Thursday, April 25, 2019

Turning the telescope around

I have often complained about the symbiotic relationship between the way westerners envision, and then practice our faith and the secular culture of capitalism, materialism, personal goals and achievements. Making money, building careers, purchasing a lavish dwelling, and a testosterone-octane vehicle, wearing some kind of organizational/military uniform, putting academic degrees behind our names…and of course, producing what was once considered de rigeur, 2.5 children per family, while all very “driven” and compulsively seductive notches on our belts, is so clearly and blatantly a self-sabotage, not only of our personal physical and emotional health, but also of our spiritual maturity.

We have succumbed to the seductive allure of an extrinsic, empirical, visible, “rankable” and ranked ladder that has not, cannot and never will attend to our authentic intrinsic, creative, relational, ideational survival. There are obvious and profound reasons for our misguided and sabotaging, yet foundational, pattern. We are explorers and adventurers in an untamed and untameable universe. We are fascinated by those whose stories of adventure, challenge, discovery, and, yes, achievement and we seek to emulate their “achievements” and their successes. We depict their various narratives of successful travel, trade, invention, social and political organization, and their plethora of percepts and concepts of their relationship with one or many deities and their prophets, priests, shamans and pilgrims. Theirs are the shoulders we attempt to climb onto, and then attempt to walk, or more likely run on.

We read and study their manuscripts, their laboratory experiments, their dwellings, their diets, their designs and their artistic legacies, as well as their rules, and their faith and superstition perceptions, beliefs and practices. We teach their philosophies, their precepts, and their practices, and to a large extent we have “spread” their legacies to people living throughout what we know as the many “round” corners of the planet. And, while we have ‘ingested’ or practiced or imbibed, or swallowed or adopted and even revised many of these foundational precepts and principles, we have never risen above the territorial, the competitive, the jealous, the vindictive, the divisive and the seduction of immediacy.

In the Christian lexicon, Babel exemplifies the many languages, and the concomitant divisions, separations, competitions and exterminations about which we then celebrate and divide into ‘wins’ or ‘defeats’. Our economic narratives, and our political and social narratives have been written and preserved by those who “succeeded” first in survival for themselves, and then for their clans, tribes or families. Periodically, spasmodically and highly intermittently, we know of tribes whose commitment to the ideals of physical and empirical accomplishments were primarily in artistic artifacts and less in tribal warfare. Yet these, by the nature of our “nature” (as we have chosen to perceive and to believe it to be) are far less significant than the narratives of battles won, migrations (especially from slavery and imprisonment), empires built, cathedrals designed and constructed, ships, vehicles, kites and eventually planes designed and built, and trade routes, bank vaults, and their accompanying records, legislative and legal frameworks, and sling-shots, ram-rods, and battlements.

Of course, our narrative celebrates the intermingling of our “work” and our “faith practices. Some faith communities espouse the notion that “God” cannot be circumscribed or contained within concrete walls, or paper scrolls, or altars or even ecclesial trust accounts. And, of course, neither can humanity be adequately or even minimally depicted, or contained in a physical or even a literary encapsulation. Our novels, plays and poetry, along with our symphonies, concertos, operas and ballets dig into and bring forth pictures of the human psyche, its soul in the multiple ways by which we suffer, struggle, attempt to relate, seek to  engage, dominate and fail. And, central to the rationale of attempting to deal with insurmountables and inexplicables like failure, death, defeat and despair, and even the tempest of winds, storms, and the inevitable crashes of our “ships” (both literal and metaphoric) into the rocks of coasts, and other boundaries, is our explanation/belief that our nature requires our “going there” because the mountain exists. Further, we “hold” that our failures, if not terminal, are our best teachers. Even our deaths, resulting from one or more of many different kinds of struggles, whether inside the body, the mind, or in conflict with external forces, are conceived as pathways to another realm.

