Friday, February 15, 2019

Does Trudeau speak with white-man's forked tongue?



CBC has just reported on the first words from Trudeau about his conversation with the former Attorney General, about SNC Lavalin: Here is a quote from their report on his speech to reporters:

“There were many conversations going on, which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her or going to direct her to take a particular decision and I of course said no, that it was her decision to make and I expected her to make it.”…..
“Obviously as a government we take very seriously our responsibility of standing up for jobs, of protecting jobs, of growing the economy, of making sure that there are good jobs right across the country as there are with SNC-Lavalin, but as we do that we always need to make sure we’re standing up for the rule of law and protecting the independence of our justice system.”

Let’s mine these words for a few moments, as if we were hypothetically standing in the Attorney General’s shoes, hearing these words from her “boss” and listening to them in the light of, and through the lens of centuries of broken treaties with Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Speaking with “forked tongue” is a phrase that indigenous people have used to paint the white man’s obsession with power, dominance, racism and impunity for centuries.

Squeezed to its precipitate, Trudeau’s words would read:

“I am not going to direct you to a particular decision BUT I am underlining the extreme need for jobs, especially at SNC-Lavalin.”

In therapeutic terms, we would describe this sentence as a “mixed message”. It covers Trudeau’s backside by formally and deliberately taking him off the hook from a potential “meddling” with the justice system charge (although his government previously buried that “remediation” clause in the Budget in 2018 allegedly primarily for SNC-Lavalin). At the same time, he unequivocally leaves the then Attorney General in no doubt about the direction he wants her to move.

In non-therapeutic terms, read political parlance, his statement, like many made by the political class, wants to have his cake while he eats it. Given that the political messaging is almost exclusively symbolic, peppered with hot-button words, (jobs in Quebec being the sine-qua-non for a Liberal re-election in 2019, and jobs at SNC-Lavalin in particular) and given that most political announcements are not subjected to the rigours, residing simply in a connotative context and escaping a denotative definition, as would apply in a courtroom, Trudeau was immersed in his “political-master” role in what could become his tragic Greek-theater election drama of 2019.

In terms of national governance, Trudeau is facing what eerily evokes the National energy attempt by his father. A caravan of some 160 trucks, buses and cars (at its inception) rumbles along the Trans-Canada highway from Red Deer to Ottawa, as we write this, to demand jobs in the fossil fuel sector, in a political context that seems to have put him in the position of favouring (to the untrained public eye and ear) Quebec jobs and the government of Quebec’s premier who blatantly and publicly  calls for an immediate remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin. Not incidentally, Quebec is out front on measures to protect the environment, while the Alberta caravan protesters want all carbon taxes eliminated.

Bribing officials in 2004 and 2005 in Lybia to secure construction contracts, may seem like an almost forgettable crime to some; and certainly, given the low level of business and human rights ethics around the world, it is not difficult to conclude that SNC-Lavalin was behaving in a manner that imitated behaviour of their competitors. So, we have an international “low-bar” for business ethics, ironically linked to a very high bar for Canadian companies to refrain from bribing their potential partners (at least on the public face of it), and even more ironically linked to a new “clause” in the criminal code that “remediates” companies who have committed bribes from criminal charges, and the potential exclusion from even bidding on government contracts (the core of SNC-Lavalin’s work) for ten years. Bribing potential partners in the construction business, at the municipal level, also, is reputed to be a generally accepted behaviour among some developers even in Canada, and not exclusively in Quebec.

If I were in Wilson-Raybould’s Attorney General shoes, when she listened to Trudeau’s words (relying on CBC’s accuracy in their reporting), I would conclude, without reservation or confusion or uncertainty, that the Prime Minister wanted a “favourable” decision with respect to the application of the “remediation clause” to SNC-Lavalin. I would also know that my parents, my family, my indigenous people, my legal ethics professors, my constituents, and many in the federal Cabinet would readily understand my difficulty, and would nevertheless, each of them, understand my preference for a prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, given that I did not agree, in the first place, with the “remediation clause” nor with its “secretive” yet public inclusion in the omnibus bill back in the autumn of 2018.

The complexity of explaining why I did not resign when that clause was included in the omnibus bill, however, remains outstanding. I hoped and even envisioned that I would not likely have to make a decision to invoke that remediation clause. Facing multiple complex issues, in a fast-paced environment, as a first female, indigenous Attorney General in Canada’s history, while clearly not an excuse for any behaviour, either of commission or of omission of specific actions and decisions, tends to make one extremely conscientious about succeeding in my performance of the duties and responsibilities in that office. And while I became resigned to the shuffling from Attorney General to Veterans’ Affairs, and to remaining in Cabinet, the fullness of the narrative of the many conversations, and the clarity of the urgency of how the government was going to move, (to invoke the remediation process), not to mention the words of the Prime Minister earlier this week, I felt I had no alternative but to resign from Cabinet.

Somehow, indigenous people and political leaders have to find new ways to build trust and confidence in a new, reconciled and sustainable relationship. “Speaking with forked tongue” whether in the PMO, or on the hustings, on in press conferences, finally, is not the way forward.

The phrase “indigenous foundations” is foreign to many non-indigenous Canadians. However, it includes a profound respect and honouring of nature, of our ancestors, of our place in Canadian history and in our honouring our unique and insightful perspective on how this country can become an even more honourable and honoured nation on the world stage.

I can only hope that, in the long run, my actions, attitudes, beliefs and convictions can and will contribute positively for the further maturation of this country we all love.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Indifference, like a fog, suffocates breathing

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” (Elie Wiesel)

In a culture fixated on what we can see, feel, hear, smell and taste, how and where can we find indifference?

There is always the risk that shyness, preoccupation, detachment, reflection, fear, and emotional chaos may be interpreted as indifference. Saying something to another without experiencing a response raises the old question, “How do I read this silence?” Asking another to “do” something with clear, comprehensible delineation of the ‘how’ and an apparently clear agreement to fulfil the “ask”, and then discovering not only was it not done, but the person actually ‘forgot’ to carry out the task, evokes questions based on confusion, and often even disappointment. Was their “not doing” a matter of indifference?

Wiesel’s list of love, art, faith and life each of which’s opposite is indifference, depicts a divide really between those who express indifference and those who are alive.

Today, on Valentine’s Day, when “love is in the air” and when flower shops and Laura Secord shops and dining rooms are in one of the busiest days of their years, millions of men and women are actively, and in their own eyes/mind, authentically re-invigorating their love, attempting to begin a new relationship, reminding another of how their love “works,” and many are stepping outside their ‘comfort zone’ risking rejection. It would seem that indifference is not motivating their expressions of love.

Like the days when one is born, and the ensuing birthdays, or the day when one is about to expire, or to retire, or is celebrating a significant accomplishment, Valentine’s Day attempts to inject some emotional adrenalin into whatever relationships one values. While it is “special” however, and worthy of our attention, it begs the question as to why it is only or primarily on these special days when we pay a little more attention, while letting hundreds, if not thousands, of other days pass with barely a nod of the head.

Of course, we pay extra attention in those moments when we hear that someone is “under fire” for some indiscretion, when indifference is replaced by a kind of appetite for momentary superiority, momentary derision and momentary pride at the expense of one who has “erred”. And these moments increasingly need not be corroborated by specific, verified, trustworthy evidence. A mere whisper of negative gossip is all we need to perk up our sensibilities, our curiosity and our capacity to inflict shame. Tabloid media outlets profit from inflicting shame on high profile persons, whether their story is based on fact or mere innuendo. Tabloids, in that equation, cannot be described as indifferent, given their addiction to the pursuit of profit at the expense of vulnerable targets. Those handing out the cash to buy those pieces of trash also pursue their own motive of inflicting scorn on others who live in the glare of public notoriety.

