Friday, June 29, 2018

Is the deck stacked in favour of the bullies?

Bombast, braggadocio, revenge, pay-backs…these are arrows in the quiver of the most desperate. They are like the cheap thrill that comes from a roller-coaster ride, or the thrill of a military recruit shooting his first human victim….titillating, scintillating, perhaps even orgasmic. And the machines that produce thrills for profit have grown, as has the market for these candy-floss gulps of entertainment candy.

Serious thought, mediation, reconciliation, even arbitration, debate and argument….those are the arrows of the so-called ‘effete’ and the ‘intellectuals’ and the prima donna’s and the arrogant and the privileged…at least so the argument goes among the trumpcult.

Inverse snobbery, deeply embedded in the psyche of the self-appointed victims in any situation, will generate violence that exceeds by at least half, the original injustice, even if there were one. And joining the gang of self-declared victims only exacerbates the imbalance of revenge over injustice.

The current Oval Office occupant is the high priest of the victim-cult, personalized and magnetized into a self-serving and dangerous killing machine that appears on the surface to be unarmed. Although he has not fired a specific weapon, (missiles in Syria, and war games off Korea excepted) his verbal arsenal is stocked with vituperative language, and an even more venomous attitude that finds enemies over and under every rock and every perceived rock….for the thrill of the attack.

Pay-back, revenge, vituperation, decimation and destruction, all of is justified in the mind of the alleged victim (like education, everyone has at some time been a victim and momentarily wanted revenge, calling it justice). And the capacity to round up victims through social media, and through a deliberately designed campaign to elicit their wrath, (recall the epithet, there is nothing more dangerous that a woman wronged!) is not merely immoral, unjust and lethal. It is also, like a sudden epidemic, out of control, because the forces that normally hold this “beast” in check, simply do not choose to engage in a mud-bath that will destroy everyone and everything, like a scorched earth policy in war.

Those who value, even champion a post-secondary education that includes rubbing shoulders (and minds) with others who have proven themselves as scholars, as well as the challenge of reading, interpreting, debating and discerning nuances of meaning in multiple situations, irrespective of the academic discipline, simply are not reducible to pre-pubescent slanderous name-calling bullying that, like rotten festering garbage casts a pall over the public discourse initiated, enhanced, and emboldened by leaders like trump and the anti-human, anti-immigrant, anti-science, climate deniers, and corporate profiteers who refuse to put their energies into collaborative and creative solutions to what are the world’s shared and highly serious problems.

Rather than ameliorate conflict, they exacerbate it!

Rather than take steps to enhance encourage and empower the reduction of carbon emissions, they exacerbate them! (And the U.S. withdraws from the Paris Accord)

Rather than use formal institutions for resolving trade tensions, they berate their enemies, and thereby exacerbate the trade imbalances, and enhance the culture of conflict!
Rather than offer support and hope, work with dignity to those working two or three jobs, (if they have even one) they use them as pawns in their rhetorical war on fake enemies.

Rather than engage in a full discussion of the facts of any and all public issues, they manufacture their own version, leaving the truth as exhaust from their toxic tail-pipes, to model a modus operandi for all youth to emulate of bullying, revenge, vituperation and pay-back.

Rather than seeking to enhance and ennoble and enable international institutions, they berate, deride, dismiss and eventually withdraw from those very institutions. (Yesterday reports indicate the U.S. intends to withdraw from the World Trade Organization, in which forum, the U.S, has ‘won’ 85% of all disputes submitted to it.)

Rather than seeking to reduce the arms race, the U.S. proudly and unashamedly boasts of monstrous sales to various countries including Saudi Arabia.

Rather than seeking to ennoble and enhance the provision of human rights across the world, the U.S. formally withdraws from the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Rather than extending a helping hand to desperate refugees and asylum-seekers, too many countries are erecting mental walls against “enemy aliens” whose lives they would never choose to share or even be able to withstand.

Rather than seeking common ground on gun control legislation, the American administration “sleeps” with the NRA, and the gun manufacturing lobby, as one of, if not the most important allies.

We are facing not only the horrendous, heinous and debilitating policies of right-wing administrations, but we also face the spectre that the professional, educated, reasonable, collaborative and creative responses to these policies, attitudes, beliefs and vindictive actions will fail to generate the kind of media attention, and thereby public support that can or will “quarantine” and actually remove such “leaders”…who mock everything we used to consider responsible, mature, measured and tolerant.
Does anyone really think or believe that marching in the streets will change the power imbalance? The “thugs” are laughing and chortling about all the protests, they actually claim to have engineered with their venom.

This is not merely a test of wills; it is an existential test of the survival of the institutions of governance that have been created over the last two or three hundred years, not to mention the survival of the planet’s ecosystem. And, the current and future prospects of the conflict between the vindictive bullies and their self-declared and defined effete enemies is analogous to a one-armed quadriplegic entering the boxing ring to fight Muhammad Ali. In the first place, the sense of outrage and passion among the ‘mob’ far outweighs the passion and commitment of the other side; the audience among the public is far more ready and receptive for the message of the ‘mob’ than the audience for the other side; the content of those seeking vengeance is far more inflammatory and incendiary, raising unleashed emotions of anger, contempt and mob-like crowds from history who have yelled various taunts like Crucify Him, Lock her up…and the like. The rhetorical devices, repetition, lies, personal attacks, distortions, and “poor-me” epithets and slogans simply will never be resorted to by the trump opponents. After all, what is civilization comprised of, if not moderation, professional respect, logic, facts, rhetorical devices like balanced and appropriate comparisons, analogies and rational and researched projections?