And central to all of western (and perhaps universal) narratives, is the construct that physical, empirical and observable accomplishments sit atop the ladder of our ideal hierarchy of meaningful, purposeful and worthwhile and even sacred and spiritual meaning and legacy for a human life. We do not, even must not, ignore or denigrate the continuing pattern of altruism, kindness, rescues and compassion that attends each and every human catastrophe, and even to celebrate these almost unbelievable and certainly heroic acts, each moment of every day, in all cultures and geographic regions, regardless of the inherited and practiced faith beliefs and rituals. And to consider these acts of support, compassion, empathy, and heroic struggle in the midst of crisis as anything less than our best “angels” and most admired expressions of our highest and clearest imitation of any deity worthy of the name would be a travesty.

And for all of our successes, monuments to our various and highly complex achievements both in physical and emotional and relational measures, we continue to struggle with our relationship to those components of our perceptions that, while we have put numbers and devices on it, we have succumbed to its seductions and its entrapments.

The longer our conceived and perceived dimension of time, in terms of geologic, the more conscious we become of the brevity of our “time” here. And the more ways in which we are able and willing to fixate on time, in increasingly diminishing units as our instruments for measuring become even more sophisticated, the paradox of obsessive attention to its passing (both in speed and duration) and the even greater obsession of achieving in the time available, we are risking those aspects of our existence that cry out for our consideration: our capacity and need for “time out,” not merely as a time for sleep and relaxation, and not only to enter into the forests and the fields, the rivers and the lakes, and not just to escape to the beaches and the "halcyons" of retreats, cottages, tents and canoes…but the kind of way we conceive and perceive of time itself.

Overriding our various epithets undergirding our perceptional foundation, is the relationship with and perception of TIME. We see each situation as if it were a under a microscope, immediate, fixed, frozen and magnetic, given the altar of mathematics and science on which we currently worship. This is especially noticeable in our relationship with others. “The other”  is perceived, conceptualized and dealt with as a “thing” given his/her identity, ethnicity, presenting mask, voice tone, hair treatment, wardrobe, jewellery and tattoo accessorizing…and even the most superficial (or not) piece of history we know or have been “told” also plays a key role in the way we treat that person. There was/is a meme that depicts much of religious discourse as a “weaponizing” of various single lines of scripture. Today, we have weaponized each other, with whom we have conflict, as a stuttering reprise of each of the major and minor crises that we have experienced. And our narrow, shrivelled, stunted and paralyzed vision of the length of time in which the situation “must” be resolved provides a sabotaging predicate for the resolution/reconciliation/negotiation/compromise that very often never happens.

Ironically, while we all now have devices with which we can “connect” we others anywhere on the planet, or so it seems, we are also facing what, without exaggeration, can be dubbed a different (from planetary, military, economic or ethnic) existential crisis, in that we have reduced our willingness, and perhaps even our capacity to appreciate, comprehend, get to know and to identify with the many individual and shared contexts of the lives of the others whom we encounter…and ultimately with whom we share a finite pool of resources like air, water, land and tolerance and acceptance. In our determination to “win” (as measured by the extrinsic and empirical) we have rendered others as “means” to our “ends” and we have done it on a personal, community, regional, national and global level.

We speak of “politizing of the issues” in our vernacular that depicts our basal attitudes: every letter of every letter is a signal to our opponents about our vulnerabilities; every sigh, smile, face turned away, body closure or gesture is a political statement, depending on our personal agenda. If we are engaged in an open and public conflict (or even and perhaps more importantly inside our own minds) stemming from our victimhood, (race, gender, age, faith, language), then we magnetize each situation to “fit” the parameters of our victimhood, in the moment. And the moment is the crucial aspect, because we have lost sight of the fact that this moment is neither the only or the last such moment.

The ”single frame” snapshot, taken in a split second, while collaged and montaged with other “frames” has conquered the “flowing now” that merges the moments, fuses the images, blurs the lines and gives rationale to the argument of “war” and the extension that we are all on a battlefield, facing the imminent and threatening firing squad of “the other” (from the start, the enemy). In this war, each word of the enemy is a bullet threatening to bring us down, because the exercise of power, by those charged with its discharge, demands that only zero-sum “wins” generate a sustainable career path.

