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 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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Putting HUMANS back into the corporate for-profit equation and into American culture

There is much ink pouring over the evils of the trump administration, the person of the president, and the growing gap in incomes around the world. Even Oxfam, yesterday, in the klieg light of the Davos conflab of the uber-rich, asked the top 1% to take action to bring about a modicum of equalization of incomes, residual wealth, investments and, most important the disproportionate degree of power and influence residing with the rich.

Given that the United States is still demonstrably the most influential world power, in terms of economics, business and corporate power, it is important to parse the fine print of what that means. Obviously, headlines from Washington and Wall  Street and the White House magnetize eyes, ears and minds in capitals around the globe. And while some American leaders, especially those Democrats currently pillorying themselves on the petard of the American tabloid media in their pursuit of the White House, repeatedly speak about the demise of “American values,” invariably missing from their stated or implied list of values is the reigning corporate value of profit at all costs.

In his “Lucid Manager,” the high priest of American capitalism, Milton Friedman writes, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.” Given the indisputed and indisputable evidence that this “gospel” is so embedded in the corporate culture inside America, and through the massive colonization of American corporate culture into the farthest corners of the planet, examining the deeply embedded danger flags in this “gospel” lies the very seeds of the demise of that culture, both within the U.S. and around the world.

The unalloyed, undiluted, and laser-like focus of the pursuit of profit, dominates all of the activities in the smallest cubicle, on the largest loading dock, in every sales call, purchase agreement, and certainly in every board-room discussion of corporate policy and vision. Known and accepted by all participants in the corporate culture is the indisputable creed that it is simply a matter of corporate apostasy, and probably excommunication from the corporate “church,” to express even a moderate and modest proposition that people must be factored into the corporate equation differently than the latest vehicle purchase, or the shipment of raw materials just delivered to the loading dock. Going further, it would be considered corporate treason to express what, only a half century ago, was considered by many of the business thought leaders, to be the “human side of the enterprise.”

Douglas McGregor even chose that phrase for the title of his 1960 book. Based on the old shibboleth of Maslow’s hierarchy of motivations, theory X focused on the need for worker supervision, and theory Y emphasized worker satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. Self-actualization, a word and concept long ago lost in the archives of business school libraries, only to be resurrected outside the workplace/corporate gated community* by yoga instructors, and life coaches, and pilates gyms, and perhaps even the nutrition guru’s, has been sloughed off to the backwaters of Human Resources department drowning in pay skips, benefit packages, holiday and personal days, performance reviews retirement packages and bonuses, and to the Employee Assistance Programs.

The very nature of each of these “files” has been reduced to mere numerical digits, the management of which, including the job of making those numbers smaller and less impactful on the budget.  Reducing costs, clearly, does not mean merely finding the needed raw materials for the production line; it also means off-loading the “human costs” of the enterprise to a back office, or better yet, an outsourced contractor, thereby reducing the impact of those costs, as well as their size, to a different corporate balance sheet. And then, dividing those within the corporation between two categories, also implicit in the balance sheet vernacular, into revenues and costs, and assigning a higher value to those in the former category compared to those in the latter category, is another of the insidious injections of corporate “for-profit” mentality. Disposing of the “costs” as an accounting exercise, (of course, with the empathic intervention of the HR department) in the cases of down-sizing, dismissals, redundancies, corporate mergers, and implementation of new corporate visions (also exclusively dependent on the search for the holy grail, increased profits) imitates the boundary of the surgical sheet that forms a lighted square, triangle, or possible circle where the surgical operation will take place, eliminating, for the purposes and time of the procedure, the identity and person of the patient.

Objectivity, in the pursuit of profit, linked even married to the technology that provides enhanced monitoring of the minute-by-minute costs, and thereby the specific project costs of every operation inside the corporation is a malignant seed of corporate self-sabotage. It elevates clinical rationalism, detachment, the focus on those sanitized cost-benefit analyses with which the corporation is identified. The human “costs” impose a heavier weight in the decision-makers’ minds and choices than the “rewards” of the occasional promotions, rewards and bonuses, unless and until the issue applies to the top of the corporate hierarchy. CEO bonuses, for the last few decades, even when the corporation has deviated from “good business practices,” have exploded in too many headlines.  For the surgeon, after the patient recovers from that clinical surgical procedure, s/he will re-appear in the surgeon’s office for a post-operative appointment, as a fully restored human being. And this re-emergence is not a part of the corporate executive’s life after the termination of  workers, whether they number in single digits or in the thousands.

