Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Advocating for the study of biography as an academic discipline


After reading a piece in The Atlantic depicting psychological experiments that clearly illustrate a link between “disgust” and political affiliation, this scribe is pondering several questions, and some implications.

What is called the biological immune system, described as disconnected from human affect and cognition, seems to be invoked in groups of subjects leading researchers to a high degree of predictability of political leaning, liberal or conservative. According to the piece in the Atlantic, the higher the degree of disgust expressed to various visual stimuli, the greater the likelihood the person will be conservative; the corollary, in which a lower degree of disgust is predictive of a liberal political leaning. A different part of the brain is, according to the MRI images, activated by disgusting images, apparently involuntarily, in some subjects from other subjects, and the high degree of predictability is amazing to those conducting the experiments.

While there is every reason to continue such experiments, and other objective approaches to mining the biology of the human species, reinforcing the science of critical examination of human response to external stimuli, there is nevertheless also a little stone in my shoe whispering, “What about the gestalt of the whole human person?” What is happening to the academic tilt toward both scientific instruments and dissection of human responses measured by such wonder-machines as the MRI?

Across North America, university and college departments of “liberal arts” are facing reduced enrolments, leading in many cases to closing classes in subjects under this umbrella. Among many, including Fareed Zakaria (who has written about the value of the liberal arts education), this attrition of liberal arts education is both tragic and, it says here, dangerous.

Wikipedia says, “liberal arts education has its origin in the attempt to discover first principles which are the condition of the possibility of the existence of anything and everything. The liberal arts…are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that (for ancient Greece) included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries and most importantly military service. Grammar, logic and rhetoric were the core liberal arts while arithmetic, geometry, the theory of music and astronomy were the following stage. Today, liberal arts refer to academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics and social and physical sciences….For both interpretations, the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational or technical curriculum.

Notice the significant difference between a liberal arts curriculum’s purpose and matters of the professional, vocational or technical curriculum. Whether the human is seen from the perspective of the curriculum as the “performer” to be shaped and skilled, as the agent of highly detailed and complex processes or the free, active participating citizen in the public square, remains a highly relevant, operative and cogent perspective in the growth and development. Whether the segregation of these purposes has evolved in many jurisdictions in order to mediate costs or not, the question of humans as “professional agents” as opposed to public free citizens needs to be revisited, not merely in order to enable and sustain a healthy public square, but also to inject highly sensitive “professionals,” in all vocations into the culture. Fragmentation of the human species into micro-psychological, biological, chemical, anatomical, linked to various “deformities” or abnormalities or diseases or ailments, for the pursuit of health and wellness, while useful and valuable, so too is the deep penetration into a human lifeline, one’s biography. And from the source material that history has accumulated, stored and curated, individual human biography has the potential to open windows into the contexts in which our individual biology existed and contested.

A brief search for others who incarnate a perspective that focuses on the biography as an academic discipline, (biographysociety.org) points to a network reaching from Shanghai to Barcelona, Hawai’i, Australia, France, King’s College, Oxford, University of Groningen, Netherlands. Spectacularly missing in the list, is an address of a biographical studies department in North America. The archives for the biographysociety.org extend only to 2015, demonstrating how young is this initiative.

Of course, the study of biography, endorsed and fostered by James Hillman in his Acorn Theory, (from whose work the name of this blog is derived), crosses all academic disciplines, and yet yields so much insight, not only into the lives and instincts and motivations and fears, vulnerabilities and aspirations of real people in real time but also into the perspective that holds the human BEING as an intrinsically valuable (not because of some performance, work, duty or so-called objectively determined standard). We have become literally dependent on various forms of ranking, status, power, wealth, accomplishment and the attending social, cultural, political and even ethical values of people depending on these “extrinsic” features.

Whether we examine the biological symptoms like “disgust” or the extrinsics such as “street address,” “brand of car,” “academic degrees”…we have succumbed to the fallacy (in which we are deeply and perhaps irretrievably enmeshed) that specialists, and only specialists have value in the pursuit of opinions, observations, recommendations, hirings, and human valuation in general.