Imagine for a moment a movie scene in which a clergy confronts an armed mob boss. There will be no contest and we would likely never even find the body of the clergy, nor evidence to convict the mob boss. That’s the kind of imbalance the public institutions face in the United States and other countries “run” (certainly not governed) by thugs.

Add to the rhetorical devices and the range of argument and respect open to both sides, the overwhelming evidence that the media simply self-indulges in violent conflict, even of the verbal kind. They bank on increased ratings and inflated advertising sales when the media turns white hot.

Pinning public hope on Robert Mueller’s report, while one of the few remaining life-lines left to bring this gang to “heel” is clearly not a sure thing, especially with the over-arching threat, “I can pardon myself from anything!” (And the corollary, if I can pardon myself, then I can certainly pardon anyone else I deem appropriate!)

Joined at the proverbial hip, to this political behemoth is a sycophant and servile Republican majority in both houses of Congress and a an underpinning  determination, shared by both Congress and the White House, to appoint right-wing justices to all open courts, including now especially another Supreme Court Justice, using the publicly and proudly  disclosed litmus-test of a guarantee from any nominee to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Like the unarmed, innocent, professional and respectful* (even of enemies) staff at the Annapolis Gazette yesterday, the public faces a similar, angry, incensed, and both armed and ready to shoot opponent in the current administration. And after all the dust has settled, where will the arbiters of stability, moderation, reason, science, respect for all, come from, given a complete and final take-over by the current mob?

*The paper refused to press formal charges in 2013, against yesterday’s shooter, according to reports today, when threatening messages appeared on social media targeting the paper and its personnel.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Turtling" is a choice...and it is NOT a responsible one!

It was an ironic, sardonic joke back in the 70’s when a co-ed, co-editor of a high school year book, shouted in the room designated for that purpose, “I am surrounded by incompetence!” Liz pasted an ear-to-ear grin on her face, as the others joined in her humour.

A half-century later, it seems, no matter whom you listen to, or where you go, employers are having a very difficult time finding “competence” and commitment and dependability, at least with new hires.

A significant segment of a generation of young people, between 25 and 40 have erupted into the workforce, on a “me first” graduation diploma. Whether that stems from sycophantic parenting, or even more cheer-leading schooling, or a culture so obsessed with new purchases or some combination of these and other factors, there is a sense of “entitlement” or perhaps a sense of desperation….Have we looked carefully at the kind of world we have painted, and built, for this next generation or two?

Defining epithets include:
·        everyone for himself,
·        everyone in competition with friends and neighbours, crass materialism as the new brass ring for which everyone is clambering and
·        entrepreneurialism as the halo that crowns every “successful” career.

The business model, the corporate, the private sector model, in which profits and investment dividends rule, has razed the perceived value of the public good in what is effectively a scorched-earth approach, virtually decimating a shared and balanced economy in which both public and private sectors collaborate. Removing the notion of “public good” from the consciousness of the culture has also removed it from the mind-set of each student, parent, teacher and certainly all employers.

That is until we see an ambulance go past, carrying another potentially dying person; or until we visit something called a library, or a hockey arena (paid for with public funds) or a public hospital or a civic park along a waterfront….when suddenly, what happens to public dollars and public consciousness takes on a very different meaning. Then it suddenly becomes an integral and highly welcome component in all of our lives. Yet, it is primarily old folks who pay attention to such public aardvarks. And, more and more private money is being solicited and more and creative measures to “honour” benefactors to universities and hospitals…as governments fail to collect those revenues to which they are entitled and also fail to monitor the mountains of laundered money that is sloshing around in the underground economy.

(Just this week, CBC reported that Canada Revenue faces a shortfall of $44 BILLION in unpaid taxes, taxes which both individuals and corporations have already agreed they owe. Unfortunately, under the Harper government, staffing was cut, leaving the CRA understaffed, and these taxes uncollected. Imagine what $44 billion would do to the national deficit and debt. Also this week, CBC reported that the B.C. government has known since 2011 of the millions of dollars of laundered money that flows in and through the casinos in that province, contributing significantly to the opioid crisis in that province.)

Call all of this mere “water-cooler” talk, without any chance of change in the near or medium-term future. And wonder, just how do these public omissions of responsibility contribute to the “me-first” attitude of many?

Negligence, insouciance, detachment, “living in a bubble”….these are all attitudes that prevail in the culture….Failures to bring “truth to power,” for example, has resulted in such a massive and tragic debacle in the payment of federal publicly servants, under the Phoenix pay system. The Auditor General has laid much of the responsibility for this failure, seriously impacting the private lives of thousands, through no pay, inaccurate pay and over-pay for more than two years, at the feet of civil servants who knew the system would not work, but refused to bring that “truth” to their superiors. The cost to human lives and families is exorbitant; and the cost to the public purse is also unconscionable given the conscious awareness that could and should have prevented the debacle.

So, there is not only a “me-first” rush to the front of the line, but also a “turtling” from speaking up and risking exposure as a whistle-blower if the public/private power structure needs correction, or even prevention of its own self-sabotage. “None of my business” has become another mantra of this culture, in which if and when there happens to be an incipient conflict in the workplace, everyone near runs from whichever “person” seems to be the most worthy target of the venom of avoidance.