Nevertheless, personal indifference, like the fog curling around the store-fronts on an early spring morning, is not amenable to legal conviction. It is also not easily measured in profit and loss, as a verified factor in customer preferences, although if something is no longer “selling,” indifference about the product or service is deemed to have set in.

Indifference in a student in a classroom, however, is a highly risky conclusion for a teacher to assume. There may well be penetrating factors such as domestic violence, parental indifference, sibling rejection, extreme poverty and hunger or a state of hopeless ennui that has settled in within the perceptions and attitudes of that student. Failure to “pay attention” to what the teacher is saying, asking, coaching, directing and even requiring can be much more complicated than simply being reduced to indifference.

However, the culture seems to place a high value on indifference given the plethora of serious issues begging for urgent remediation (gun laws, environmental protections, law enforcement inequities, racism, sexism, economic inequality, migration of refugees and asylum seekers, nationalism for example) and the blatant indifference of the political class in some many nations. Seeking their own “interests” ahead of those of the general public, the political class would argue that they are far from indifferent, but primarily focused on meeting the more immediate needs of raising funds, signing up endorsements, passing legislation or delivering speeches that will garner positive headlines, have taken over their hours and days, their weeks and months, and relegated the “big” issues to another period of history.

“Indifference” however, is the diagnosis that much of the public imposes on the “other,” whether that other is an insensitive boss, teacher, principal, town councillor, mayor, premier, governor or even president/prime minister who fails to bring about the actions and decisions that “we” deem necessary and appropriate.

On the human-to-human level, too it is a general “convention” that if we are uninterested in “responding” to a friend request on facebook, we are expressing “indifference” to the request. In a formal meeting, if we offer up a suggestion for consideration of the meeting, and that idea is immediately passed over as irrelevant, unimportant, redundant, too costly, or untimely, the meeting is expressing indifference to the idea, and thereby to the one who has proposed it. No act worthy of censure has been inflicted; no price has to be paid by the individuals sitting around the board room table for passing by the idea, and the proposer. It is, however, a significant “signal” to the offended proposer about his/her relevance, significance, status and respect among the participants.

Needless to say, however, the one who made the proposal will likely retreat from further risk-taking at future meetings. Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote a book not that long ago entitled “The Ingenuity Gap” in which he regretted the gap in ingenuity (both technical and social ingenuity) in the Canadian economy. There is also an argument to be made in this context that many good ideas, having popped into the creative imaginations of ordinary people, in the privacy of their lives, rarely if ever find their way to the decision-making venues, where people with the power and the resources to explore such ideas operate. Much of this withholding can be attributed to the impact of the indifference having poured over the previous expressions of creativity/ingenuity/outside-the-box thinking. And that cataract has been imposed with the impunity of the powerful.

Witness the “paint-by-number” (thanks to Dave Poulin on TSN) operation of the Toronto Maple Leaf power play, over the last two months. Opposing teams have studied the films of the Maple Leaf power play, designed strategies and tactics to confront and to interrupt the smooth flow of the puck, thereby preventing them from scoring. Only two months later were the signs that coaches and players had adjusted to the oppositions’ adjustments.

Was it indifference that plagued the tardy adjustment by the Maple Leafs? Was it a commitment to the status quo that had been highly successful? Is it indifference to the new-comers that plagues the conventional processes and attitudes of many business, service and social organizations? In sacralising the past, are we paying an indifferent snub both to a more creative/ingenuous way of doing things? How many times in our day do we fall into the trap of “indifference” knowing that such a cocoon is protected from penetrating investigation. We might be asked, “Are you OK today?” if we take a position of “indifference” in a public setting. Yet, another of the protective conventions, at least in Canadian culture, that both permits and enables indifference is the maxim, “we do not wish to be involved in another’s personal life”. “Mind you own business” has been a mantra so historically and traditionally rooted in our especially British ancestors’ lives and experiences that it has deep and complex roots in the Canadian cultural landscape.

Is indifference also a mask for professionalism, and for a kind of mask of superiority? If we encounter an idea which we had not previously considered, regardless of when and where the encounter occurs, and immediately sluff it off in an indifferent shrug, we are not only shrugging off the idea, but also the person who has risked its utterance.

When we shrug off an invitation to a house party, as if we really are indifferent to the invitation, we are shrugging off the person and the family issuing the invitation. When we shrug off any new idea, because to pay attention to a new “idea” would threaten our world view, we are indulging our neurosis, that not only precludes more consideration of the idea, (and respect for the proposer) but also restricts the potential of the successful application of that new idea.

Is there a piece of research currently being undertaken at any respected graduate school that looks at the “costs” of corporate indifference, political indifference, familial indifference, legal indifference, medical indifference, and ultimately spiritual indifference?

It says here that social workers whose case load imposes a level of indifference on professional practitioners costs us remediated young lives. Similarly, medical and legal case loads, too, often result in a level of indifference, for a variety of reasons that cost both people and organizations much in their potential to adapt and adjust to new realities. An indifference has fallen like an impenetrable fog over the legislative process, limiting, if not eliminating the political realm, as discussed above, a level of indifference to the public interest h, transparency, accountability and certainly precluding visionary and needed decisions.

If we do not hold high our potential to engage in love, art, faith and life, through a penchant for insidious and pervasive indifference, in our private and our public lives, then we all pay a price that might actually be threatening to those life forces on which our individual and our collective lives depend.

Elie Wiesel’s witness that the opposite of love, art, faith, and life is indifference applies to the smallest corners of our lives, as well as to the shared live of the planet’s survival. And wakening to our own indifference will not be easy or predictable. And it is certainly not inevitable

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reflections on grief denied, avoided, thwarted

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'erfraught heart and bids it break.*

The British bard sees deeply into the core of human existence, whether or not his audience is prepared to let the truth penetrate the walls of many preferred myths.

Some of the synonyms of grief include: anguish, distress, agony, torment, woe, desolation, despondency, despair, heaviness of heart. However, in modern parlance, grief has been so emptied of the fullness of its import, as to have become diluted, over-worked and thereby neutralized of any profound imprint on the human heart.
We have even gone so far as to render “grief” a type of mental illness, needing therapy in the latest DSM-5. In order to enter the forest of the trees of the implications of the bard’s (Malcolm’s) insight, we will have to reflect on the contemporary bi-polar extremes of our divided perception of grief: on the one hand, we dismiss it as merely a part of life, not to be dwelt upon, lest we wallow in the pit of self-pity while on the other, we consider it a condition requiring psychotherapy. Both extremes have the impact of rendering grief a topic to be avoided, minimized, disdained and thereby bereft of both recognition and respectability. Linked closely to that other verboten topic, death, grief is another of the emotions that segregate men, in our responses, from women, in theirs.

Men, for the most part, privatize their experience of grief, drown it in another draft, or cocktail, depending on their social state and taste preference. Refusing to succumb to the termination of the proposed forced drowning, however, grief digs its own cavern in the core of male memory, ready to emerge, potentially with even more acidity, upon the experience of another loss. Women, on the other hand, cannot deny their own grief, neither can they bury it or dismiss it. In some sense, providing they are encircled by a version of the ‘sisterhood,’ they welcome the opportunity to embrace the depth of the anguish, supported by the empathy, compassion and friendship of peers, each of whom has her own chapter in the long historic narrative of human grief.

