from the messy-middle, by actually hearing both the trump voice and the Comey voice as being so far removed from the muddled middle as to warrant a psychic, spiritual and cultural transformation, bake to a reality shared with the rest of the world?

*Scylla, the six-headed monster that threatens ships by grabbing heads of sailors, Charybdis, the whirlpool that sucks ships to the bottom….both in the Greek Mythology story of Odysseus.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Are we obsessing over the pursuit of perfection?....seems so!

In the culture when we are engaged in a purchase or an acquisition of a service, after offering the currency to complete the transaction, one hears, “Perfect!” as if by some marvelous and unsuspected act, one has entered a space known as “perfection” according to the service/sale provider.

It is not that you have offered the precise amount of currency down to the exact penny or that you have expressed some appreciation that could only be designed and delivered by some angel, or that the provider has somehow created the perfect, and therefore memorable and clearly repeatable, experience.

Telling me I have just participated in something that another considers “perfect” is far past a step too far. It is to exaggerate the nature of the experience to a deception, or even worse, to a lie. Reaching for perfection, as in a perfect golf game, or attaining monthly sales goals, while perhaps noteworthy, may be laudable, but is also a kind of trap, if applied to such modest and normal situations. The experience also debases those laudable and lofty moments when, in a concert hall, an art gallery or even an operating room, something near to a perfect performance is actually achieved.

As for the “trap,” for centuries, women have been mired in pursuit of a “perfect body”, presumably to attract a man who would be interested only in a “perfect body”. Such pursuit imprisons the woman and insults most men. Falling far short of a perfect body, many men have, on some different scales, pursued the perfect career, or the perfect execution of their latest project. And for the purpose of setting high standards, envisioning what one considers a “perfect” outcome seems reasonable and even justified. However, when the time comes for putting into action whatever “perfect plan” has been designed, building in a normal expectation of both errors and adjustments seems only natural and reasonable. It is in this “execution phase” that the rubber meets the road, where the estimates of time needed, resources required, skills deployed and budget needed often melt into a new reality. Sometimes those new realities are so costly that the project has to be aborted; sometimes, it must be trimmed, and occasionally it can be enhanced.

Athletes, especially at the highest levels, are trained to envision a performance in which they best their previous best. The can “see” themselves jumping higher, running faster, scoring the winning goal, laying out the perfect pass, inflicting the perfect body-check, making the highlight reel save in goal. And through continual rehearsal of these moments, a kind of pattern of “belief” is grafted onto the prospect. “Believe it and you will see it!” was born in this mind-set. Continued discipline, both through acting out these visions, training to keep the body in ‘shape’ and ‘highly tuned’ can and will generate opportunities for success at advanced levels. All of this seems so obvious as to be hardly worth repeating.

However, in a “star” obsessed, perfection-addicted, and extremely fragile ego-dominated culture, the pattern outlined in the last paragraph has become a model for so many aspects of the lives of especially young people. A perfect “face” through make-up, a perfect figure, through combined intense exercise and minimal diet, a “perfect” kind of acceptance and “friendship” among peers, a perfectly secret social media expression of derision and contempt of some peer who does not “fit” into the gang, whatever attributes and signs that have been appropriated by the group, and the perfect “explanation” for failure on tests, homework not done, and the transfer of “blame” to another, as the first line of defence of the perfect reputation.

There are many signs of this kind of repression; they include: silence and repression of authentic feelings (while blaming others for imposing that silence), anorexia, bulimia, isolation, self-loathing, self-alienation, depression, and in the most extreme cases, suicide. Self-sabotage, in our culture, is so rampant, as to be reaching dangerous proportions. And the dynamic is not restricted to the private and the personal lives of individuals.

It applies also to the kind of worldview that we adopt. For example, a worldview that imposes the notion of enemy on all others, in some epic competition, is another version of this kind of self-imposed perfection. It goes far beyond the perfection that leaves no “crumbs in the butter” and no unmatched bread slices in the sandwiches, and no “ticked” notes in the piano recital. Absolute truths, the kind that ideologues apply to their opposites, (“they are all wrong, while we are all right!”) is the kind of self-righteousness that has already sabotaged the evangelical Christian movement. It will bring about the implosion of dictatorships, too, sooner or later, although much harm will be done prior to the implosion. And the pursuit of, and the acceptance of nothing less, continues to foster and nurture divisions of opinions that are really not thought-out, detail-dependent, empirical verifiable theories. Mere grenades of “perfection” to be thrown at an opponent whenever s/he dares to contradict our position express a tragic and empty hollow self, that we attempt to “protect” with our “perfect” mask.
Binary robots have more nuance and more ‘sophistication’ than these stick men and women, robbed of their complexities, their warts and their gaps and inadequacies by their own internal vacuum of fear.

There is literally no profession that can sustain itself, and the practice to which it is dedicated, if that practice is built on the pursuit of perfection, without the room and the opportunity and the gift of accepted tolerated and respected failure. It is how we build “errors, mistakes, stumbles and faults” into our identity, and into our worldview. And those who tolerate and foster the potential for imperfection are worthy of more of our trust that those whose identity cannot tolerate such imperfections.