 You see, bullying is and must not be restricted to “overt” negative actions like threatening, exposure on social media or actual physical or verbal confrontation; alienation, ostracizing and dismissal also qualifies as bullying, only in these cases, it has complete impunity for its perpetrator. “That’s their business,” is the escape valve excuse most people hide behind, and so management, especially middle management, effectively eunuchs itself into the servitude of silence, withdrawal and escapism. By that “turtling” middle managers avoid the risk of making a bad judgement, a judgement that might be questioned. And of course, that fosters and enables the heinous and totally ineffectual “zero tolerance” policy so preferred by perfectionist leaders, seeking to burnish their public image, in the short term, without taking full account of the long-term implications of the policy. It cannot, must not work, and it eviscerates the need for human judgement on the part of those in leadership positions of responsibility and accountability.

“We” are telling our young people things that, if we were fully confronted with ourselves, we would be ashamed, embarrassed and depressed to listen to. It used to be that forbidden topics were “religion and party politics.” Now, forbidden topics are anything that smacks of “whistle-blowing” or addressing authentic issues in ways that bring people to a local table to talk frankly, openly and courageously to resolve them. 

Now, too often it seems we turn those functions over to an “outside” consulting company, under the hypocritical banner of “objectivity” and distance and detachment. Whatever decision is rendered by such a “referee” does not cling to his or her neck, for the simple reason that they do not “live and work” in the workplace. Complaints about the decision, usually without an appeal process or if there is one it is hardly worth the time and effort to mount, rumble around that proverbial water cooler, and then die. Meanwhile, the “management class” has pre-emptively eliminated any stain on their resume and reputation…when it may well have been their failure to mediate that in part caused the issue in the first place.

So this “CYA” and “don’t get me involved” and “that’s none of my business” and “that’s YOUR business” and “I’m not having anything to do with this raging bullying conflict that has been going on for decades”….kind of attitude prevails. And young people are neither stupid nor uninformed. They know that gutlessness prevails among people with management titles; so too do the very people in those offices!

And that model, the self-eunuched leader (how is that for an oxymoron?), less visible on the public radar screen, “instructs” young people. Young people do see athletic and television “stars” as role models in some cases; however, they also see what passes as “acceptable” and normative at the grass roots wherever they live. And what they are witnessing is a deplorable and avoidable vacuum of leadership.

Former Vermont Governor, Dr. Howard Dean, used to complain that the Democratic Party has “lost its spine” in failing to mount effective opposition to Republican chicanery and obstructionism in Congress. The “disease” is not only evident among his party; it is also fully evident in most bureaucracies, sycophancies really, in servitude to their current “head” on the surface and in the short term, and long-term, their own careers and reputations.

And, in that scenario, competence is hardly high on the list of “values” preferred in public leaders: so long as aspirants for public office serve a menu of “fast-food” policies that serve the immediate narcissistic needs of the voter, they are likely to be successful: witness the last presidential election in the United States. If I were a young university graduate entering the workforce soon, I would be appalled at the “games people play” to seek and secure favour in order to get that first job and later to move up the ladder. It is not that any of the “players” (leaders or hires) are unconscious about how they are operating; in fact they know full well that they are primarily, if not exclusively, tendering to their own career, professional, resume padding needs, and the needs of the organization, (their most direct public) matter not a wit…leaving those matters to the “imbeciles” in the corner offices.

Top and bottom, it seems we have a public culture that is imploding in short-term vision, self-serving, and insouciant and quite literally irresponsible about the long-term implications of our attitudes, perceptions and that oxymoron, “values”.

We are debasing our planet, including our rivers, our land, and our “public air. And we are also demonstrating a degree of contempt for all things living, as we are in a headlong, headstrong race to the “black-Friday WalMart Sale” to the bottom, every day in every way.

Sad! And unlikely to change any time soon.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

man at a bar

looking down the bar
                                                 at the slumped man….
                         at the hollow sockets clinging
                                               to the eyes
         you can feel the fatigue
                                                that lingers over each breath,
if you listen carefully you can hear it
                                           gently pleading for calm …for
     a little more energy …and a little more
it is not depression that slouches on the face of
                                                             this relic
                       just a deep consciousness
                                                                 that after three-quarters
of a century
                   spring has morphed from
                                             new lily-of-the-valley and iris and peonies
                            to endless sunsets,  protracted autumn
                                           and the inevitable anticipation of
  the winter of everafter
                            there is something perplexingly proud
                                                      in the miles of wrinkles
mapping his face
                                                  for having trekked those
                 mountains, valleys, rivers, trails and bridges
and with the occasional companion
                                                   who really “got”
                       who he is ….what he values….
                                                          what he dreams
               and what he fears….
                                             the piano-man
still plays long after the crowd has
                                                             clinging to one last riff
       knowing the silence
                                         will fill the room and both of their hearts
           and all of the why’s
                                     and the when’s and the how’s
                        will settle in the
sawdust on the floor
                              waiting for tomorrow’s dancers
              eagerly anticipating
                                                his next latest melody….
 and a new tune rises
                                from the keyboard

Get that (bleep) outta here!

“Get that mosquito outta here!”

“Get those “vermin” outta here!”

“Get James Comey outta here!”

“Get those Mexicans, Moslems and all those other “bad people” outta here!”

“Get those children, babies, mothers and fathers outta here!”

Anyone who still thinks or, worse, believes, that we are not watching another real-time, highly dangerous, silly and toxic imitation of the reality television show has been unconscious and under a rock for the last two and half years.

Revolving doors, sycophants in and authentic truth-tellers out!

Family in and the most loyal acolytes out!

His base in, and all others, the Dem’s, the media, Canada, Europe, NATO, NAFTA, WTO, UN, Human Rights Council of UN, Paris Accord….OUT!