A still-born child, a lost pregnancy, a deceased parent or grandparent, a failed relationship, a painful twist of fate, an unwanted pregnancy, a profound betrayal in love….these are just a few of the many already drilled, yet still flourishing, wells of human experience that provide the fuel/tears/identification/community for the women among us.

Whether it is Jane Eyre, waking to find Mr. Rochester in flames needing instant extinguishing from the water basin, (in Charlotte Bronte’s novel of the same name), or Michelle Obama’s visit to a severely burned veteran in a Texas hospital room who is struggling to get out of bed to salute the wife of his Commander in Chief, women either know, or more readily accept, the deep and profound pain that comes into the life of every individual. However, for men to speak in individual human terms of their own experience of grief, whether of the death of a comrade on the battlefield, or the loss of a brother to drowning after attempting to cross a frozen river, or hearing the death of a former teacher on the day after a hospital visit in which the teacher requested his former student to comb his few hairs in an act of connection rare among men, or learning of the death of the father of a classmate inflicted at his own hands in his bread delivery truck only a few days before Christmas, risks the proverbial “wuss” or “wimp” or worse, “faggot” drubbing from male listeners/readers.

Women, too, have often adopted the male model of the emotional denier, or minimizer, especially if and when they witness a male in tears. Cry-babies, for young mothers, are not the sort of male children they prefer to be know to accept, raise or prefer. I heard once of an elderly woman who, upon learning that her husband of sixty-plus years wept openly as some Robert Service poems from the Yukon were read to him, evoking a similar reading by his long-deceased father, blurted, “Oh, well, we all knew he has always been a cry-baby!”

There simply was no recognition of the considerable difference, not matter how nuanced, between tears at a death of his father and tears of joy in memory at Service’s memorable lines that evoked memories of that father.

We have all, undoubtedly, experienced (either as audience or author) the silent wall of grief unexpressed, denied, averted, sucked into our throats, bit deeply into our lower lip, “covered” by a cigarette craving, a change of subject, an inappropriate joke, or worse, a pablum platitude that ‘covers’ over the gaping emotional wound. Most of these encounters have come from the hands, lips, tongues, eyes and larynxes of men, as women have made excuses for our diversion, in their own best rendition of the dutiful partner.

Vigils for eight murdered gay men, like the one held recently in Toronto, following the horrific criminal case of the landscaper-murdered, would have been unimaginable only a couple of decades ago. Outpourings of grief, from bereaved parents, both mothers and fathers, following mass shootings in Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Arvada, the Montreal Polytechnique, while necessary and honourable, hardly pay tribute to the depth of the suffering inside the hearts and minds and psyches of the grieving. Morphing grief into public protests, and potentially into new gun laws, and security measures, while worthy, will never erase the pain of the suffering of those directly impacted as victims of the wanton abuse of power and the evidence of hollow and empty hearts of the perpetrators.

The most profound, if undetected and unparsed, “grief” of the perpetrators that provokes many of the horrible acts of savagery is nevertheless embedded within the broken limbs, the spilled blood, and the organs laid waste in the aftermath. And while we are highly sensitive to the one kind of the grief, of the victims and their families, we are far less open and receptive to the origins of the brutal acts themselves, and the stories of the mostly men who have inflicted so much pain.

War, itself, another of the theatres of human mass destruction and devastation, continues to hold an imponderable sway over millions of men and women, in the presumed belief that there is honour in those acts of carnage that are inflicted on the battlefield. And likewise, we are much more ready to listen to and to repeat stories of our loved ones who have fought and died in service to our country than we are to open to the utter traumas they have suffered and inflicted. Our ears and our eyes are open to acts of human bravery from those “allied” to our cause, while remaining closed to the suffering we are inflicting on another side. And that dynamic pertains to all initiators of military conflict.

Chris Hedges quotes wartime Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in his column, Peter Jackson’s Cartoon War, in truthdig,com, of this date:

"Inexhaustible vanity that will never admit a mistake..individuals who would rather the million perish than that they as leaders should own—even to themselves—that they were blunderers…the notoriety attained by a narrow and stubborn egotism, unsurpassed among the record of disaster wrought by human complacency…a bad scheme badly handled…impossible orders issued by Generals who had no idea what the execution of their commands really meant…this insane enterprise…this muddy and muddle-headed venture."

These words, and their source, seem almost unexpected, surprising and perhaps even ironic, at least to those who have read about the heroic aspects of military conflict, and who continue to aspire to repeat its tragedies. And if men (mostly men in power in various capitals around the world) continue both to celebrate the honour and dignity of increased military arms build-up, and the deployment of these killing machines as examples of their political and national prowess, continue to fulfil another “male myth” that they do not regard grief as a significant human experience, or worse they deny its reality and its significance in their personal lives, (given that they would appear weak and ineffectual to millions of their constituents), we will continue to read proud headlines of renewed arms races.

And we will continue to experience a divide between those candle-light vigils for victims of mass killings, and the flag-draped coffins airlifted to Dover Delaware of the way heroes, to whose families will go the national flag.

· The stories of the empty and hollow teachers who gave students the strap for nor legitimate reason, and

· the parents who inflicted their pride and anger onto the bodies and spirits of their own children without cause or justification, and

· the employers who dismissed workers without due process or “cause” because they were determined to protect their “regime” and

· the law enforcement officers whose need for power and control drowned both their empathy and their pursuit of the full disclosure of the story behind the story (their job) and permitted and encouraged then to act out a macho version of their professional roles in appropriately,

· and the men and women whose need for domination and power (requiring an innocent and submissive co-conspirator) estranged them from their better angels and the full consciousness of the truth of their abuse of power

· and the political class who has so imbibed the kool-aid of a perversion of power, including an arrogant blindness to and denial of the killer instinct, and permitted and fostered a military mind-set, budget and arms arsenal that would destroy the planet and everyone on it

· and the news outlets that subscribe to the same toxifying anaesthetic of entertainment embedded in the the honorifics of military engagement, upon which your ratings are predictably based

· and the corporations, including the arms manufacturers and the pharmaceuticals whose livelihood (profit based) depends on the continuation of a deadly myth of hard power as the primary means of attaining and sustaining national security (on all fronts, especially those “Zombie” dictatorships in Iran, Turkey, North Korea, Russia and China, according to Bernard Levy)

All of these stories, of personal injustice, anguish, pain and tragedy as well as military massacres, not only need to be told and re-told; they demand to be told and re-told, until we are no longer trapped in the “whispers that plague the o’erfraught heart and bids it break”.

*(Malcolm, in Shakespeare’s MacBeth Act 4 Scene 3)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Refections on the "saviour" model in American culture

We hear much punditry these days accusing the American president of using fear to divide his nation. And while there is a load of evidence that trump uses fear to divide Americans, from other Americans, and more especially from various “targets” around the world that attract trump’s wrath, jealousy, anger and contempt, there is also a boat load of evidence that trump himself is wracked with fear, anxiety, neurosis and even psychosis.

Fear of immigrants, terrorists, Muslims, the Chinese government, socialism and socialists, blacks, Latinos, government institutions, regulations on capitalists, NATO (for using the U.S. without paying their fair share), the Mueller investigation, the media (enemy of the people), loss of control (refusing to divest from his business holdings)….and most especially fear of the exposure of agreed-upon facts….all of these characterize most, if not all, of the utterances that blurt from his twitter account, his press briefings, his “State of the Union” propaganda, and his off-hand remarks from the Oval Office.