Another measure of the insertion of the “for-profit” culture of the corporation into the culture pertains to the ways by which politicians perceive and speak about the education of their culture’s children. Numbered in costs of teacher salaries, and class sizes and holiday days, along with the percentage of graduates at all levels, students and teachers individually and collectively are reduced to the same kind of pawns to which corporate workers have been reduced: costs, drains, problems, and annoying irritants, in fact and in the attitudes of many of the people in the public domain. This is especially true among the poor and the underserving, while the wealthy can afford the private and charter systems, the latter system currently benefiting from the shovelling of public funds away from the public system, thereby enhancing the opportunities of the wealthy, while reducing the offerings available to the poor.

Politicians, at all levels including municipal, provincial/state and national levels, are also reduced to managers of different numerical digits: numbers of arrests, convictions, murders, imprisonments, homeless, unemployed, all of them “costs” on the public purse. Enforcing this mind-set is the framing of time, in the shortest possible term, boundaried almost exclusively on the length of memory of the voters (as another digit of social psychology) and the length of time until the next election. After all, longevity, that other holy grail available to the corporate “lords” through their appointments, has to be “pursued” daily by the political class, through fundraising, and the maintenance of a squeeky-clean public reputation including the refusal to “upset” the men and women who write those sacred cheques.

The pursuit of profit and the measures devised to generate the appearance of the “best record” in each and every department, insinuate themselves into every conversation in the corporation, and also in the media that reports on the public’s business, is balanced by the “loss” (that other side of the balance sheet, endemic to the corporation) when jobs are off-shored, when factories die, when homelessness rises, when taxes rise, when fire departments eliminate over-night coverage in their community.

The public’s business, including the political activities of any town, city, province, state or nation cannot and must never be reduced in the public mind, and especially in the mind of the poll-takers, and the political “masterminds” to the manipulation of mere numbers, especially numbers exclusively measuring winning and losing, for the players, the elected or the wealthy puppeteers.

Our children, and our teachers, are much more than mere “costs” to our education systems. Our workers are much more than mere “means” and “costs” for the purpose of the corporation’s cultural attitudes, decisions, choices, and strategic planning. And to surrender the lives of 800,000 federal workers in the United States, along with the thousands of contract workers under contract to the federal government to the mere personal whim of an obviously insensate, autocrat, without so much as massive street protests, is a culmination of the evidence of insouciance at the core of the American political, social, economic, and even the academic culture.

Similarly, the separation/segregation of young children from their families, after weeks of their pilgrimage with their parents, all of them fleeing the ravages of death threats, drug lords, (in business to feed the drug addiction of the American culture) and political chaos that prevails also demonstrates and illustrates the demise of the significance of the human being at the highest levels of the American cultural pyramid.

I have no legal background, and am not qualified to offer a legal opinion. Nevertheless,

·        with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans furloughed, or required to work without pay, being threatened, through choices that eliminate needed prescriptions, necessary treatments, essential nutrition, and certainly the dignity of legitimate work (another stimulant of the need for “pain-killing” medications),
·        and the lives of hundreds of thousands of travellers in American skies, due to the overwork (without pay) of air traffic controllers,
·        and the increased threat to public safety at U.S. borders with Homeland Security workers either furloughed or working without pay,
·        and the permanent devastation of families at U.S. borders, not to mention the deaths of at least two children

And all of this willfully accomplished as a result of the iron-willed, arrogance, and autocracy of a single albeit “elected” individual, why does America have to wait for the Mueller report to take up the prospect of removing this president.

When do “crimes against humanity” actually occur? And who owns that decision?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Petitioning the U.N. to take up "public financing" of member states

The world is shaking under the confluence of enhanced muscle-flexing by Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea as well as significantly expanding unrests/insurgencies in countries like France, Great Britain, Egypt, as well as the ever-present threat posed by radical terrorists, cyber-crimes, movement of money under the radar of law enforcement, national borders and even international crime-fighting agencies.

In addition to all of these memes, corporations, especially behemoths, for the most part make their own rules about transparency, accountability, and the provision of safe and health products and services.

The 24-7-365 news cycle, of course, keeps as much light on the multiple hot spots, irregular interventions into individual lives, and the competing interests of different jurisdictions, nations, states, and specific tragedies like mass abductions, street terrorist incidents, market fluctuations, impacts of tariffs, incipient trade deals as well as potential epidemics like ebola.