Kim Jung Un (or as  The  Economist spells it, “WON”), Duterte, Putin, Erdogan IN!

Tel Aviv OUT, Jerusalem IN!

Rex Tillerson OUT, Mike Pompeo IN!

The only remaining question, for most of us, is “When will we be able to say “TRUMP OUT”?

There is beginning to be a trickle of high profile Republicans who have abandoned the trump bandwagon: Mary Matlin, Steve Schmidt, Jeff Flake, Jeff Corker, Joe Scarborough. Even Conservative columnist George Will has written and published a strong argument urging everyone to vote Democratic in 2018, “in order to quarantine this president”. And then there are increasing numbers of leaks that paint a picture of a growing divide between the occupant of the Oval Office and his deputies. The most recent focuses on James Maddis, Secretary of Defence.

Apparently, reports this morning indicate that the Chief Executive had not previously discussed taking the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea off the table, as a ‘negotiating chip’ in the conversations with Kim Jung Un. Of course, such a move completely blind-sided the South Koreans, elated the Chinese, undoubtedly dismayed the Secretary of Defence and left other world leaders with dropped jaws….this is a very different kind of ‘shock and awe’ from 2003 in Iraq.

Ironically, and paradoxically, this version could turn out to be even more dangerous than the iteration promulgated by Dubya. Without firing a single missile, or rocket, or even cluster bomb, the president of the United States has, in an apparently spontaneous, ill-conceived, neither thought-out nor communicated decision, rendered all players shocked….most hardly in “awe”.

Personal obsession with destabilizing all others, for the sake of taking absolute control of the “script” may have served this person in real estate development (although most developers in New York will have nothing to do with him as a business partner), and it may have been the impulse for a television show that garnered lots of filthy lucre for its executive producer. Apparently, now that the world knows that the pursuit of filthy lucre is the single most brilliant Northern Star in this man’s value galaxy, all else having fallen into the sewer of “weakness,” we are subjected to a massive, planetary display of everything that is “deplorable” in human nature….the obsessive need for attention, for control, for always being right (even when I’m wrong I will find an excuse rather than admit I have erred!), and a categorical imperative to dominate everything, everyone, every moment, second by second of the national, and if possible, the international media and bring the world to its knees.

Everyone, everything, all places and treaties, all historic monuments, indeed all of history itself….it is all hostage to this coup of everything held in trust by the people of the world….courts, judges, international institutions. Even the helpless refugees, asylum-seekers, and their families are held hostage….just as is the Secretary of Defence. Like a biological epidemic, this human tumour is sucking the life-blood out of the body politic, at home, and around the world, just like the millions of cancerous tumours devouring the millions of women’s breasts especially in North America.

 (Having staffed the Supreme Court with conservative judges, while blocking Obama’s nominee, the Senate essentially confirmed yesterday’s decision to uphold the travel ban. Not ably, Madame Justice Sotomayor read her dissent aloud, and ended with “I dissent” not the normal, “I respectfully dissent!” Her argument focused on the historic internment of Japanese citizens during WWII, another historic blunder of the Supreme Court.)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Wading in at the beach of male spirituality

There are so many deep and perplexing, unanswered and unanswerable questions about “masculine spirituality” that one fears even sticking a proverbial toe in that water. And yet, perhaps that is what lingers as a far-off, yet occasionally brilliant and illumining star to seek to find in a far-off galaxy of other complex and   seemingly infinite stars.

There are male creative geniuses who have flown the flags and blown the coronets of their deepest thoughts, feelings, fears, dreams and utopias and dystopias. And there are theologians who have prayed, suffered, agonized and celebrated their deep and profound and permanent connection to the ultimate power in the universe. There are legions of us ordinary mortals who have caught glimpses of what we thought, perceived, believed and even acted upon were impulses nudging us in the direction of inner-seeking, withdrawal from the frenzy of career ambition, fiscal management, family duties and our failures in some or all of those areas.

Whether or not we “know” in the deepest, fullest and most intimate ways that we have “value,” are worthy, are loved, are honourable, are trusting and trusted, are aware of the “kingdom of God within”….seems an impelling, persistent, modulating, moderating and penetrating question needing some hints of both positive and negative answers….and even some that are ambiguous. And from the weight of evidence offered to our senses in our youth, and later to our minds, we conflate a tremulous and misty and mystifying and evolving picture. And then, we come to a place where the empirical evidence of our place in the universe is either or both incomplete or potentially flawed both in its content and in the motivations of those offering their critique.

Measuring our “identities” against others, as we all do, seems destabilizing and potentially “soul destroying” given the relative degree of our “hollowness” as the starting point in our biography. And, by inference, to measure ourselves against the “infinite, the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent is impossible and irrelevant.

And so, once we begin to appreciate something about the infinite in/of the universe, in birth and death, and in the galaxies, the trees, the lakes and oceans, the fauna and flora and we begin to glimpse the unbelievable complexities, intricacies, intimacies, dualities and tensions that pulsate in and through all of its magnificence, we cannot but get a sense of its open invitation to be a part of its symphonies.