And, after leaning heavily into, and pretending to identify with, the “common fears” of the ordinary “man” (as different from “human”….being exclusive to the masculine gender), trump trumpets himself as the “saviour” and “rescuer” and “paramedic” and “detective” and “surgeon” and “shaman” and “repository of absolute truth.” “I alone can fix this!” echoes in all of our minds and fears, having gushed from his larynx in the campaign in 2016.

Taking liberties with women, simply “because I am a star” and then dismissing the Access Hollywood tape as mere “locker-room talk” illustrates a kind of detachment from the reality of the rest of the world. No one, at least in a civilized society, could or would be able to sweep such attitudes and/or beliefs under the carpet.

Nevertheless, there are glaring models right in front of our faces in history, that illustrate the model of leadership, political power, influence, and dominance as “saviour” to a frightened, anxious, neurotic and even psychotic mass of people. Religions in both East and West are replete with saviour-leaders, even though the specifics of their narratives differ at the margins. The documenting of wars throughout history champions warrior-saviour leaders who won, and virtually ignored others who failed or lost. And there is also a historical pattern of a perceived crisis, including but not restricted to famine, economic depression, outright attack or the forecast of an attack, internal societal breakdown, a pandemic, a major shift in climate, or the breakdown of trust between a population and a leader….that can trigger the emergence of a saviour-leader. Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, the Russian Czars, De Gaulle, Churchill, were able to present themselves as savior-leaders, all of them riding tides of insecurity, anxiety, neurosis, and even psychosis.

From historical/political theatre, there is considerable evidence of parallels within the individual person’s inner life: fraught with anxiety, fear, neurosis, and potentially even psychosis. Much of this fear, in a cosmic and universal perspective, comes from a perceived, imagined, dreamt, fantasized, and even “taught-and-learned” Sunday school curriculum that posits a holy, perfect and powerful “god” being displeased with the people. “Not being good enough” is a condition to which each of us is somehow deeply immersed. We have heard our parents and mentors, and even many clergy, repeat warnings of “arrogance” and of “sin” and “evil” and “failed reputations” and the “loss of eternal life” as the core fear, however expressed, against which we are simply incapable of either avoiding or conquering. “Grace” (and that of God, not of the human being) is the reward, at least in the Christian context, for surrendering our spirits to the will of God, however that will is conceptualized.


From the perspective of the psychological development of each human, as we grow and experience various challenges, supports, encouragements and defamations, acceptances and rejections, we all tend to integrate ourselves to the image of the “external” saviour as well as to the “internal locus of control”. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, although for many, a default position when under extreme duress seems to involve some form of the saviour-rescuer. The perceived need for immediacy, urgency and escape from the current horror (fear, anticipation, anxiety, nightmare, loss, grief, death) tend to focus the mind on being “saved,” “rescued,” “healed,” and “transformed.” In the midst of the psychic crisis, one is less focused on the nuanced differences between the external “saviour” and the “internal locus of control” otherwise depicted as personal, psychic and spiritual growth, development, maturation. Those reflections tend to come after a period of time separation from the immediate crisis.

Part of the “dependence” on the saviour model, naturally, accompanies a kind of preference on clarity of interpretation of rules, regulations, “right-and-wrongs,” and linking the preference for clarity (black and white interpretations of laws, regulations, and even religious laws including the Decalogue) to some authority figure who has already “learned” right from wrong, good actions and attitudes from evil attitudes and actions.

The church, as the embodiment of the perpetuation of a faith tradition, serves,  effectively and dysfunctionally, as agents in the inculcation of young people as well as families into a pathway that respects the boundaries of that faith tradition. Among the adult demographic, surprisingly, many adults continue to hold firm to a rigid framework of their “fear” of failure in God’s eyes, and especially of their fear of dying while being out of favour with God. Listen to one 90+ man from his hospital bed: “I know that I have not lived a life that is pleasing to God and I fear dying in that state!” Or hear a 70+ woman: “The only reason I am coming to church is to prepare for a respectable burial and death!”

These two anecdotes, of course, do not comprise a scientific sample representative of church congregations. And yet, underlying much of the conversation about faith, about God, about the meaning and purpose of life, there is a well-documented theme of loss, separation, alienation, and linked to these is a perception of inadequacy, failure, insufficiency, imperfection, impurity, and outright evil. As we have all committed acts that hurt others, especially loved ones, and also have failed to do what we ought to have done, also hurting others, none of us is immune from a conscious recognition of our own imperfection, inadequacy, insufficiency and outright failure. So there is no one alive, nor was there any living person in the past, who escaped the truth of his/her own dark side.

In the American culture, one that envisions itself as holding fast to the Christian model of ethics, morality, and “right living,” the potential for something we have come to call “zero tolerance” has surfaced as a high-minded, idealistic and even “holy” application of the expectations of the Christian church and faith. So, if and when a person is proven, by evidence from photos, writings, personal narratives, to have “sinned” (depending on the definition of “sin” that pertains at the moment), then, if that person is a public figure, there must be consequences, often including, but not restricted to loss of job, loss of income, public humiliation, character assassination and a kind of social and political excommunication. Here is another of the church models that have been integrated into the cultural traditions of public life.

The question of how to “deal” with or to process social evil, inappropriate behaviour, racism, sexism, ageism, bigotry, homophobia, is still one begging for some deep thought, profound research, philosophical exploration and a kind of temperance and temperate attitude that does not reduce each “failed” human being into another piece of social refuse. The “legal model” of gathering evidence, presenting that evidence before a “court” of a judge or a judge and jury, while appropriate in many deciding many serious crimes, would be simply overwhelmed with such cases. Nevertheless, with the deep and profound embedding of the legal model into the thinking of the American psyche, the media and all of the “detectives” and the advocates/enemies of the deviant person jump at the opportunity to “air” their conflicting positions, as if they were all participating in a public lynching, without having to own the responsibility for the implications of their “free speech”.

There can be little doubt that the current occupant of the Oval Office, the incarnation of such insouciance, indifference and arrogance about personal “inadequacies” (political, ethical, moral, racial, sexual, ethnic), while portraying himself as the “saviour” of the “ravaged” republic (another of his improvisations and mis-representations of current reality), brings the focus of public discourse on the most minute details of impropriety, mis-behaviour, illegality, immorality, and criminality. And that focus finds both large and miniscule deviance, almost without the benefit of a proportional lens. Public discourse, naturally, follows the latest “scandal” as the profiteering of the tabloids demonstrates the public’s insatiable appetite for the “sins” of the other.

The churches, themselves, have no voice in the public square, to mediate the impact of simplifying theological thought and tradition. The media, dependent on and even slave to the ratings-and-revenue addiction of their board executives and investors, have fallen so deeply into the trap of providing that “sugar-infested, fast food” of gossip, indiscretion, mis-behaviour, deviance, and immorality and illegality, that they are unlikely to emerge from that cave anytime soon.

Ironically and tragically paradoxically, while the nation scurries around multiple instances of personal failure/indiscretion/public sin, the Chief Executive rambles on through a State of the Union, and a flurry of tweets, firing back at all attempts to expose his immorality, indiscretions, public ethics violations and potential illegal and criminal transgressions. Posing as “saviour” in a culture reared on a religious structural model that includes a Pope, hundreds of thousands of bishops and archbishops of various faith communities, evangelists, both television and mega-church, who masquerade as pseudo-saviour, where millions pay undue regard and respect to the “saviour” model, necessarily magnetizes public attention especially on aberrant behaviour, whether deserved or not.

Whether named as “saviours” or as “rock-stars” or a “super-athletes” or a “mega-billionaires” or as “winners” or as “role models”….the very saturation of these models of cultural, political economic, athletic and scientific models breeds a degree of perhaps unconscious dependence on “the other” as a primary agent in the life of the individual. And while a degree of deference to the other seems both reasonable and necessary, exaggerated deference illustrates and breeds a degree of co-dependence that entraps both those attempting to fulfill the expectations of leadership and those in “followership” positions.