We have access to so much specific information, without either the necessary background for comprehension or the seasoned visual and auditory literacy that enables one to make reliable decisions about the trustworthiness of those talking heads who hold public office, or who aspire to such an office. Many of these talking heads, by design, are selected for their academic, professional expertise. University job vacancies seem to be significantly tilted toward maths and sciences, including the multiple applications of digital technology and algorithms. New devices, products, pharmaceuticals, vehicles, weapons, and their potential invasion into the lives of individuals, not to mention their invasion into the legal frameworks that have been designed for different centuries. Even new national food guides attempt to integrate the most recent research into what foods comprise a healthy diet, as do new insurance policy attempts to link life-style incentives.

Amidst this storm of ubiquitous flying data, now available in real time on hand-held devices (along with all of the entertainment currently available on record, and still being written) humans are now expected to make personal decisions that pit immediate needs against the survival of the planet itself under serious threat of global warming and climate change. At every moment every human faces choices that will make a difference in the shared future of every other human.

In a capitalist, globalized market system, as well as through the lens of human rights, humans are individual entities, identities, with rights and obligations. The legal systems in many countries are focused on the acquisition of evidence pertaining to the specific actions/words/ intentions of specific individuals. Both class action legal cases against governments, corporations and public entities are extremely costly and highly complex to mount. Additionally, whistleblowers, who attempt honourably and legitimately to bring forth evidence that challenges the actions/decisions/words/intentions of governments, corporations, public entities, almost invariably suffer an avalanche of power/money/pushback from the targets of their whistle blowing.

Further, as we all know, there is a dramatic, measureable flow of recently engineered profits to those investors, executives and their political agents who in  fact, control the political, legal, economic and banking system and their accompanying agendas. In most countries, in spite of the Paris Accord, many of the leaders among the “power elite” resist significant movements to combat climate change and global warming.

Their ‘status quo’ investment incomes and accompanying status far outweigh their commitment to the land, water, air resources of the planet. For example, the impasse currently playing out in Canada,  whereby the federal government purchases a pipeline from the private sector for $4.5 billion, while indigenous and climate activists take up physical positions to stop the movement of heavy equipment that would be used to develop such a project. Even political actors, in many jurisdictions, continue to favour the short-term “jobs” agenda, at the expense of the quality of air, water and land, needed for future generations.

Clearly, not only is there a significant divide between “have’s” and “have-not’s”; there is also a significant divide between nations and governments that persist in purchasing, resourcing and deploying fossil fuels to grow their economies, almost without regard to the impact of those fuels (toxic emissions) on the atmosphere, and their investors, bankers, political leaders and political institutions and laws which emerge from their collective initiative.

Money, it says here, dictates laws. And those with the money dis-proportionally impact the speed at which laws are introduced that are necessary to defend, protect and preserve the environment.

The abuse of power, by the most wealthy, and the best “connected” in nations  operating under various political ideologies, however, is not restricted to the demise of the environment. The abuse of power also extends to political opponents, in too many situations this includes teachers, journalists, writers and activists. Those with power, tragically, regularly abuse that power with what appears to be absolute immunity. They dissemble, lie, distort, refuse to take responsibility and buy their immunity, and their impunity. And their continued various abuses obviously ennoble even those in the culture with the least to lose, to up their own game of abuse.

Bullying, whether face-to-face, or via social media has risen dramatically. In the U.S. evidence in Virginia, for example, points to a significant rise in middle-school bullying in electoral districts where trump won in 2016. Putin, Ji, Kim Jung Un, Duterte, as well as populist, right-wing political leaders in Europe, are world leaders whose actions, words, and potential frighten many observers, in what is generally considered a world in chaos.
The spectre of a “world government” is being raised in some quarters, without much evidence or thought support for its likelihood. Relinquishing jurisdiction to a wider, regional, or global governance, as demonstrated by the recent turmoil among the EU, is not a move either preferred or even available to most political leaders. Even the United Nations, a creature of the post-war adjustments, labours under the weight of limited surrender of jurisdictions, competing interests even among potential and proven allies, the angst generated by an equitable and enforceable funding formula, the absence of a police force and military force, except those formed by volunteers from participating members.