This isolation of “frames of moments” past, present and future, has the added malignity of generating headlines, wounds, reputations and revisionist “histories” of all the moments of recorded time. We are watching, listening to, reflecting upon and “judging” anyone whose life of public service is now rendered an autopsy, long before the passing of that life. Ironically, paradoxically and tragically, we, as a culture in denial of death (global warming, ageism, youth-restoring cosmetics) are drinking the “death-vile” of post-mortems, demonstrating that our Shadows denied will eventually, surreptitiously and inevitably bite us in the butt. Our obsessive reduction of time to nano-seconds, matter to microbes, and words raped of context is and will continue to render all public discourse, and consequentially each of us participating in the dialogue to the vain project of injecting a far different, and far more complex, and far more interesting and complicated, and even ambiguous and thereby perplexing “truth”…that there are no winners in any war, no matter how obsessive are the combatants.

Symptomolgy, the microscopic analysis of the symptoms, (much of this piece has been focused on this) cannot and must not camouflage the underlining dynamic: we simply detest the challenge of working through the compromises, the negotiations, the ambiguities and the patience that the white water, the hurricanes, the droughts, and the idylls of the flow of the river of each of our personal lives, flowing into the giant flow of the river of human culture and discourse. We have succumbed to the entrapment of playing the personal, organizational, corporate, ecclesial, provincial and national “ratings” game, as if, analogized by the pin-ball machine, the score at the end of the game is our “achievement”. At some level, we all know the bounces of that ball have little causal relationship to our “execution” or our skills.

The self-seduction that we can “manage and control” complex variables, by isolating each variable onto a microscope screen, as it is can be etherized, anatomized and dissected like a cancerous tumor, or an insect in a biology lab, is not only untrue; it is also quite mesmerizingly dangerous. The compilation and collation of the plethora of these isolated “diagnoses” into some objectively verifiable projection of how to move forward, in our private lives, and also in our public policy determinations, and the only or primary resource, leaves the future in the hands of the motherboards and the algorithms that drive them, and the soft-ware programmers who generate the algorithms.

If will be no surprise, dear reader, to be reminded that this scribe holds tight to the belief that the creative imagination, as exemplified by the novelists, the poets, the playwrights, the composers and the geniuses are dedicated to the preservation, the honour, the nobility and even the saving grace of the nuanced contexts of all of reality. There is and will always be a piece of imaginative “terrain” between, before and outside the battlefield where the poets paint their personal pictures, inviting us to share their ambiguities, without having to engage in a zero-sum conflict.

Ideas per se, invite their engagement, their appreciation and their reflection in a spirit of community, sharing, like a meal at the hearth of the touching spirits, without ever requiring the acquisition of arms for their defence. Their existence is its own justification, as is the existence of each human on the planet. And if and when we begin (as we already have) to enter into the equation that “your existence” is a threat to “my existence” we have already lost everything that is worth living for.

Educators, thought leaders, corporate executives, religious leaders, and especially political leaders can help in the process of injecting context, nuance, compromise and engagement of a healthy and life-giving nature, and, like Pete Buttigieg, in Monday’s CNN townhall, refuse to take the bait, when we are challenged by an unworthy, illicit, ignominious, defamatory charge.

And we can all learn much from cultures like the indigenous, the Asian and the tribal peoples who know that time has a very long arc...predictions of the apocalypse have proven hollow for millenia.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

tromping through the fog of whether to impeach

Rachel Notley is gone. Pundits predict that Theresa May will be gone before the June 3rd visit of trump to D-Day celebrations. Jason Kenney has replaced Notley and Boris Johnston, (trump who speaks Latin!) is predicted to succeed Ms May.
In Canada, five conservative premiers Ford (Ontario), Kenney(Alberta), Palliser (Manitoba), Blaine Higgs (New Brunswick), Moe (Saskatchewan) are asking the courts to ban the federal (read: national) “carbon tax” that has been imposed on their provinces.