Cultural maturity, on the other hand, requires a degree and expression of moderation, modesty, humility, and even personal self-awareness, courage and independence that accepts the need for and the benefits of collaboration, compromise, ambiguity and uncertainty….

Escaping into a false certainty, a false security and a false sense of inadequacy (unworthiness, and potential evil) seems to be a national trap, into which many otherwise self-respecting citizens have fallen. And all hierarchical organizations, including the church, the military, the professional sports teams, the political and media culture would do well to examine their own insecurities, and the methods by which they recognize, acknowledge and mediate these vulnerabilities could shine a penetrating LED into the darkness of the American Shadow.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Reflections on CBC President's "colonial" lens on Netflix


President of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Catherine Tait, yesterday resorted to the fear-mongering flag of colonialism, in reference to Netflix’s intervention in the Canadian “cultural wars” market. Without diving into the  waters around the way Netflix should be required to pay for its opportunity to “play” in the Canadian marketplace, (taxes, royalties, fees, or whatever would help to level the playing field among television production houses), the matter of programming merits its own special look.

Comparing the amount of time, based on aroused interest from trailers, that both my wife and I spend watching Netflix with time spent eyeing new productions on CBC (Working Moms, Schitt’s Creek, Cavendish, to take just a few examples) Netflix wins hands down. Of course, we recognize that we represent a smaller demographic (60+) than the proverbial 35-49, and therefore comprise a smaller advertising target and reduced revenue. We also acknowledge that our perceptions about what is worthy of our “entertainment” time have been shaped by decades of movies and television dramas that played to a longer attention span, an appetite for more reflection and less “action,” complex characters facing different challenges with which we could readily identify.

However, in-depth interviews with David Letterman, for example, are extremely “inexpensive” to produce, and Canada certainly has a treasure house of both worthy interviewers and interesting human subjects, about whom we would like to know more. CBC’s mandate could, and even should, focus on the development of such programming, and not merely on the Documentary channel. We have a national obsession with breaking things into smaller and smaller files, presumably for the purpose of measurement, control, costing, and budgetary purposes.

We have not relegated “Still Standing” a fresh, innovative, creative and stimulating, and highly relevant piece of comedic entertainment to the speciality channels, nor should we. The American show with the same name, however, presents obvious survival issues….and yet Johnny Harris’s name carries sufficient weight, based on the work he has already accomplished that a re-branding ought not to present an insurmountable hurdle.

There is a significant appetite, in Canada, for television entertainment/insight, that point to a potential motivation and commitment among CBC upper-level brass, to meet that need. CBS’s Sunday Morning, for example, has no comparable Canadian offering. The former Adrienne Clarkson Show, for example, merits being taken from the archives, as a model for a new, in-depth, examination of the contemporary Arts scene, with a thematic approach, rather than a biographical/gallery sketch. The splintering of networks into such a wide range of offerings, of course, has presented deepened competition, not merely on a revenue basis, based on the monster menu from which patrons can and  do choose.

Another model, potentially for consideration by CBC exec’s, is Intermezzo, from France. The Canadian private broadcasting systems are less likely to record and present concerts by any of the many outstanding orchestras in Canada, starting with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, are offering world class presentations throughout the year. Thousands of Canadians would welcome an opportunity to hear/watch/appreciate their work, and, it would be shocking to learn that a deep list of advertisers would not jump at the opportunity to support such broadcasts.

Small amateur theatre, too, has deep routes across the country, offering quality performances, including professional writing, direction, acting, set design. These dramatic offerings warrant a serious and critical examination by CBC exec’s responsible for programming. Again, advertising funding would not only underwrite the television production; it would also offering significant support for the place of theatre in schools and colleges across the country.

CBC’s opportunity to provide leadership, through not merely “edgy” writing and production of new series based on “commercial” viability, extends much wider, deeper and historically into a range of opportunities that have been excluded from many of the seats in the Mirvish, Royal Alex, and Princess of Wales theatres, simply because of cost.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and given the current vacuum of Canadian visionary offerings, readily available right here at home, grounded by native artists, writers, directors, producers and actors (and note only indigenous, aboriginal troupes), into which international production agencies, like Netflix, will inject their menus, and benefit from the revenues that result. Global perspectives stretch from the corporate board rooms, to the auto manufacturing plants, to the medical research labs, and reach into the creative, artistic offerings.

A bland, and yet interesting example of international production can be found in the BBC production Escape to the Country a program CBC has purchased and offered to Canadian audiences, one has to guess, to good reviews. Nevertheless, the “escape” model applies not only to British urban retirees. In Canada, there is a similar demographic impetus, married to one of the most beautiful and majestic countries in the world, in a nation in which hundreds of thousands, dare I say millions, have not, and will not be able to afford to visit many of its vistas. Furthermore, there is also a long list of countries outside Canada, where there is undoubtedly a market for a professionally produced Canadian television program. Canada on the Edge, while worthwhile, (and produced by the Simthsonian, not by the CBC) offers a broad-brush, American perspective on many of the landscapes, rivers and mountains, with brief ‘sips’ of the towns and villages from the heli-camera.

It is, however, the anxious, even neurotic attitude, mind-set and basis, on which the Tait words are based that is most troubling. If the statement was a shot over the bow of the federal government looking for more sustainable funding, then, if I were a member of the government overseeing CBC’s mandate, I would respectfully submit some of the provisional proposals included here. Canadians want, need and clearly deserve an extremely highly functioning, imaginative, courageous and creative national broadcasting network, that can and does “walk and chew gun.” “Walking” as in 22 Minutes, The National, At Issue, The Week, The Scrum, Hockey Night in Canada, The Juno’s, The Giller Prize, does not preclude an in-depth offering like Allison Smith’s “Perspective,” or a national conversational conversation/debate on a much more regular schedule than that offered by the occasional Munk Debates.

The Ingenuity Gap, an insightful piece of critical examination of the Canadian ethos by Thomas Homer-Dixon, merits a close look as a stimulant/motivator/shaper of Canadian business design as well as a potential basis for a CBC television offering. The work of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, and of course, the Munk School of Global Affairs, along with other departments of International Relations in Canadian universities offer a deep and diverse reservoir of potential guests, perspectives and programming options for the CBC.

Ideas, ideas, ideas….the world is overflowing with a million menus from which to select, test, audition, develop and test again…and the CBC has the reputation, the infrastructure, the networking, the access to creative participants and to funding sources and the mandate to become the visionary among all apprentice visionaries currently and potentially building the next century of Canada.