The World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the IMF, the World Court, individually and collectively, represent what might be possible, given the shared consciousness of a global perspective in all quarters of the planet.

Unfortunately, most elected officials, under whose signatures and legislative/executive bills these global organizations exist, have, and to some extent are pressured into, a short-term, narrow-focused agenda, on which their individual elections are dependent. Democracy, irrespective of the degree of its penetration into the various electorates, and the commitment of the people to exercise its privileges, nevertheless, depends on the many strategies, tactics and funding mechanisms that apply in the plethora of jurisdictions currently attempting to implement its provisions.

However, similar to the global climate change/global warming’s pervasive impact on each human on the planet, a common shared resolution of the abuse of power, even in democracies, and certainly in autocracies and dictatorships, a mechanism to provide public funding for all democratic elections, complete with monitoring, supervision, enforcement and even imprisonment when proven abuse is evident would go a long way toward reducing, and in the long run potentially eliminating much of the evidence of the abuse of power by public officials, corporate executives and financial manipulators.

The United Nations, along with its declarations of “rights” for indigenous peoples, and along with the designation of specific sites as world heritage sites, as well as declaring voluntary commitments to the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers, could readily prepare a study of the potential pitfalls and obstructions to public funding of elections.
(MSNBC reports this minute, that the BREXIT vote in the British Parliament, has just failed by a vote of 432 to 202. The majority opposed is the largest negative vote in British history…so we can see, immediately, in real time, in every corner of the planet, the impact of a vote on an issue which impacts millions, within the UK, the EU and around the world.)

The world’s sense of discombobulation, epitomized by the vote in the British House of Commons, continues, unabated. Will violence ensue? Will there be a second vote? Will Europe and the UK work together to bring some order out of this chaos? Will the rest of the world support both parties in their search for a resolution? Will Russia celebrate jubilantly, having allegedly influenced the original vote?

The rise of “strong-man” rule, while seemingly so appealing in the short run to millions, so confused and fed up with the impending uncertainties on so many fronts, is clearly an immanent threat to good governance in many countries, supported as it currently is by wannabe ‘strong men’ even in nations like the United States. The restoration of the voices of ordinary people, in even hamlet and village, through enhanced communication access, including fibre optics, and especially through public financing of municipal, provincial and national elections.

And the voices of ordinary people, at the centre of the process, while not a guarantee of perfect and reasonable governance, could offer some confidence that the abuses of the oligarchs will be reduced, if not eliminated. The obvious restoration of public institutions for all citizens in each jurisdiction, like hospitals, schools, prisons, and transportation and communication facilities would more likely receive a favourable hearing and supportive legislation with the majority of ordinary people having and majority of the representatives.

We simply have to commit, individually, and collectively to follow the former head of U.S. counter-intelligence tweeting of the famous history typing exercise:

It is time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country.”

Replace "country" with "countries" order to bring as wide and pervasive an application as possible of public financing of elections.

Monday, January 14, 2019

"private government" corporations rule American workers (Hedges/Anderson)

In today’s edition of, Chris Hedges decries what he calls “private government” by the American corporation(s), borrowing a phrase from philosophy professor, Elizabeth Anderson* at the University of Michigan. Dictatorship, as practiced by the corporations, freed from the constrictions of union membership of their workers (11% of workers in private corporations, only, belong to unions), includes intolerable working conditions, monitoring of off-duty political expression, firings for all those who complain, and even, requiring all workers to sign a “non-compete” contract prohibiting them from finding and securing work in their field, following termination, regardless of the reason for the termination.

Hedges quotes Anderson: “Employers’ authority over workers outside of collective bargaining and a few other contexts, such as university professors’ tenure, is sweeping, arbitrary and unaccountable—not subject to notice, process, or appeal.  The state has established the constitution of the government of the workplace; it is a form of private government.” These corporations, by law, can “impose a far more minute, exacting and sweeping regulation of employees than democratic states do in any domain outside of prisons and the military.”

Lest anyone consider that these conditions pertain only to for-profit corporations in the United States, let me drop a few pieces of data, painting a picture of at least one worker’s experience over four years in an American mainline protestant church, the Episcopal Church.

Failing to inform the candidate, who innocently submitted a resume while visiting from the north side of the 49th parallel, that the hierarchy had advertised for two years in the national media looking for a candidate to take a vacant position, these same men (of course an all male hierarchy prevailed), also refused to detail the precise circumstances of the situation. “Go and love the people!” was the simple and solitary response when I asked about what I might find upon entering the situation. This response was uttered by a Korean war veteran whose austere demeanour did not yet disclose his cunning and deceitful modus operandi, inside the hierarchy. More about this later.

