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!