If Netflix is a threat to the CBC, this country needs to re-think that perspective. The victim and the colonized are both archetypes out from which we collectively need to escape!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Exploring resistances to change


"The world seems to like the status quo; it resists change despite what the mystics say about change being the only truth. . . . Sameness is one of the great categories of existence. Look at your own life for evidence. On the one hand, you can recognize all the changes and differences from ten years ago; on the other, you can feel your personality, your nature, your ways are just as they always were. New job, new ideas, new city — everything different; but meet your father or former spouse and you are right where you always were — everything the same.
"What power it takes to move one habit — as AA recovery groups have shown; just as it takes power to move one shovelful of dirt from here to there. Little wonder that power can be most simply defined in terms of work done. Work is so hard, the power required so great because of the resistance factor. And that is why changes are so difficult to achieve and so miraculous when they do occur." (James Hillman, Kinds of Power)
Let’s take a look at the ways we have succumbed to the entrapment of “resistance” and distorted our own compliance to change by sacralising sameness, stability, tradition and habit.
Of course, we all now carry a device with which we had no familiarity, or even anticipation only a couple of decades ago. This keypad, as part of a portable, touch-screen, hard-drive, soft-ware equation of algorithms was not even on the public horizon at the beginning of this century. The camera pointing to the vehicle surround in our cars was mere ‘science fiction’ only a decade ago. The microwave in every kitchen and most offices was unthinkable only a quarter century ago. That channel-sector that eliminates getting out of our tv-chairs was unimaginable only a few decades ago……and yet!
How do we continually, persistently and sometimes tragically cling to our perceptive lenses:
·        That we are powerless to influence change in the fortunes of our towns, districts, provinces/states, and nations
·        That all politicians serve themselves first, and energize healthy public debates only if and when such activity generates enhanced probabilities of re-election
·        That all governments waste more revenues, spending on projects that memorialize their legacy and reputation, without giving thought to enlightened ways of protecting their citizens
·        That all corporations spread lies and distortions about the “value” and the benefits of their products, services, and hire armies of high-priced lawyers to protect and defend them when they are exposed to the vulnerabilities that harm, wound, and even kill their customers
·        That any and all evidence of shared services, including libraries, hospitals, law enforcement and government services like national health care are red flags warning about the impending avalanche of socialism, or worse, communism.
·        That Hollywood and the entertainment industry are agents of forces designed to destroy the social morality and cohesion on which western civilization is founded and grounded
·        That those “events” of trauma in our past, buried in our Shadows for decades, are impenetrable and resistant to revisiting and critical examination that transforms them into “experiences” from which we can only learn deep and heretofore secret insights, pointing to an enriched perspective of our identity and purpose…and that those tragedies are “in the past” and need to be “left them” as in “’let sleeping dogs lie”…
·        That old people, inside our families and especially as part of a growing demographic are obsolete, insulated from the contemporary trends, and resistant to adapting to the new realities
·        That people of different ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds are dangerous, threatening and more seriously, intending to rob “natives” of their legitimate rights, privileges and jobs
·        That silos in our professions, in our offices/departments, families, schools churches, hospitals, towns, counties, provinces and nations keep us safe from the prospect of having to incorporate new, best methods and practices, thereby having to relinquish the traditions and parameters of excellence that we have already achieved
·        That what happens on the other side of the world is neither of interest or significance to what happens at home
·        That recycling, and reframing our habits, our diets and our attitudes to preservation of the environment are all wasted and useless, because nations like China, India, and Russia are and will continue to pollute no matter what we do
·        That we want to preserve the history of our towns and villages as they have been for decades or centuries, and outsiders are neither encouraged nor welcomed where we live, because they will only bring change and with it dangers that we are unprepared to confront
·        That young people are too dependent on both illicit drugs and now legalized pot, as their way of avoiding all of their responsibilities, and demonstrating their insouciance about their shared duty to protect their own futures as well as that of their children
·        That the “old days” were predictable pictures of calm altruism and compassion, as compared with the level of anger, and depression we are experiencing these days
·        That the more we learn about how to heal patients suffering deadly diseases, the more those diseases morph into new forms that demonstrate the futility of our pursuit of various cures and healing medication
What if, on the other hand, we were open to thinking differently about how we approach discombobulations, tragedies, interruptions in our normal routines, losses of relationships, jobs, and even life itself….
What if, embedded in each of these painful experiences, lie nuggets so golden and so healing and so prophetic that we ignore the pursuit of their messages at our peril?
What if, rather than medicate each and every irritant, mental anguish, depression and fear and anger, we pause, reflect and learn to “mine” the pain to ascertain what it might be telling us about who we are, and about how we might grow and develop from the excavation?
What if, given the lengthy list of repeated tasks we each face every day, we re-thought each of them, not as drudgery, as boring and de-humanizing but as gift and examples of opportunities of deeper service in the larger cause of making the  world a better place, of making the service more enhanced as examples of our discipline, our generosity and our altruism?
What if, given the expectation of insult, pain, offence and mis-representation that we know will inevitably come our way from a variety of sources, we imbued each other person as an agent of the divine, as a spark of inspiration, as a delivery agent of a message we could well benefit from hearing and receiving, as our starting point?
What if, abandoning our expert critical parent judge and competitive need to win and to dominate, we adopted a perspective as supportive ally, and helping friend, and empathic colleague, fully convinced that such a perspective requires discipline, collaboration and new learning…and that our individual and our collective survival were dependent on this new attitude and perspective?
What if, having taken responsibility for our unique tragedies and traumas, through supported re-flection, meditation, and quiet, we put all of the therapists and pharmaceutical industries (for psychic pain) out of business?
Yesterday, Bell Canada sponsored “Let’s Talk” day, encouraging those who have experienced various forms of mental illness to talk openly about how they were impacted by those experiences, how they dealt with them and how they continue to offer models of courage, hope and determination for others in similar distress. We applaud this initiative, and encourage all who are secretly in emotional and mental anguish to talk to a trusted friend, family member or colleague. None of us lives alone, and pain and anguish are not the exceptions we experience in our lives: they are the norm.
It is our pattern, habit and blindness that keep those many “closet doors” closed on our private pain, embarrassment and vulnerability. Pride, unfortunately, locks many of those doors, in the form of the anticipation of inevitable alienation, rejection and abandonment, should we take the difficult step of disclosure. That attitude, perception and belief, however, is at the core of the problem….it is another of those “traps” of belief that we continue to pretend keep us safe, when the precise opposite is true.
And that trap, of our own collective design and adoption, is neither fossilized nor engraved in granite.
It is another of the mental “traps” that impede our getting to know who we really are, and thereby impeding our loved ones from getting to know us.
Is that the kind and degree of secrecy that we can honestly support and foster?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dangers of the religious "right" ....

Sometimes, it is both fruitless and counter-intuitive to attempt to express opinions that counter radical religious fundamentalism. In fact, it may always be an exercise in futility.

Radical theological fundamentalism, by definition, is inflexible, absolutely convinced and undeterred about the sanctity of its views. Based on a literal, power-by the driven critical parent judge view of God and the stories of Jesus, their exegesis  denies and refutes all nuanced, complex, poetic and prophetic potential of the New Testament.

Inflaming their fear and anger, and thereby their self-righteous religiosity, demonizing all who dispute/reject their pomposity, individuals like Falwell in the U.S. and Charles McVety in Canada, have inveighed weightily in both the American presidential election of 2016 and the Ontario provincial election of 2018.

Herding millions of white votes for trump, Falwell has the blood of this administration all over his hands. Similarly, huckstering for Ford in Ontario, McVety delivered party memberships and later votes that served up a majority government to the Ford cult.

The Guardian quotes townspeople in Lynchburg Virginia, the home of Liberty University, who call what Falwell advocates as “toxic Christianity”. And this  toxicity is like a river, wider and deeper than both the Mississippi and St. Lawrence taken together, flowing through the heartland of nations on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Polluted by the most profound psychosis, a fear of damnation should they not “be acceptable to God at the Second Coming,” hundreds of thousands of otherwise good people have enmeshed their minds, hearts, and their cheque books in service of a slave-master deity. Of course, they argue vociferously that they have been “saved” from that very prospect, and have hit the road to sell their saving rebirth to anyone they deem in need of their placebo. From the beginning of their conversion, itself a moment in time so transcendent and miraculous they owe the balance of their life to its repayment. Paradoxically, they are blindly, and perhaps even ignorantly, trumpeting their own “exceptionality” at having turned their lives over to Jesus Christ, as their Saviour. 