Upon arriving “on the scene” I learned that a mere half-dozen people were clinging to a thread of survival, tolerating a rotation of interim clergy, expecting only a minimal provision of Sunday services, so parsimonious was their attitude, and their theology. This attitude was expressed by the autocratic treasurer, a reality that prevails in many small churches, expressing and enforcing a degree of fiscal control to which all sycophants submit. There were discussions about my refusal to accept a position as mere “celebrant” as I proffered the notion that, if they wanted a full-time incumbent, I would be interested, even though the stipend might have to be lower than the norm. Within the first week or two, I heard from one interim clergy who warned, “You will need a completely new cast of characters if you are to be successful,” he told me privately. Another clergy from a neighbouring town reinforced that notion by reporting that he had already told the hierarchy the church in that town needed to be closed for five years, before any attempt to reopen its doors.

Not incidentally, and without a single minute of negotiation, I was instructed to take residence in the private home of a church adherent, obviously, in retrospection, another of the many ways these people had designed to spare expense. Although the accommodations were acceptable, given the space and the cleanliness, and the available “board”. (They were apparently treating this part of the assignment as a “B & B” arrangement), without disclosing the chasm of difference between the Roman Catholic male spouse and the Episcopal female.

No recounting of this story is complete without painting a picture of the small town/region of some 10K people, many of whom worked as coal-fired electricity unionized plant operators, or Basque/Latino sheep farmers. A flat, tumble-weed table of hard, dry sand circled small scrub-pine and spruce-dotted hills dubbed  ‘mountains’ over which strong persistent winds blew in all seasons, just east of the territory made famous by the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A single river flowed through the county which proudly hosted some 23 religious denominations, paradoxically attempting to demonstrate an independence of opinion that characterized what the ‘locals’ called, “The Real Wild West” (words painted on the sign at the town’s entrance). Souped-up four-wheeled, half-ton trucks roamed the town and the surrounding countryside, trumpeting bumper stickers announcing “this vehicle insured by Smith and Wesson,” as a rack of rifles hung in the rear cab window. Alcohol, the adult lubricant/medication flowed freely from noon onwards in most restaurants, while non-prescriptions drugs were available and accessed by a young adult demographic.

A knock on the door of the vicarage into which I was finally installed, after nearly a year in the fake B & B, prompted me to open the door to find a twenty-five-year- old young man, clearly under the influence of street drugs. He was asking for help which I attempted to secure, from a professional clinic, whose intake worker told me to repeat this instruction to the young man: “You have two choices: to enter treatment, or to die, because that is the likely outcome if you fail to seek treatment!” I passed along the edict, without ever learning the outcome. I did ascertain that, without work, the young man still lived in his parents’ home. When I commented to a parishioner that the young man symbolized much of the town culture, from my perspective, she became enraged, insulted and vehemently denied even the possibility.

It did not take long to learn that a frequent blot on the history of the county were the car accidents and deaths among high school graduates who were under the influence of alcohol/drugs following their prom each spring. The 10 alcohol stores, open for what to this Ontario native seemed like extensive hours, provided access to any with cash, including well known alcoholics. The owner/manager of the local McDonalds was empathic and supportive when approached with a notion of an anonymous telephone hot-line, modelled on the national model that has served Canadian young people for decades. In this setting, however, the line, staffed as it was with trained volunteers for approximately half-dozen hours each week, after the target population had been adequately informed of the existence of the line, received not a single call. The reason, as we learned later, was that no young person believed their call would be kept confidential.

When I suggested to a small group of high school students might consider performing the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, one sixteen-year-old retorted, “We can’t do that! We could maybe do a single scene from the play, but not more than that!” If one wanted to research glass ceilings among adolescents, this county would be a prime research laboratory.

Ministry in this desert ranged from hospital visits, prison visits to a young adult charged with theft from a county hotel where she had worked, conversations about alcohol dependence, a formal intervention with an elderly female alcoholic who had showed up for Sunday service so drunk two of us had to hold her up, as she tried to move from her car to the church door, (about 50-75 feet). Also on the calendar were visits with octogenarians who were convinced that they were going to die in a state they considered totally unworthy of God, as they perceived “Him” to be, pot luck suppers, shared church education program with two other churches, confirmation classes for aspiring confirmands ranging in age from twelve through 60, and with IQ ranging from very low to quite high.