And then, whether or not we have already made some social, community or searching connection to something known as church, or a faith community, we begin, almost inevitable and inexorably, and certainly tentatively and tremulously, to explore, investigate, ruminate upon and even dream about our potential  connection and relationship to and with the infinite. Funerals, and babies, both beyond our imaginations and intellects to define and contain, sunrises and sunsets, too, likewise often leave us in awe, as do Beethoven’s symphonies and sonatas, Bach’s Clavier, Monet’s gardens, and Einstein’s equations. Visiting cathedrals like Canterbury and Westminster, and although outside my experience the Vatican, can only reinforce a feeling and a consciousness that others have devoted their lives to “stretching” to aspire to reach something they envisaged as “heaven”…at the zenith of the universe.
Our “grain of sand” existence on this vast and beautiful beach/planet* seems to take on some meaning when people we read, explore, reflect upon and interact with as we realize that our meaninglessness is both unacceptable and unworthy of our being here. This time between birth and death, a monstrous gift, blessing and opportunity, like a new canvas or blank manuscript, beckons us to pick up a paint-brush or pen and begin to sketch whatever it is that seems to be a glimpse of meaning or purpose, some kind of light, perhaps (or inevitably) even linked to the previous darknesses of our biographies. And we “pray” for the courage to go into the dark night of chaos, confusion and wandering…under an energy and a muscle we most likely did not know we even had without really comprehending the fullness of what prayer can or might be.

Whether these stirrings and walks erupt from a trauma, or just evolve over a long time, there is a common modality to the journey to self-discovery, self-awareness and self-acceptance, that resist cognitive explications, reasonable and congruent timings, and even nicely bow-wrapped boxes of immediate answers…often there are even more and different and more difficult and penetrating questions, for which we unknowingly, and unconsciously have been “prepared”. (We might even venture to claim the word preparing!)

And, whether or not our little journey takes us into a formal faith community or not, and whether we have to engage in formal studies about our/human spiritual growth and development, and whether or not our little pilgrimage meets another whose search complements ours, and whether the universe throws speed-bumps, detours, diversions, regressions or depressions into our way, this new maples voyage into the unknown dimensions of our psyche, our spirit…and therefore compelling our minds and bodies to come along in willing or semi-willing support…we are on a new and different path….like nothing before in our empirical lives.

It is as if we have crossed a threshold from a life dedicated to the pursuit and achievement of extrinsic goals, rewards, titles, offices, stipends, pension plans, houses, children, marriage and social and cultural relatedness. And we begin to pass through a different canal from the original birth canal, although equally fraught with danger, threats, risks and even the potential of the end of life itself. Not to turn our backs on the previous decades of accomplishment, in secular terms, but rather to embrace the greater long-term, lasting and life-giving expectations of a life lived embracing spiritual, ethereal, non-corporeal, and frankly other-worldly matters.

While we each frame the new paradigm and its emerging questions differently, nevertheless the essential thrust of the questions is largely the same:

  • ·        If there is a life-force in the universe, (and I have to begin with a positive answer) then what is a life that is in harmony with that life force to look like?
  • ·        Where are some of the spiritual life-forces who have confronted such questions as the meaning and purpose of existence, and what do they have to say in and through their own lives?
  • ·        Is there a spiritual group to which I feel drawn, as a starting place to this new uncharted “nature-walk”?
  • ·        If beauty, truth and love are really at the core of the spiritual pilgrimage, how are they to be pursued, incarnated, re-evaluated, and re-incarnated in this one life?
  • ·        How have the previous decades shaped and formed such questions, and the launch-pad into a new perceptual dimension? What baggage needs to be left behind, and what new approaches, compass points and relationships apply here and now?
  • ·        What are the mysterious relationships between the world’s prevailing myths and the Christian narrative and how do/have/will both vectors impact me?
  • ·        Is there an implicit yet clear and qualitative difference between the “how and why” of existence prior to this shift, and the “how and why” of a new and different path?
  • ·        Does this path require a period of solitude, isolation, Gethsemane-type wandering, or is it just as accessible amid the frenzy of a career?

For many, it is more likely the case that this “shift” in consciousness is more like a glacier in its gradual, persistent, yet almost imperceptible movement and such questions as those listed above emerge perhaps many times, in varying tones, colours, rhythms and events, all of them probing the same mystery.
At least for this scribe, there have been a few moments that some would call epiphanies.

One, very early came out of a homily when I was sixteen, (the content has been referred to in more than one place in this space previously). So shocking, revolting and clarifying in its exclusion of Roman Catholics and any who drank wine, danced, frequented movie theatres or wore make-up…all of them “damned to hell” by this Ian Paisley clone….that I left the Canadian iteration of the Presbyterian church forever (only to return grudgingly seven years later, for a short afternoon ceremony for my first marriage). Having spent some time, at sixteen, casting my innocent eyes/mind/heart over the New Testament, I had concluded that these threats bore no relation to the spirit or the letter of the words I had been reading. And while my parents continued their attendance in those pews, they never prevailed upon me to return, except briefly after the marriage. Both my then partner and I declined their invitation.

Wherever one lives, one breathes in the attitudes, including both the sneers and the winks, the topics to be avoided, like religion and those that are “safe,” like the weather. It was not only the clergy from homily noted above who disdained Roman Catholics; that was a prevailing ‘meme’ in the little town. Protestants and Catholics simply did not mix. Of course, they conducted business with each other; often that was necessary as, for example, the only shoe-maker and repair shop was owned by an Italian family. Having had the attitude and words served at nearly every meal, “If the whole town goes down to the town dock and jumps in and drowns, are you going to join them?” I had unconsciously been nudged and shoved, persuaded and “commandeered” into a kind of “swim against the stream” salmon-like perspective. So, near the same time as the above homily was delivered, I invited a couple of friends, both protestants, to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.
Sitting in the balcony of that previously “forbidden” and “evil” church, and observing the prayers, hymns, incense, and Eucharist seemed to me then to be eminently reasonable, and unworthy of the contempt and disdain that crept like a noxious gas along the alleys, between the houses, and into the  sanctuaries of all the other churches. Only much later, in a very different place, time and insight did I discern a kind of infantilism in the power of both hierarchy and dogma to which I could not submit.