Framed as the sacrifice of their will to the will of God, they paradoxically blow the trumpet of their own holiness, discipline and commitment to spreading their version of Christianity to the rest of the world, especially those who also call themselves Christian yet whose faith is much more nuanced, poetic, prophetic, complex, uncertain and even doubtful, loving and forgiving.

Trumpeting a single moment of epiphany, these religious fanatics, by their very existence divide themselves (and their God) from the rest of the world, especially those sitting in the same pews, church boards, bishops offices, and church classrooms who authentically value a very different, evolutionary, developmental, inclusive and integrative theology.

Absolutism, in the service of the Christian deity, is an oxymoron. It contaminates all dedication to reflection, prayer, reading, relating and spiritually growing and maturing. There is a deep and unrelenting difference between a belief system that promulgates fear, hatred, bigotry, racism, and ultimate superiority, of the kind voiced by people like Falwell, Rev. Iain Paisley, James Dobson and a litany of characters each of whom have poured their own venom into the public discourse: defaming LGBTQ, defaming all providers of therapeutic abortion, denigrating all attempts at rehabilitative and restorative justice, distorting contemporary sex education curricula most recently in Ontario, fighting for right wing judges, and campaigning inflammatorily for political candidates like trump, Ford, Sheer and others.

In his dystopian truthdig.com column entitled The World to Come, January 28, 2019, Chris Hedges puts the issue of the toxicity of right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States in graphic and dangerous perspective:

The ruling ideology of neoliberalism, the ruling elites recognize, has been discredited across the political spectrum. This is forcing the elites to make unsavory alliances with neofascists, who in the United States are represented by the Christian right. This Christianized fascism is swiftly filling Trump’s ideological void. It is embodied in figures such as Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Brett Kavanaugh and Betsy DeVoss.
In its most virulent form, one that will be expressed once the economy goes into crisis, this Christian fascism will seek to purge the society of those branded as social deviants, including immigrants, Muslims, “secular humanist” artists and intellectuals, feminists, gays and lesbians, Native Americans and criminals—largely poor people of color—based on a perverted and heretical interpretation of the Bible. Abortion will be illegal. The death penalty will be mandated for a variety of crimes. Education will be dominated by white supremacist views of history, indoctrination and the teaching of creationism or “intelligent design.” The  pantheon of new America heroes will include Robert E. Lee, Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. The state will portray the white majority as victims.
This Christian fascism, like all forms of totalitarianism, wraps itself in a cloying piety, promising moral as well as physical renewal. The degradation of mass culture with its celebration of sexual sadism, graphic violence and personal dysfunction, its plagues of opioid addiction, suicide, gambling and alcoholism, along with social chaos and government dysfunction, will lend credibility to the Christian fascists’ promise of a return to a “Christian” purity. The cloak of this piety will be used to snuff out all civil liberties.
For its part, Canada is clearly not out of the woods, free from the impact of a similar poisoning and poisoned iteration of the Christian gospel. So far, our battles over what are generally dubbed “wedge issues” like sex-ed, and homophobia, we have not yet experienced the most cancerous aspects of this ideology.

Capital punishment has been abolished in Canada; access to therapeutic abortion is also regarded as “settled law” and unlikely to be re-opened, although right-to-life campaigns continue unabated. Nevertheless, still in Canada, the fanatic religious right continues to raise truckloads of cash, and mount political/moral/religious campaigns to accomplish repressive and exclusionary social and political and religious goals.

In other pieces in this space, I have referred in detail to the kind of religious fanaticism (was it neo-fascism?) which spewed from the pulpit of the church in which I spent my youth. Furthermore, there are credible reports for people familiar with the situation that an ardent and dedicated parishioner in that parish, a medical doctor, made specific threats to start proceedings to incarcerate a local in a hospital designed for the “criminally insane” following unconfirmed and unchallenged reports of a professional indiscretion, the story of which he found reprehensible.

Far from abandoning the separation of church and state, these religious fanatics will use the state, whenever and wherever they deem it fits with their religious agenda, to impose their moral, ethical and religious beliefs. And their fervor, their fanaticism and their blind and insufferable arrogance and intransigence leave them no room for either accepting or imposing limits on their religiosity. They see the school system as an agent of their beliefs; they certainly see the justice system as an agent of their beliefs; they see the health care system as an agent of their beliefs. And, if and when they can seduce an elected official (read Doug Ford) to climb the hill of their electoral support into public office, they celebrate their victory, invariably at the expense of a very different and much less fascistic ideology they are determined to destroy. And of course, they do all of their subterfuge under the umbrella of religious piety, superiority and even, in their minds, absolutely the “right religion”.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Inviting men and women to begin to shed negative stereotypes



Humanism has been deemed a point of view that celebrates the goodness and  worth of the human being, without a belief in a god or gods or the supernatural. In the renaissance, humanism was considered a shift away from the medieval scholasticism that was based on Aristotelian log and the writings of the church fathers, including dogma and tradition.
Sociology posits a science of society including social institutions and social relationships.
History purports to be the study of past events connected with persons.
Psychology purports to be the study of the human mind and its functions and impacts on human behaviour.

Whenever and whatever we read, we cross paths with other minds, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, philosophies and perceptions. Whether we are coming from (or reading) a perspective that emphasizes a view that “history makes the person,” or the reverse, “humans drive events”, or the Shakespearean view that “character is destiny,” we are enjoined in an enterprise that attempts, however imperfectly, to integrate a human being (or beings) into a set of circumstances, a context. And the relationship between individual and context prompts the cliché, “nature or nurture” as foundational of the pursuit of at least one explication of the meaning of the “story”.

As the behaviour of human beings evolves, including the multiple attempts to “capture” both the facts and their import, we each invite the various “pictures,” “accounts,” “stories” and “significance” into our range of view, reflection and potential evaluation. Sometimes, a single event/picture becomes a defining moment of a series of facts/events seemingly in real time. Public consciousness, public opinion, is predictably a subsequent to a developing story of similar events, and reflection upon immediate events (e.g. journalism, the first draft of history) often foreshadows historic evaluations. Other times, the immediate account is proven to be so far “off” from the final assessment of the person/event, given a half century or more of critical thought, disciplined research and the development of things like a treatise and/or a doctoral dissertation.

In our individual bio’s, we encounter various persons in different roles, each of them imprinting their “image” (personality, style, attitude, trustworthiness, intellect, sociability, success, likeability, and memorability). These implied signposts and mentoring images, both positive and negative, seem to leave a mark in our memories, and also, even if less consciously, into our own resistance and/or easy imitation. People whose “person” garnered our respect, our trust and our reverence inevitably shape our attitudes, values and philosophic bent. Conversely, those whose attitudes, actions, words and “persons” turned us off also contributed inevitably and incontrovertibly to our own attitudes. Far beyond the simple factor of performing a skill at a very high level of proficiency, the manner in which their skills are performed also speaks to our assessment of their value, worth, and worthiness as models to emulate.

A reputed ‘star’ in any field is examined by a biographer, for example, exposing a dark side of attitudes, behaviours, beliefs that taken together warrant a kind of rejection of at least the seemingly perfect “image” the uninquiring public is offered. Similarly, and conversely, a biographer of a social outcast uncovers layers of evidence of previously unknown motives, hidden fears, and circumstances that leaned and wounded the best intentions of the person being documented. Similarly, with events painted with the brushes of immediacy find their place in a revised history that illustrates a more contextual and more reliable and more nuanced reputation, along with the actors in those events.

