Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reflections on world "citizenship"


There is something startlingly unrealistic in thinking and then imagining a world in which the shared interests, needs and issues of all people might be considered and answered by institutions that are free of racial rancor, religious bigotry, fiscal plutocracy and superiority, political narcissism and denial of global warming and climate change.

It is a spectre to which the world as we know it will never even aspire, never mind attain. Where then are the seed of hope that might be planted to begin to germinate such a geopolitical, planetary seedling of a embryo that future generations could then nurture and develop?

Two roots of human development, outside of the genetic pool, remain open for enhancement: parenting and education. The first, while primarily private and exclusive to the biological parents of newborns, is nevertheless a relationship (not merely a job, role, set of skills, task or responsibility) for which most people of child-rearing age are woefully unprepared, untutored, and are even badly modelled.

Based on our parents’ examples, we all bear the scars of wounds, deprivations, exaggerations, fears, bigotries and negative animus from our time in our family of origin. That is not a simply “poor me” victim statement. It is an observation that most adults can and do make, after they have had children of their own. Our parents’ time and generation were simply uninformed of many of the important and often nuanced perspectives and information and expectations that come from an evolving and developing body of research, experience, and new ways of communicating, travelling, sharing and opposing. And while history has a way of informing and contextualizing their values and perspectives, it also has a way of  fossilizing those very attitudes, beliefs and biases. And no matter how defiantly we struggle to rid ourselves of the negative impacts of those influences, they have a tendency of lingering and popping up when we least expect them to. In fact, the more strenuous our attempt to eradicate those influences, paradoxically, the more they cling to our psyches and show up in our own lives.

Fortunately, there are no “bleaches” and no sanitizers, and no microbial soaps to launder the biases from our minds. There are also no churches, no schools, no books, no hospitals or doctors that can erase the negative impacts of our fears, neuroses, anxieties and bigotries. So, we are left with our own unique cluster of what our parents might have called ‘shades of meaning and value’ that we now experience as limiting, narrowing repressing and sabotaging.

The question then is how to “manage” (such an inappropriate word in this context) or “tickle” or “wear” or ……our self-sabotaging biases!

Some may even ask, “Why should I have to manage them?  After all, they are an integral part of my identity!”

If we are going to continue to commit to a more equitable, more just, more humane and more compassionate and more collaborative world community, then those biases that inflame our passions, provoke our wars both civil and territorial, prompt our destructive and parasitic tendencies will need some curtailing. And before they can or will be curtailed, they have to acknowledged, especially if and when they create unnecessary ruptures in our relationships, both personal and professional, as well as geopolitical.

The proverbial “cat-fights” between the Hatfields and the McCoys, or between the Catholics and the Protestants, between the whites and the blacks, browns and yellows and reds, between the rich and the poor, between the educated and the non, between the scientists and the artists, between the visionaries and the historians….while all comprise a significant set of volumes in the library of human history, (and also prompt significant and revealing debates, new insights and new directions) need some kind of separation from the global threats that all “tribes” are now facing.

Previously, humans were either unaware of what was happening on the other side of the globe, or they were peripherally and superficially conscious that “something” might be happening that was ‘not good’….resulting in deaths, mamings, injuries, starvations or even epidemics. Today, everyone has access to such information in real time. And consequently, none of us can claim ignorance, insouciance or a freedom from responsibility for any of it. When young girls are abducted in Nigeria, we are all appalled. When pedestrians are mowed down on French streets, we are all mowed down. When refugees drown on beaches in the Mediterranean, we all experience a kind of drowning. And if we don’t because we have become immune from the sheer onslaught of the repetition of these movies, then there is an even greater impulse to rid ourselves of these preventable tragedies.

Just as individuals cannot erase their biases, so too individuals and groups cannot eliminate their ideological, religious, ethnic biases. However, what we can do is to begin a long..very long and protracted process of reducing our shared dependence on a number of options that currently operate a centre stage of our public lives, in the global public square. Among these are:

·        The zero-sum option
·        The myth that tells kids never to turn from a punch, from a bully, or from a threat….there are many options here including counting to ten or a hundred, finding a third party mediator, helping young children to see the “plank” in their own eye, before magnifying the speck in the other’s eye…
·        Mount community initiatives to teach/learn about the world view of people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities
·        Participate in welcoming immigrants, new-comers, refugees and asylum-seekers into the local community
·        Urge community clergy to adopt collaborative community projects that demonstrate collaboration, as an normal and ordinary reality, not only on radioactive days like 9/11
·        Urge broadcast outlets, like TVO, PBS, Netflix, HBO to develop documentaries and films that expose diverse audiences to different cultures
·        Urge international agencies like the UN, the Clinton Foundation, Gates Foundation and others to target the development of cultural films, documentaries and digital media options opening the world to unfamiliar cultures…this kind of initiative is just as important as the eradication of AIDS, poverty, ebola and other epidemics.
·        Petition various world religious organizations to facilitate the preparation and dissemination of learning opportunities from diverse global locations and cultures
·        Read and talk around the dining room table about “how the rest of the world lives”…as a normal subject for family discourse
·        Help our children link with a pen-pal (facebookfriend, et al) with a peer from a distant country
·        Petition school boards and principals to develop student exchange opportunities at the secondary school level, in both public and private boards
·        Adopt fund-raising activities to support student travel, especially to parts of the world currently under-represented in the local community
·        Host an exchange student, (through Rotary International, or another reputable philanthropic agency) and inquire about his/her culture and habits
·        And then there is the option of inclusion of formal, traditional debating/seminar strategies and tactics, beginning at a early stage of elementary school, including local team competitions, honing the skills, but also planting the seeds of normalizing this kind of discourse among young children.
·        Introducing Moot Court opportunities, including both the gathering of evidence, and the presentation of witnesses, as another foundational post in the curricular development swath that could sweep across both the developed and the developing world. Include the deployment of FACETIME and SKYPE to facilitate cross-continental competitions, after securing both governmental and corporate sponsorship.

Naturally, all of these ‘ideas’ are directed to enhancing a global perspective in each and every town and city on the planet. Educators, especially those with vision, ambition and creative courage could be at the heart of such an initiative, in addition to their duties to prepare students for twenty-first century jobs. The short-sighted and highly charged political goal of “job training” risks serving the other highly charged political goal (again a race to the bottom) of reducing unemployment ranks, to justify the politicians’ re-election.

The media reporter cadre, too, has a pivotal role in how it “covers” racial conflict, jerrymandering to curtail voting opportunities, and the normalizing of cataracts of cash manipulating all electoral processes. They also have a significant role in whether and how they treat criminal activity…especially since the reduction of stories about crime mostly focus on the events and the charges and the sentences. Leaving out the details of the lives that have become derailed long before the specific crime was committed, is just another way of imposing a dangerous and somewhat violent reduction on the name and person charged and convicted and sentenced. We have to begin to think about crime differently. Previously, in this blog, I quoted one of the more ignorant and dismissive observations of a former neighbour when speaking about crime: “Well, all crimes are committed by the same 2% of the population, and that’s not going go change!”

Just another instance of a “developed culture” fixating on the superficial symptom, without digging into the root causes, as part of our shared aversion to the mundane and boring activity of “prevention”. And we already know that prevention, while costing more up front, would significantly reduce costs in the long run. Not incidentally prevention would also restore lives that otherwise would be effectively terminated in some jail cell, or a coroner’s morgue.

Superficial understanding is frankly an oxymoron. And when we link a superficial understanding with a transactional modus operandi as the “norm” we risk undermining both the purpose and the sustainability of our institutions, our traditions and our collective futures.

Schools, families, and of course, private corporations, now stretching their arms and legs around the globe, to take every advantage of every single loophole, and every single human being desperate enough to accept less than human working conditions, wages, safety, and environmental protections, are potential sources of creative energy, in the pathway to generating global citizens, global strategies and tactics for the survival of as many people as is feasible to support. Short-term greed, for lining the trust accounts of investors, is another “good business” oxymoron. It is simply incompatible with the larger, long-term interests of the planet and its people.

Economies that people have to serve have turned upside-down the preferred “economies that serve the people” perspective. And so long as we have people like trump and, more recently in Ontario, Mr.Ford, a Northern echo of the monster south of the 49th parallel, opting out of carbon pricing, taking the federal government to court, opting out of all green energy projects inaugurated by the previous government, we know that their economy will serve their “political interests” especially their cheque-writers. (Already trump has raised a reported $88 million for his 2020 re-election campaign! Imagine the caravan of tractor-trailers that will be needed to transport the final tally to the bank when the totals are calculated!)

If we are to begin to rid ourselves of our biases, we will also have to learn to express whole truths, and not depend on half-truths. Just yesterday, I heard a talking head columnist from the Washington Post say obviously ironically, “trump has a slight disability when it comes to recognizing and telling the truth!”

Say what? Is this politically correct speak for “trump is a pathological liar”?

Straight talk is the only way to express clear thought. And without clear thought and straight talk we are all somewhat imperiled. And it is not only people like trump and putin who prevaricate.

It is an epidemic among people under thirty, who, if and when they screw up, immediately deny, blame another or ignore their mis-step. (Of course, atr generalization that has not been tested in formal research! It is an intuitive guestimate, begging for empirical verification.

As Obama pointed out in South Africa, speaking at the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela words to this effect: social media was once predicted to be a force for solidarity, learning and the growth of the human condition and yet it has become an instrument for lies, division and propaganda. If we can listen to such prophetic voices with our own commitment for a world committed to its own hope and survival, then, presumably, we can “go higher” in all of the connotative applications of those words from Michelle Obama.

Contemporary leaders have staked out for themselves the “low road” that serves only their narcissistic needs and desperations.

Surely we can do better than this.

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