Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Seeking a "resurrection" of conscience among our elites...too much to ask?


Resurrection, the core message of Easter, has come and gone, with barely a thought, and certainly hardly any act that would demonstrate that those ‘christian’ leaders have paid more than a token notice of the potential transformation that is inherent in the sacred event. Even the Pope’s lofty, hopeful and honourable words from the balcony at the Vatican to some 80,000 expectant hearts, sounded somewhat hollow. Calling for peace in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and on the Korean peninsula, essentially etherizing the major conflict locations, is a future the world wishes would happen. And, no doubt the Vatican could be working diligently behind the scenes to facilitate peace where such interventions are feasible.

However, there is a kind of flatlining of the concept of hope, transformation and resurrection, as it applies to the world’s ethos. We are fighting over how to address global warming and climate change, as if our individual jurisdictional pride and identity matter more than the gravity of the impacts already in our face. We are jockeying for position, (power and superiority) over cyber-security threats to our personal privacy and the security of our democratic traditions. We are watching, and will pay dearly for, vacillations in the Dow that rise and recede as trade wars heat up.

Race relations, in both Canada and the U.S. (although over different races) continue to burn, on the streets and in the hearts and minds of the families of victims. And the victims are suffering not only from indignities originating with individuals, but also from law enforcement and the judicial systems. Hoards of refugees continue to suffer in camps, under the radar of headlines and too often without resolution on their final geographic destiny. Will their deaths preclude the need for such political decisions?
Movement, as in healing these glaring injustices and insecurities, lies with political, cultural and thought leaders, whose reasonable voices are increasingly lost in the torrent of invective that passes for political debate and “news”. We are living in an age of “contempt” not only for the abdication of leadership and responsibility by many leaders, but also for those whose political, religious and cultural traditions differ from our own.

The international commitment to commodification of every act, indeed every interaction, is and will continue to render all of us less than the wholeness of our persons. We are not things to be shoved and pulled, pushed and passed over, ignored and dismissed as mere “digits” in just another public opinion poll. Regardless of our political ideologies, religious affiliations, economic status, educational degrees, or our ethnicities, we are each human beings, and from all reports of the rhetoric that flows out of “officialdom” supposed to be created equal, deserving dignity and respect and worthy of the most honourable attention and attitudes of the official establishment.
 And from a cursory examination of some of the data flowing out of that official establishment, for example in Ontario, one of the more “developed” cultures on the planet, we see glaring and blazing evidence of a kind of arrogance, even superciliousness from that ‘establishment’.

How, for instance, can our province justify an annual income of some $750,000 for a hospital administrator, while wait times for essential surgeries continue at unacceptable levels, and while our premier takes home some $200,000+. How is there a single shred of justification for an economic professor at one of the province’s hallowed universities to earn $450,000 while university undergrads and graduates stumble under the weight of student loans to burdensome that many have returned to live with their parents following graduation? The civil service, in short, has high-jacked the provincial economy as its own treasure chest, and the compliant public merely goes along, presumable to ‘get along’…without incurring the wrath of the people in charge.
And, with this kind of grand larceny coming out of the people who are working “for us” in the public interest, what can we expect from the private sector corporations, where the discrepancy between executive salaries and factory workers has grown to sky-scraper levels. Of course, those “earning” such unconscionable incomes do not consider their value to be inflated. They would argue that they are responsible for important life and death decisions, balancing the competing needs and interests of conflicting values, like who gets this surgery and who is left off life support. (Of course, it is families who make decisions to take their loved ones off life support!) And the dear professors would argue that their “wisdom” and insight and experience are so valued as to be indispensable for the future life and career of their students.

Nevertheless, the evidence from the Sunshine list is, ironically, a highly disturbing cloud and litmus test for how “value” is distributed in contemporary culture.
 Professional athletes, notwithstanding, where the stratosphere is regularly pierced by the elites, for a very brief time in the “sun” of their careers, our hospital administrators are not vying for a five or ten-year stint; they are going to be there for decades if they choose. Of course, their argument, like that of the universities, will be that “we are to compete with the best in the world, and these stipends are in line with the value placed on similar positions in the U.S., the UK and the EU.”

However, is it just possible that the whole western world has lost sight of the limits of its capacity to withstand the pressures inflicted on the have-not’s with such inflation? How much of the costs of our social, judicial, health care and education systems are derived from the despair among the “nothings” while the “somebodies” drink their champagne at their cocktail parties? How can those at the top of this income scale sleep at night, given the inordinate bulge in their salary cheques, knowing that their secretaries, and their porters and their patients are wondering why budgets are being cut, and ordinary people are being asked to sacrifice in doing more work with fewer resources and less pay? Where is the provincial monitoring and control system for this profligacy? Or is that an idiotic question, given that provincial auditors are appointees of the very governments who agree to pay these sums?

And if we treat ordinary people in such a contemptuous manner, how can we be expected to treat the planet with respect, and with honour and with dignity? If the people in the executive suites, in the public sector, are so far removed from the incomes and the daily concerns of ordinary people, there is little if any hope that they will demonstrate an urgency for declining social, economic, and climatic conditions of the rest of the people. Certainly the people in the executive suites in the for-profit corporations, with similar stipends, could hardly be expected to incarnate an empathy for either their factory-floor workers, or the planet itself.

And it is the level of insouciance incorporated into the figures in the Sunshine list that keep the decision-makers, the thought-leaders and the movers and shakers from taking anything but their own careers seriously.

And for the rest of us to be expected to go along to get along with such profligacy,
(history suggests our compliance is assured!) is a sin of omission almost as serious as the original cheque writing and budget assignments that made this inequality feasible.

The ire and derision in this piece is directed not only at the recipients of these bloated sums; it is also directed to the enablers, those political co-dependents who take pride in their largesse, (of course it is not their money, but rather it is money gathered from public taxation), and their hob-knobbing with the latest class of elites they have generated. And all of the arguments about attracting the brightest and the best is now not only out of control, but also knows no geographic boundaries. Perhaps, just perhaps Canadian provincial governments could re-think their need and obsession with competing on the global markets. For example, law school fees that compete with those at Harvard (using the obsequious and specious argument that we have to attract from the same talent pool as does Harvard) ignores the economic realities of the capacity of Canadian students to shoulder excessive academic loans. It also appears to reject the notion that, among Canadian legal scholars are many who would work in our law schools for far less, if the student fees were to be trimmed to permit access to more students from indigenous and less affluent families.

OR: Is the race to the “top” in terms of reputation, and the salary that accompanies a misguided perception of value (as measured only by the market) now the idol worshipped in Canadian university board rooms? One has to wonder, and speculate, how someone like Northrop Frye, a world-renowned scholar, would regard the stratospheric salaries among his former colleagues. I am confident that he and many others Canadians like him would (and likely did) work for much less, adjusted for the current inflation rates.

Perhaps a few doctoral students, in fields like education, politics, history and culture could propose a doctoral thesis that compares the history of academic and professional civil service incomes around the world, with a view to monitoring both their relative income and the significance and creativity of their contribution to their professions.

The take-over by the “business” mentality has implications not only for business and for those who engage in business. The triumph of the dollar, as the primary or perhaps exclusive measure of “value and worthy” in all professions is another significant and negative spin-off of this Americanization/corporatization/profit-driven obsession in our culture.

Would it be too much to ask for a resurrection of the consciences of our professional, academic, political and thought leaders and their enablers?

Probably!

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