Anyone without a “stamp of professional approval” (credentials, accreditations, memberships, bank accounts, political offices, list of important friends knows as referral networks) is neither worthy of our time and attention. Nor are they valued outside their circle of influence which invariably breeds more of its own kind (political ideology, religious affiliation, social status, purchasing habits, even neighbourhoods, demographics, or interest groups). We have effectively succumbed to the “branding” culture which dominates the business/corporate/for profit culture, as if we were mere pawns in that system.

Young people, the homeless, the unemployed, the dispossessed, the wounded veterans, the divorced, the fired, the retired, the LGBTQ community….these people are all almost exclusively isolated, alienated, rejected and dismissed as “trash” (way beyond ‘white trash’) unless and until they “organize” and somehow develop a political voice that shines a light on their plight, individually and collectively. The middle and upper class, if we were honest, patronizes the “underclass” as sad, unfortunate, dispiriting, dispirited, hopeless, useless, a high cost on the public budget. Of course, they all have a “vote” thereby assuaging any guilt we may harbour that we are incarnating insouciance, superiority, detachment, and dismissing them from our democracy. Yet, we all know that with the latest technology, there is not a single public policy that is politically salient and vote-generating that addresses the shared needs of the outcasts. (The recent blip of “public housing” as an potential issue in the upcoming federal election in Canada, will generate headlines and some public money without penetrating and resolving the gaping need.)

Sickness, old age, those who are handicapped/disadvantaged, orphans, the homeless, the unemployed, the redundant, the outsourced, the petty criminal, the addicted (whose numbers are spiking…duh! Is it any wonder?)….these are all “case-load” costs to the public purse. No longer are they individual people with individual biographies sketching the profiles of failed public policies, failed wars, failed tax schemes, failed educations, failed incarcerations, failed parentings. Like so much refuse, we gather them into institutional silo’s, like those green and blue boxes, depending on our objective categories. And then we fund schools in colleges and universities to generate “care-givers” in a quasi-professional attempt to satisfy our guilt that many of these individuals exist, without our really penetrating the challenge of critical evaluation of our insouciance.

Oh, we care deeply about our newborns, their physical and mental abnormalities, their Apgare scores*, their allergies and their colic#, and how much they resemble specific parents, grandparents or family members. At the other end of life, we are quite specific about our detailed curiosity into the specific kinds of cancers, or the specifics of a dementia, or a COPD diagnosis including the implications for care of the patient, and then there is the hospice where compassion, detailed attention to the specific needs and aspirations and discomforts of the patient are the focus of care. In between the first few months, and the last several months, we generally and tragically see others as a good worker, (or not) a good husband/wife/parent (or not) a good neighbour (or not), a good friend (or not) a trustworthy person (or not)….reducing ourselves and the other to a minimal “cardboard cut-out” in our perceptions….unless and until something “exciting” (tragic or victorious) happens.

How can we reconcile our dispassionate, detached, objectivity to our own lives (as really not that important, symptom of the disease of false modesty) and the lives of the others who might cross our paths (whom we then claim, “everyone who crosses our path is there for a reason”) with our multiple, repeated and tragic failures in public policy, public education, public health care, public law enforcement, public accounting, public institutions. Of course, we celebrate our numerous graduation statistics, claiming our democratizing of educational opportunities (of which I am a grateful beneficiary), our opening the doors of opportunity to those who in previous generations would not have been able to enter. Nevertheless, if we pursue  attitudes, conventions and policies that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on objective, impersonal, and specialized collection, interpretation and dissemination of data, and then devise policies that attempt to ameliorate the fundamental fault lines in our culture, we will be exemplifying that old definition of neurosis: Doing the same things while expecting different results.

We are neither married to, nor addicted to technology and all of its wondrous advancements. We are neither reduced or reducible to the kind of equation that succumbs to the analysis of atoms, molecules, quarks and chemicals, demographics, salaries, degrees, executive suites, dean-ships, heads of departments or even presidents or prime ministers. And, the growing movement to focus on the human biography, for each and every human being, at all levels and ages of our culture can and will only enhance and deepen our appreciation of each other. Such an approach can and will also give to pedagogues deeper insight into the lives of those young people sitting in desks before them every day, to doctors more insight into the kind of patient sitting in clinic, to lawyers a more profound insight into their clients, judges juries and witnesses.