Let there be no misunderstanding that only oligarchs, leaders, politicians and corporate executives have a unique and exclusive “hold” on the pursuit of the perfection ideal. The “obsession” itself knows no socio-economic, educational, theological, ideological, ethnic nor geographic boundary. However, with the new class of oligarchs that have blossomed like poppies around the world, and the explosion of data, surveillance and performance standards, these people are able to exert more than their fair share of power in all fields of human endeavour. And their new-found wealth and power have, in no way, prepared them for their significantly enhanced responsibilities. As Tracy Chapman, a black song-writer from a very poor background, discovered when she won a scholarship to a prestigious private school, discovered: her classmates had little to no regard and respect for ‘her’ people. They still do not today. Decades ago, in another of many former lives, I learned quickly and painfully, that students in an exclusive private school for boys only (then, it has since ‘gone’ co-ed) demonstrated about as much social conscience as a tree toad.
None of us, thankfully, is free of blemish, imperfection, incompleteness,  vulnerability and inconsistency, and even of having diametrically opposing views and attitudes, often simultaneously. It is the pretense of perfection worn by many, both young and not so old, that glistens like fool’s gold and marks the “wearer” as significantly insecure in his or her own skin. And while we are all ‘works in progress’ insofar as seeking and finding our authentic identity, our early experiences have a significant role in our development, and in the development of the strength, and the “brittleness” of our persona or Mask.

There is legitimacy to the notion that a culture’s maturity, integrity and authenticity can be measured by the degree of collective ‘hiding’ behind a persona. Studies of the collective Persona, like the collective unconscious, are normally left to the therapists, and not to the sociologists. Masks are personal qualities, and not normally investigated as a social or cultural phenomenon.

Nevertheless, if ostentatious masks are being worn, unlike the aboriginal tribes where masks have a very different connotation and denotation, there is a significant risk that such an approach to how the “good life” is to be lived will spread especially among the young and the innocent. To facilitate good corporate “public opinion,” for example, scripts are written, rehearsed and delivered, as if the jobs of those workers so “trained” depended on their compliance with delivering the script “with sincerity”. Most of these call centre workers, unfortunately, have not been “schooled” in any of the several approach and theories to professional acting in the theatre. Many public figures actually believe that their “demeanour” including their tone of voice, choice of words, choice of wardrobe and hair style must be “managed” by their professional corporate coaches. Even hand gestures are taught to appear authentically appropriate to the words of their public utterances.  Most of such trainees, unfortunately, are neither worthy politicians nor worthy actors. They are mere imitators, in desperate search of public acceptance and accolades and especially endorsements through the ballot box.

As an dramatic example of a different kind and degree of public performance, the recent display of “perfect” performance at the 2018 winter Olympics, by Canadians Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, while winning the pair a merited gold medal, also prompted global speculation that they were lovers in their private lives. Twenty years of disciplined practice, hundreds of spills, bruises, and all of the behind-the-scenes pain have gone into the culmination of this figure-skating dance pair’s world success. They may be great skaters and even better story-tellers, but they never lost the perspective that they were “performing” in a highly demanding athletic competition.
In some way, each of us is, personally in our private lives, and professionally in our workdays, caught in the melee of trying to “look good”….and the artifice, and the strategies and tactics that we use generates billions of dollars in business revenue, and career advancement.

In terms of personal relationships, we are engaged in a tension with our own identity, based fundamentally on the notion (again a Christian and perhaps other faith definitions, that we are ‘not good enough’) to make up for our defects, omissions and fallibilities. So, our families and friends are expected to sift through the images we present, to determine who we really are.

In terms of corporate engagement, with policies and regulations, including the normal compliance sticks and carrots, leadership, along with all the oligarchs, has bought into the operating principle of a lack of trust not only of our individual acts, but also of our judgements, and thereby has sacrificed respect for us, and us for them. By setting the patterns under such principles, they are reaping what they have sown: a workplace that has far more absenteeism, far more withholding of suggestions and recommendations to improve the operation (including cost saving measures), and far more workplace-induced “illness” both real and imagined.

The power structures have effectively vacuumed trust out of the system they are attempting to manage….and then they run around making new rules and new regulations to elicit conformity and compliance, under such guises as “safety and security” and “customer service” when we all know they are engineering profits, savings and padding their resumes in doing so.

We are collectively engaged in the idolatry of contemptuous compliance, given that our voices have been effectively silenced, our bodies bent and our spirits frayed.
And anyone in a position of responsibility and leadership has to not only be aware of the phenomenon, but has also to work within its confines, since, not to comply is to render one obsolete, dismissable and redundant.

We have turned the “pursuit of perfection,” a most honourable and worthy pursuit in the production of airplanes, autos and digital technology, into a trap of management. Humans are not and will not become compliant with such a straight jacket, and no management theorist, psychologist, psychiatrist or oligarch is going to change that truth. We are not machines, robots, or even “buck privates” in the armies of the oligarchs. And it is not only based on our level of education, experience and rehearsed expertise and skills that such a declaration is uttered. We are each of us much more than our degrees, skills, experience…we are imbued with a spirit and psyche that sees beyond the empirical, beyond the sticks and the carrots, beyond the power struggles and controls dramas that are inflicted upon us.

And unless and until that messy truth becomes the cornerstone of personal and professional relationships, we will continue to waste billions chasing our individual and collective tails, pursuing the unattainable mask of perfection, and sacrificing our true identity, and the opportunity to meet, greet and welcome others who, themselves, are also play acting.