There is something to this notion of “not submitting” that is at the core of both my personality and whatever thoughts I have of God, spirituality, faith, salvation, religion and a full and healthy life. Sister Mary Jo Leddy’s spiritual biography, entitled “Say to the Darkness, we beg to differ,” expresses the attitude both precisely and sensitively, much more delicately that I have often expressed a similar view. Deep thoughts and feelings often bubble up out of some cavern when we least expect them, and when we have not given an extended time of reflection to their existence. Blurting out “that’s just not right!” when injustice lands its bully punch on its latest playground victim in the sandy schoolyard lying between Central and Gibson Schools. A more silent protest, fearing public scorn and humiliation, whispers, “I hate it when they ridicule Jim!” the tall angly guy in grade eight whose body seemed out of sync with his beautiful and insightful mind. Gentle, compassionate and isolated, he was compelled to remain mostly alone, and did so without recourse to revenge or visible bitterness against his peers.

Arguing against a mother’s cynicism directed to sports generally, and hockey specifically, I often protested her decision to exclude participation in that sport, following a minor dental accident in which the puck broke two front teeth, arguing “dentist costs” as preclusive of my continuing. Her decision forced more practice time for the piano lessons, recitals and examinations…and exhibited an attitude of what I then considered imbalance, and continue to this day to believe was unnecessary. “Both-and” (piano and hockey) seemed then and still does, far more “life-giving.” “Either-or” has become a premise to be faced with scepticism, adjacent to the “beg-to-differ” attitude that confronts most situations, especially those decisions taken by persons in positions of power.

Scepticism of the abuse of power by itself is central to my notion of the universe and my place in it. So radioactive is my radar on this score that only the exemplary role models of teachers, principals, clergy, lawyers, doctors, bishops and bosses, and of course political actors and athletic and novel and movie characters….This sceptical lens is also a critical instrument in helping to discern authenticity, credibility, trust and allegiance both to others and to ideas, promises, threats and judgements, especially of those behind lecterns, pulpits, policy uniforms, and religious garb of all sorts. Spiritual growth and development, then, proceeds through a maze of decisions that draw me out into service, and pull me back from continuing to throw energy in support of people or projects put personal advancement ahead of the stated aim and purpose of the “service” to others.

Just yesterday, I listened as a businesswoman with detailed knowledge of the workings of a health facility expressed disappointment that the medical doctor attached to the small rural clinic was furthering “self-interest” not meeting the needs of the client group of the clinic. “Self-interest,” while relevant, infects the professional approach of many in the “faith” business of the institutional church. And this consciousness was first awakened through a decade and a half of freelance reporting on the politics of city hall. Frequent interactions with and among the various actors, civil servants, elected officials, other reporters, and citizens including both victims of civic decisions and the big actors like developers and business owner-operators offered a unique, in-the-flesh real-time narrative of people worthy of trust and those of a different hue. Different from, and yet highly evocative of the characters from novels, and movies, these names and faces generated immediate and concrete reactions, demanding evolving evaluation and criticism (both positive and negative) that the reading of literature preserves in the more abstract, and the more “heady,” intellectual and thereby detached.

It is the tension between the immediate, concrete, and real-time experiences in life and the more abstract, theoretical and even philosophical and theological that generates the vibrations, sometimes like symphonic harmonies, and other times like raging hurricanes inside the mind, psyche and heart and comprises the biographical and the spiritual narratives of a life. And this has certainly been the case in my life. As an active thinker-feeler-observer-‘intuitor’-actor….fully aware of the limits of my skills and energies (only much later in years) I have been the instigator of many unwelcome and divisive encounters, having sought and been offered opportunities to question the basic norms and premises of many of the people and institutions with whom and with which I have worked.

Preferring stereotypes as more easily managed, controlled and financed (in business especially) our culture finds eminently cantankerous and irascible those less willing to comply with both rules and expectations. “Colouring outside the box” was not something I even thought about for the first third of my life….I was just doing “what I needed to do”. Whether that entailed waking up some somnambulant pre-teens in a classroom, or restraining a young male adolescent from demanding centre-stage on our football or basketball team, or resisting the lure of inbreeding in an Ontario private school through hiring primarily “old boys” from previous graduating classes, or jumping on a learning curve to “sell” meat, and other food products like margarine, and lard for Canada Packers, or asking for a social life as a requisite component in any family….and certainly not always successfully or with concurrence from others…I nevertheless proceeded in an almost head-strong determination “to be heard” (and to be recognized and “valued”).

Adler would say that I was merely compensating for a deficit in my own perception of my own value….given the chant “you are no good and never will be any good” that echoed down the basement stairs, and across the piano keyboard and into the raspberry patch and across the front porch and sidewalk…from my mother’s deep and profound self-loathing, projected onto her offspring. Unfortunately, I was totally unaware of the source of this infamy as a youth, and blamed myself for being “nothing”.

Any intimation that there is a separation between one’s biography and one’s spiritual life and development is absurd. And any intimation that there is a division between one’s wellness or personal health and one’s spiritual growth and development is also untenable. And it is the intersection of the wholeness of one’s experience with the totality of one’s inner life, perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and values, including one’s dynamic awareness of one’s relation to the infinite power of the universe that commands one full attention and energy….