Care refuses to be contained in public policies, public budgets, academic disciplines and intensive care units. It starts with our basic and fundamental perspective in the importance of individual time lines, biographies, shared with confidence, not merely in therapy, or in extremis, but rather in daily lives. Employers need to know and respect more the people their hire and fire, and all of us need to know and confront the details of our own lives, as a cultural shift that can and will shine light on what have to this point been hidden and blocked caves of gold (insight) in our individual and shared lives.

Can we even consider opening a department of biographical studies in a few of our universities in North America?



*Virginia Apgar, an anesthesiologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, developed the score in 1952 to quantify the effects of obstetric anesthesia on babies


#colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week for three weeks

Monday, February 25, 2019

Another "boring" wake-up call...what will it take?


Some of the things we learned just this past weekend make it troubling for many to sleep soundly, breathe deeply and relax fully.

A new book “Earth Uninhabitable” sounds the panic alarm about the already present and indisputable evidence of climate change and global warming and the need to take dramatic action now.

Two transport trailers of food and medicine were torched on the Venezuela/Columbia border.

The rise of authoritarianism and extremism around the world poses serious threats to democracy itself, regardless of geography, nationality, ethnicity or GDP.

Italy and France are in turbulence, if not open conflict, about the future of the European Union.

The Brexit vote, and the divorce of Great Britain from the EU, casts a dark shadow of uncertainty over, not only the “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but also the future of the EU itself, in the face of upcoming elections to the European parliament.

Antisemitic violence, on both sides of the Atlantic, has spiked in recent months.
The rising tide of evangelical Christian homophobia and vehement opposition to abortion is being documented in Cuba and South America.

The occupant of the Oval Office is on his way to Hanoi, (his first visit to that country, having sought and acquired deferred enlistment in the war against that country) to meet with Kim Jung Un, promising de-nuclearization of North Korea, that he knows, as do we all, is a flagrant lie.

Not attempting to connect the dots on these files does not preclude exploring the convergence of these stories. It is not so much that they are linked in a cause-effect relationship; however, they do in sum point to a few observations.

There is little evidence that an effective collaborative political approach is being taken to address the seriousness of these issues, which may yet prove to have some spill-over between the files. The environmental existential threat to humanity cannot help but cast a pall over all discussions everywhere, private, public, national, international. The tidal waves of refugees, (3.4 million from Venezuela into Columbia), and continuing across the Mediterranean into Europe, continues to flag what environmentalists are flagging as mass migrations of starving people before the end of this century. If we cannot and do not address the issue in these proportions, how can we expect to have the strategies and systems, the infrastructure and the resources to address it in epic proportions. (BTW, every country has “refugees” on the streets of our towns and cities, commonly referred to as “homeless” without adequate attention, policy alternatives, government commitment and public resolution to eliminate this tragedy!)

Appearing on GPS with Fareed Zakaria yesterday, David Wallace-Wells, writer at New York Magazine says (excerpted from transcript of GPS with Fareed Zakaria, Feb. 24, 2019)

If we don’t change course on fossil fuels, by the end of the century we’ll get to about 4 degrees of warming. That would mean total global economic damages of $600 trillion, which is double all the wealth that exists in the world today. The U.N. says it would mean hundreds of millions of climate refugees, perhaps as many as a billion climate refugees. It would mean twice as much war as we see today because there is a relationship between temperature and conflict. And that happens at the national level. It also happens at the individual level. So rates of murder and rape would go up. It has an impact on agricultural yields. It has an impact on public health because mosquitoes will be flying ever farther afield….
More than half of all the carbon that we’ve put into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels has come in the last 25 years.. Twenty-five years ago we were in a relatively stable climate. Now we’re on the brink of catastrophe….
IF you feed cattle seaweed, it reduces their methane emissions by as much as 95 percent, or even 99 percent…
The impacts are everywhere you look, And we need a truly global system but also a local system dealing with it at every level. It’s a big problem. It touches every aspect of modern life.