Whenever I attempted to invite clergy from outside the town to visit and celebrate, as a way to bring “new voices and new ideas and new ways of perceiving the world, the church and the theology,” I encountered silence, and a total rejection of the invitation. When I protested that “conversion therapy” for gays and lesbians, to a long-term clergy in an urban, college town, I received a note with the words, “Obviously we cannot work together. I will pray for you.” When I wrote a detailed and disappointed piece about failing to complete a self-designed assignment for a training in rural ministry, I heard this comment from a supervisor who had read it, “You wrote that only to suck up to and impress your supervisor!” That same supervisor later called to inform me that he had received “word” that I had been the subject of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI), I had to inform him that I did not drink, and that the infraction he might be referring to was a mere speeding ticket.

Upon the news of the Columbine massacre, I immediately volunteered to help, without every hearing a single word of acknowledgement, or invitation to participate. Upon learning of the city-wide religious service designed to bring some community healing, to which leaders of all main denominations were invited to participate, I asked why the bishop did not attend. The answer, from the Korean war vet, “I told him not to go, because that was only a public relations stunt on the part of the Roman Catholics!”

At a clergy conference, that same Korean vet privately asked me to meet with the bishop. When I asked, “Why?” he responded, “I have been trying to get through to him for nine years, without success; I thought you might be able to get through.”  When I showed up for the scheduled meeting, the bishop asked, “What do you want with this meeting?” And only at that moment did I learn that the Korean vet had set me up, without informing the bishop of the origin of the meeting. To this day, I believe the bishop (now retired) is unaware of the origin of that meeting. Only after spending two years in the position did I learn that, under church rules, no pension was available for any clergy, until five years of employment had been completed. This information would, I believed then, and still do today, have been normally available to a new hire at the inception of the assignment. So too, would a complete orientation to the special circumstances of the assignment have been a normal, expected and even required responsibility on the part of the employer.

Continuing with the hierarchy, in the late stages of my term, nearing the expiration of the R1 Visa, I called the hierarchy in the middle of the night, having not slept for some time, asking to be moved from the situation, now with some 50 people on the rolls, with a budget of $50k, and new organ and stained-glass window. I had confronted several of the original half dozen, over things like their inordinate need for control, their parsimonious attitude to parish revenue, their refusal to engage in enhanced ministry, their supercilious attitudes in serving at the altar, their rejection of a variety of liturgical music (they wanted only charismatic, and/or country/gospel music), their racism (“Can my grand-daughter’s black boyfriend attend Christmas Eve services in our church?”) and also, the indictment from a senior parish member, “You would never have been offered this job if you had  come here with a black wife!”…

With the onslaught of insults, slights, impertinences, racism, parsimony, tight-assed attitudes, insularity, parochialism and the kind of superceding arrogance that attempts to “cover” profound insecurity on the part of individuals and the community itself,  I found myself distraught, effectively imprisoned in the cage of the vicarage, without support from the hierarchy. Over many months, in both daytime and in the middle of many nights, I literally drove my fist through the walls and the doors inside the building, over nearly the whole of the forty-odd months of my stay. In a needed retreat in which I sought spiritual guidance, from a Benedictine sister in Kansas, in the middle of my stay in this circumstance, I learned from her of her own experience in a similar small town in the same the geographic region: “Get out of there as soon as you can; that place will destroy you, as I know from my own experience!” This wonderful spiritual director, a doctoral graduate, was gifted with a highly functioning intelligence, a deep and profound empathy, and a disciplined spiritual faith. My regret is that I was unable to live up to her supportive guidance soon enough.

I should never have been placed in that assignment; at the same time, in hindsight, I should never have accepted that assignment. I also failed to secure a supportive group to guide and caution and support the many decisions that were required. Of course, there is no union among clergy, then or now. Of course, also, my liberal theology and my Canadian identity were both anathema to the people in this parish. I was dubbed “too eastern” (meaning too preppy and too much like New England) for these people. In a brief attempt to escape this assignment, I applied and was interviewed for another rural parish in Nebraska, where I was called a “pinko communist” in the same language poured by Nixon onto Pierre Trudeau.

*Anderson’s book is, Private Government: How Employers Rule our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It)