And while this can be exhausting, it can and does also give new life, if and when one is open and receptive…

Enough for this episode….more later!

*This perspective does not forget or deny or avoid other less salutary and much less pastoral and often gut-wrenching planetary/natural phenomena that include a persistent striving for survival, competition between and among species, random acts of both kindness and brutality and the overriding mystery that pervades all of nature and life. In fact, it is with a balanced vision of the magnificent fragility of existence that one is enabled to set parameters and expectations around one’s emotional, intellectual, psychic and spiritual perspectives. Similar to the savage beasts, and at the same time, different in significant ways, we humans live in the tensions that pervade and vibrate inside the canyon between the raw and the gentle, the compassionate and the empathic. It is in this echo chamber, literally and metaphorically, that much of the “music” and the “dance” and the artistic renderings of all facets and phases of life are created.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Timbits, tidbits and other placebo's anyone?

There is a lot more to corporatism, the new theology, than a focus on profits and dividends although those “ends” are used to “justify the means”. And the “means” are nefarious, deliberately dehumanizing, micro-managing and ultimately indefensible. 

There is a inscrutable and toxic take-over by what used to be called “classical conditioning” on the part of all management and governments, as if each of their “supervisees” (and voters) were able to be manipulated by anything extrinsic.

A recent story of a worker who was explaining to his supervisor that the work was becoming oppressive…too many details, in too few hours with too few workers, and yet the worker resisted stooping to the proverbial “its just management stretching everyone too thin to save money and increase profits. And the supervisor’s response: “Could I get you some TimBits?”

That is not a joke. That is not a piece of schoolyard pandering. It is an account of a single conversation in a professional mega-institution that occurred within the last week.

TimBits for a stressed-out worker!!!???….as if another “sugar-laden” placebo will “fix it.”

It is not merely the insult to the worker that is noteworthy; also tragically worthy of note is the belief both on the part of the supervisor and the worker that such a tactic is the best the supervisor can offer. Is this the new model of “leadership"?

And yet, in the last Canadian federal election, the winning party and leader offered “sunny days and sunny ways” as his pandering alternative to the more sombre and some would say “dark” analytical and reasoned offerings of the former (now retired and replaced) leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair. He also had the misfortune to be the successor to Jack Layton, former NDP leader, who was a rich combination of substance and hope and optimism.

And then there are the myriad “political timbits” that the current occupant of the Oval Office has served up to his ravenous hordes: “the wall”…”the tariffs” …the victimization of the U.S. by NATO, and all trading partners, the “new space force” (to dominate the heavens by America), and of course, “lock her up”….pure red meat to a gang of rabid rednecks. Included in this menu from the 2016 presidential election are all the mind-numbing epithets painted on his Republican opponents, as if the democratic process could be highjacked by a pre-pubescent narcissist…(as it truly was!)

Classical conditioning, under the guise of enlightened management leadership is a lie. It is to reduce both the perpetrators and the recipients of its “froth” to mechanical robots. The administrators follow some “protocol” promulgated by some bureaucrats in human resources, for seeking and acquiring compliance with whatever working conditions are the “flavour” of the month. The protocol encapsulates the latest “policy” and measureable method of executing the latest surge both for padding the resume of the “leaders” and for maximizing the profits and the dividends of the company and its investors.  Workers have been reduced to pavlovian dogs who simply have to learn to “ring the bell” (comply) in order to remain under the radar of the highly weaponized management (the other side of classical conditioning…the sanctions!). For workers, it has become a “risk avoidance” scheme, in order both to retain the job and to resist the kind of medication that overturns one’s lifeboat…like alcohol or non-prescption , drugs, or even more recently, pain-killing prescriptions. (Last year, 4000 people in Canada died from drug overdoses; the primary demographic was males between 30 and 39, for whom this method of death is now the highest of all causes!)
And for a culture to become so engaged in both timbits (as solutions) and hollow promises and scathing name-calling attacks, both of which are examples of silver bullets used as bait to seduce or to assassinate….we are seriously in danger of becoming our own “armed camp” within our own borders.

Of course, immigrant, refugees, “others” of all descriptions including blacks, indigenous, Latinos, Asians and Arabs (code for Muslims) readily fall into the line of fire of these bullets (by the white supremacists), all of them categorized as “enemy” to be resisted, barred, prosecuted, deported, or jailed. And the reductions in language and in the vacuity of thought that encourages and sustains the language both play into the hands of those white supremacists who seek total domination and control. The establishment, however, drinks the same modus operandi…the simplest and quickest and cheapest “trick” to gain control, compliance and the resulting profits and dividends, or for politicians, dollars and votes.

It is not merely the uber-rich who have aligned themselves with the redneck mob; so too, for the most part has the corporate elite, operating on the reductionistic premise that the removal of all “restrictions” in regulations, labour standards and environmental standards will serve their bottom line…once again the ends justify the means… all cases. The rare  recent push-back from the large airline companies against using their fleet to transport children ripped from the asylum-seeking parents is so surprising that it makes the case, as the proverbial exception to the rule.

The ends, as the justification for all the necessary means, is another of the many traps permitted, encourage and sustained by classical conditioning. It seeks and too often achieves complete compliance, given the power and the wealth of the corporations and the government to out-wait, and to overpower all whistle-blowers, and “insurgents” who might deign to express opposition to the prevailing corporate take-over of our institutions, culture and workers and voters. Just yesterday, for another example, the U.S. government announced that it was combining the Secretariats of Education and Labour…effectively closing both.