According to Chris Hedges, writing today in truthdig.com:

The British-based group Extinction Rebellion has called for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience on April 15 in capitals around the world to reverse our ‘one-way track to extinction.’
Quoting Roger Hallam, co-founder of Rebellion Extinction, Hedges also writes:
People have to go to the capital city. That’s where the elite is, the business class. That’s where the pillars of the state exist. That’s the first element. Than you have to have a lot of people involved. They have to break the law. There’s no point in just doing a march. They have to literally close down the streets. They have to remain nonviolent.. That’s absolutely crucial. Once you get violent, police and the state have an excuse to remove you. It’s got to be cultural. You make it into a sort of Woodstock affair. Then thousands more people come onto the streets…..
We’ve got three demands—the government tells the truth, the carbon emissions go to zero by 2025…and we have a national assembly which will sort out what the British people want to do about it….
For 30 years we’ve had one political metaphysic, reform. You either reform or you are irrelevant. But now we have two massive exponentially increasing structural faults-the inequality problem and the climate problem.

If we go back to the fire burning in those transport trucks sending black smoke into the air at the border of Columbia and Venezuela, we see poverty, mal-administration, greed and lawlessness at the heart of that human, political, economic furnace. The rising tide of refugees, immigrants, asylum-seekers from Syria and North Africa in the face of over-stretched political structures and political leadership has played a significant role in the Brexit vote and in the yellow-vests protesting on the streets of Paris, as well as in the incipient conflict between Italy and France. Similarly, the rise of authoritarian, extremist political actors is riding a tide of fear, anxiety and foreshadowed joblessness and poverty that follows the wave of immigrants pouring into Europe.

The rising tide of religious bigotry, including both the evangelical fanaticism focused on homophobia and the elimination of therapeutic abortions as well as the virulent antisemitism. From GPS yesterday, we also learned that in eastern France close to 100 graves in a Jewish cemetery were desecrated with swastikas early this week….The French ministry of the interior said anti-Semitic incidents were up a staggering 74 percent last year….A U.K. charity that tracks anti-Semitism reported a new record for last year, more than 100 anti)_Jewish incidents every month…Anti-Semitic offences are also on the rise in Germany. The newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reports that physical attacks were up 60 percent in 2018.

It is not alarmist to ask whether there might be a growing fire of disease, discontent, fear, supremacy, authoritarianism and extremism in the world’s shared “cauldron” having additional fuel added every day, in many quarters. As people face what they consider existential threats, especially threats that are being denied, ignored and dismissed by the political class, or worse lied about distorted and manipulated to serve the political agendas of “strong men” whose place in power has emerged from those same fears, anxieties and in some cases hopelessness, we begin to cower, adopt a “grab-what-you-can-now” approach to narcissism.

Approaches to international collaboration to renew vows and commitment to democratic principles and to update them, such as the document to that end from Madeline Albright and others, presented to the Munich conference last week, will continue to face high winds of foundational inequities, insecurities and distrust that continue to grow at the street level in many quarters.

If we are to become social, political cultural activists, we might take inspiration from people like Ed Thompson, a pharmaceutical (PMRS) executive who is taking the FDA to court, claiming it actively enhanced the opioid epidemic in the United States through a simple label change from effective for  “short term” to effective for “daily, around-the-clock, long-term…treatment”. Thompson told Scott Pelley on CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, “There are no studies on the safety or efficacy of opioids for long-term use.”…And also, “A drug’s label is the single most important document for that product. It determines whether somebody can make $10 million or a billion dollars.”

Thompson regrets that it took him 4 years to become fully aware of the FDA’s complicity in the opioid epidemic. Nevertheless, he has begun to take what amounts to a serious case against the FDA. Although we are all “late” to come to the urgency of the existential threats we all face, it is nevertheless not too late to waken, to summon the same kind of courage and to join those forces that, like us, have already wakened to our shared realities.

Stepping up to the plate, as the baseball Spring season opens, is not restricted only to people like Vadimir Guerrero, the new star of the Toronto Blue Jays. Home plate is beckoning each of us to “step up”….not to hit a home run, or even a single…but just to waken the political class to their responsibilities. 

Are we up for it?

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!