Each of us, as both actor and reviewer, of both our own lives and the lives and events of our times, places and times, enter into the exploration of each situation, and hopefully, each “character assessment” with a view that accepts its limitations, its biases, and its dangers. Nevertheless, given our direct experiences, we gravitate easily to those people, words, ideas, attitudes and actions that conform with our own view of how the world could be, and we shy away from the words, actions, attitudes and persons of those whom we find less easily acceptable and tolerable. It is not an accident that people can be judged by the company they keep, or by the company they do not keep.

We are, each of us, a compendium and a vortex of “attitudinal breezes, gusts, hurricanes and stillnesses” that find a place in our memories, in our beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of the world around us. Today’s stories, at the water coolers, on the television screens, on our cell phones, and in all of the physical, emotional, intellectual and philosophic encounters merge like the injection of salt, yeast, baking powder or mere water into the bowls of ingredients already waiting for the needle of immediacy.
Over time, the repeated drum beat of the rhythm of each of our daily “events” with our previously recorded track(s) of experiences, discloses patterns themselves now more influential for their repetitions, than one-off’s.

In the life of this scribe, for example, teachers, almost exclusively, occupy a place of respect, honour and often even reverence in the lexicon of my own biography. (See multiple references in this space to their names and impact.) Similarly, most of the individuals for whom I worked, beginning with a first ‘boss’ at the Dominion store are measured against the honour and respect in which I hold “Milo.” Doctors and nurses, lawyers, accountants, and even surprisingly most real estate agents too, hold a place of esteem, trust and honour in my experiential savings deposit box. Classmates, at elementary, high and undergraduate schools, too, are remembered with fondness, admiration, and often even humour, with only rare, if pronounced, exceptions. Co-workers, on the other hand, rarely find a place of deep respect, honour and trustworthiness in my view.

And that leads to the exceptions to the favourable view of many of the groups listed above. They are, almost without exception, darker, more visible, more remembered and disparaged, and certainly far less trusted than are the large majority in each of the categories.

As a septuagenarian male, I have witnessed not merely an evolution of the relationships between men and women, but a veritable and demonstrable revolution in those relationships. While I looked up to many men in my younger years, I also related to women as teachers, (my piano teacher, choir leader, neighbours and family friends) in what I thought then, and still consider an easy friendliness. Coldness, nevertheless, began to emerge early from a few females whose paths crossed mine: the grade four teacher, (H. Swain) who gave me the strap for a friendly “hi” poke on the shoulder to a neighbourhood friend, a history  teacher (I. Marshall) who expected memorized recitations of history texts copy, in a classroom dominated by her excessive need to control everything and everyone.*  Unable to explain the austere manner/attitude as an expression of insecurity, I did what most kids did, I withdrew from any potential affinity, or authentic appreciation of the other traits of such women, as a method of self-protection.

Similarly, my sister and I experienced a boat-load of physical and emotional abuse from our mother, along with a quiet, deep, authentic, warm acceptance and respect from our dad. Undoubtedly, this imbalanced parenting duet cast a wide and deep shadow over both of our perceptions of how the world works. His silent complicity in the dynamics of our family home, however, carried a different theme of perceived impotence that I have attributed to many other males of my acquaintance. Again, both parents likely behaved out of their own unconscious fears, anxieties and highest aspirations, without being able (or perhaps willing) to articulate them even to themselves or definitely to each other.

Silence, especially as it applied to the prospect of getting along in a community in which every person knew far too much about every other person in the town, was a recipe for success. Attach to that silence (secrecy, would be the preferred word for me today), an occasional skill, proficiency, and public performance of that proficiency, whether it was athletic, artistic, professional or even at that time political, provided the meagre few tepid colours in a paint-by-number rendition of  a personal reputation, for most people. In fact, learning to keep secrets, as a defining behaviour within the family, and certainly throughout the town, has informed too much of the time and energy of too many lives, in too many small towns in Ontario. Family honour, especially, depended on the dutiful observance of the keeping of secrets, regardless of the specific nature of the secrets being kept. They could have been about alcohol dependence, an unwanted pregnancy, a business failure, a suicide, or even a divorce and elopement.

Surely, as one ages, and hopefully matures, one wants to shed the habit of “enforced secrecy” as a pattern of behaviour that did not work in the past, and likely will not work in all cases now, or in the future. Learning new surveyed bearings for human relationships, clearly, is one of the more significant growth spurts for many undergraduates, and grads.

Unfortunately, taking responsibility for new learning curves in “personal disclosure” is different in degree and in kind from the continuing flow of experiences with others, both men and women over which river one has very limited option to influence.
As history has continued to flow, documenting the sociology, and the politics of gender relationships, like most, I have followed these chapters of twentieth-century and now twenty-first century history with interest. David Gurian’s books, The Wonder of Boys, A Fine Young Man, and Dr. Ferrell’s Liberated Male, along with other works like  Raising Cain, and more recently the rise of the Canadian Association for Equality (for men and families) and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules have taken individually and collectively, imprinted their important and somewhat late perceptions about the potential worth, value, honour and decency of men in an era in which loud noises are being uttered and heard about the victimization of too many women, almost exclusively at the hands of men.

As I watch this evolving series of films play out, with prominent men being black-balled by their employers, (and not incidentally by many of their friends), with hordes of young women being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, spurred on by one of the most misogynistic male agents history will ever record, I am conflicted about how to move forward in any attempt to bring about a different cultural moment of acceptance, openness, vulnerability, and equality and respect between men and women.

Not all women are frightened, insecure, anal and driven to destroy all men. And certainly not all men merit the moniker of abuser, jerk, worthless and ineffectual. In fact, the stereotypes that capture the worst projections of both men and women, (and we have all participated in using them) dig trenches so deep in our culture, they remind one of the first world war. The search for a “Christmas Eve” moment, when both men and women can and will easily, voluntarily and creatively join a mixed chorus of carols, seems so idealistic as to be ephemeral.

On the other hand, each man and woman who can see both the pain that has been inflicted by both genders (as groups), on the other, and by each of us individually, as well as the potential for a new and different kind of honesty, openness, courage, confidence and respect, for ourselves and for the other gender can give whatever energy, poetry, observations and even recommendations for a new way of being male and female.

Men and women, obviously, need and care for each other, in millions of open, voluntary, shared and equal relationships, inside marriage, friendships, professional relationships and even families. However, the rifts that continue to be exploited, beyond the pursuit of legitimate justice, contaminate the potential for the kind of entente history purportedly aspires to.

There is no need to silence legitimate complaints of injustice, insult, abuse or even defamation coming from either men or women, to the opposite gender. There is also no justification in perpetuating vicious and demeaning stereotypes of femininity or of masculinity uttered, written, and inferred by either gender.

Both the nuanced, highly sophisticated and measured preference of most women, compared to the more bullish, spontaneous and seemingly immature expression of many men have to be acknowledged, loved and respected, without losing sight of one’s own self-respect, value and honour. Similarly, the attention to detail and the dust-balls in the corners of all the dining rooms is just as important as the relative importance of the oil job on the family car. The books and movies of each respective gender, the athletics and observations of each gender, as well as the beliefs and the travel preferences of each have equal merit.

Can we find it in our male and female natures to own our own respective strengths, and more significantly our fears, in an open, frank and respectful dialogue.

History has set the table, and awaits our sharing the delights of this complex, and challenging candle-light, ocean-side, moon-light dinner conversation!

Your RSVP comes from taking the hand of your partner, and inviting him/her to join you….and the world’s children are singing their hope in choirs in many languages