Public education has been, and will once again long after this cabal has deceased, be a cornerstone of democracy where children from all socio-economic and ethnic and religious backgrounds and beliefs and cultures sit in the same classroom every day, play on the same playground, eat at the same cafeteria and take the same buses as their peers. In American terms, this is the hearth of their melting pot! In Canadian terms, it is the  opportunity to forge acquaintances with kids from a variety of backgrounds that make us a better country, even though we still have serious race issues, on this Canadian Indigenous Peoples Day. Nevertheless, under the mantra of “saving money” as if these departments were a negative drain on the public purse, since they both advocate for public services for students and for workers respectively, they will be effectively razed from public consciousness. (IS the E.P.A. under Scott Pruitt, next for the guillotine?)

Nevertheless, this merger bromide, for public consumption, is just another in the growing and deepening pattern (we hope it will never become a tradition) of leading by tidbit, timbit, tweet, simple, spontaneous and vacuous announcements similar to the kind of “keep them in the dark” mentality that pervades most corporate entities. Public audiences, whether they are on the payroll of the corporate behemoths, or in the screening rooms of homes across North America, are subjected, literally and metaphorically, to the dictum that seems to govern the mentality of top-down hierarchies: “what have YOU done for me lately?

And this one-way street is loosely paved with such miniscule bribes/easers as timbits, or some anodyne of superficial persuasion, as if we (workers and voters) were so gullible and so vacuous and so bendable and malleable as to be easily taken for granted.

What kind of leadership education, or perhaps the word “training” (as in classical conditioning) would be more appropriate, are our leaders being offered? Certainly the business schools graduating the MBA’s are doling out large dollops of classical conditioning, under the guise of a corporate “branding” to brandish the image of the corporate sponsors who fund their students’ tuitions, scholarships and research grants.

Political leaders, too, for the most part, are steeped in the culture of manipulation of both the prospective donor to their campaigns, and eventually the people who cast their votes. Crass manipulation, blatant and overt and condescending spreading of propaganda fertilizer (analogous to the liquid manure poured of farm fields to enhance corn growth for their milk cows.

And also, what kind of critical thinking is being taught in our elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools, that we have a culture willing to accept the pablum “crumbs” (intellectually empty, socially self-serving for the leaders, and bankrupting the long-term interests of both the corporations (public and private) and the governments elected to serve.

LinkedIn trumpets “It is not What you know but Who you know” that counts in career advancement. Another “sell line” that hooks to the “old-boys” (and more recently “girl-power”) networks from which many hires are selected. So, on yet another level, partly as a sheer survival mode, everyone is out to “make a good impression on someone, especially those “someone’s” who can and just might put in a good word for us, sometime, somewhere down the line. And the whole system is “cooked” in the pressure cooker with the brand name “Classical Conditioning”.

We have all become enmeshed, both the referee or the reference, in a game of social engineering, “led” and “dominated” by those writing the script(s).

Of course, the rebels, the artists, the musicians, the dancers and the occasional “misfits” (think Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren) are “interesting magnets with a message too radical for the mainstream. And most are relegated to the philanthropic grant application process, or the reputation-brandishing process of playing concerts and gigs around the world, in order to generate a “following”….When and if we were really serious about changing how we think and how we do “stuff” we would push back against the corporate model of bigness and richness as our definition of quality…against our penchant to listen only to those the establishment has “branded” as acceptable, honourable and worthy of our time and consideration.

We are like those yahoo’s Swift wrote about, scurrying around looking for eyes that will glance our way, and ears that will bend in our direction, desperate for a twitter “following” and a Facebook repertoire of “likes” as our measure of our own value. And obviously we are so desperate that we will grovel for even a bite of sugar, or a morsel of a tweet, or a hollow epithet of a bullying name-calling, or a blatant ruse that disguises the real motive of our panjandrums in positions of leadership, responsibility and mentorship.

Just how desperate have we become to have permitted these blatant, self-serving sales seductions and placebo’s, including the tweets, the tidbits, the timbits and the “policy” sugar cubes (not to mention the calorie-ridden fast-food behemoths whose advertising, marketing and menus are over-flowing our cardiac units, our Intensive Care Units and our suicide numbers.

We are all living at the bottom end of the “food chain” in so many respects that the pattern has become entrenched and we have become “mind-blind, ear blind and heart blind to our own predicament. We no longer either expect or deliver our best: we no longer expect or deliver our strongest, collaborative performance, at least in the public arena…including both governments and corporations. And we all know that we are barely surviving, intellectually, morally, ethically, spiritually, socially and politically.
And it is not only our mortality rates that are suffering; so are our senses of our own worth self-esteem and confidence in our capacity to make a difference.

Occasionally, every few months or so, some little-reported story breaks through the veil of mediocrity. Such a story broke last night on Rachel Maddow. Given the outbreak of yet another horror story originating in the Oval Office, several hundreds of children have been yanked, as in a C-section, from their mothers and fathers, on the highly questionable legal premise that their parents have to be prosecuted for crossing into the U.S. ILLEGALLY!

It seems that a couple in California, seeing into the heart of the problem, knowing that if those parents could provide bail, they would be released until their immigration hearing date, and then re-united with the children. Thinking small, they targeted a goal of some $1500 to provide bail for one family in a social media fund-sourcing initiative. Truth be told, they raised some $15,000,000 (not a typo!) and now will seek to find all of those separated children and their parents and provide bail and reconnection of children with their parents for all families impacted by the inhumane, ridiculous and indefensible program.

That couple is inspiration for all of us, in the midst of this hailstorm of timbits..