Washington has imposed sanctions on five countries currently purchasing Iranian oil, in the hope of suffocating the Iranian economy and bringing Iran to the negotiating table, to pound out a new nuclear concord. The result: one million barrels of oil a day from Iran could be withheld from world markets.

Gas prices are spiking and projected to spike stratospherically, and the environment continues to writhe under the strangulation of the right and the climate deniers.
And in the United States where the White House lines up with the climate deniers, the political discourse is whirling in a downward spiral on whether or not to impeach the current occupant of the Oval Office, following the Robert Mueller Special Counsel Report.

Imposing “political will” on a specific political issue, is a function of many variables:

·        the strength of public support of the party/leader in power
·        the trust of the public in those proposing to impose their will
·        the calculations of the potential impacts of the decision to impose a “will”
·        the relevant precedents in historic, legal, political and economic terms
·        the capacity of the “leader” to impose a set of talking points on the relevant media
·        the gullibility/innocence/predisposition of the public to the fine print of the specific issue
·         the complexity of the nuances of the issue itself
·        the ideological and cultural memes/themes playing out in the public discourse
·        the strength of the financial support for those intending to impose their will
·        comparisons with visible and appropriate narratives on the issue in other jurisdictions
·        the strength/weakness of the numbers garnered in current, relevant, verifiable opinion polling.

In Canada, over the last two or three months, the Prime Minister’s Office seriously miscalculated over the question of whether to impose its will on the Attorney General to intervene to achieve a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with SNC Lavalin, following the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided against such a move.

In Great Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron seriously miscalculated in calling for a referendum on the question of remaining/exiting the European Union. Nearly three years on, the matter is still in a kind of political limbo, with a parade of parliamentary votes having come and gone, without clarifying or resolving the issue, after some 17 million-plus Brits voted to exit.

Apparently, President Emmanuel Macron also miscalculated in imposing a gas tax on middle income French voters, prompting thousands to don “yellow vests” and stream into the streets of Paris and other French venues in protest. This protest has been partially thwarted as a consequence of the epic fire in Notre Dame Cathedral.

In Sri Lanka, in spite of official and serious and credible warnings of the impending threat of terrorist attacks, some 200-plus Sri Lankans are dead and another 500-plus are wounded following attacks on Christian churches, high-end hotels and one private residence.

Clearly, for a political party (in this case the American Democrats) to make a decision on whether to open Impeachment Hearings, is a decision fraught with many pressures including but not restricted to:

Ø the vagaries and fickleness of public opinion
Ø the strength of the “victim” trump’s capacity to overturn all conventions and expectations
Ø the histories of both the Nixon and Clinton impeachment narratives
Ø the proximity of the 2020 presidential elections
Ø the intransigence of the White House to block all attempts to uncover damning evidence on his many, observable, verified, and continuing actions that expose just how unfit he is for the office
Ø the history of the Democratic Party to search in vain for a “spine” as far back as the 2004 presidential election when then candidate Howard Dean called for its recovery
Ø the arrogance and intransigence of the Senate Republicans who are predictably expected to block an impeachment verdict from the House of Representatives
Ø the threat of a trump-cult’s interpretation of impeachment as a “coup” as the  president has repeatedly chanted and the violence that could result.

Proceeding vigorously, relentlessly and without losing sight of the historic importance of this moment, as Eugene Robinson, columnist at the Washington Post urges the Democrats under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership in the House, makes sense, given, as Robinson reminds us, that trump himself will be energized, committed and relentless in his push-back and pursuit of re-election in 2020.

Governing, for the last decade plus, following the 9-11 terror attacks, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the Obama election embedded in the intransigence of  the Republican Congress, and more recently the tornado of headlines from the pervasive, ubiquitous dominance of the trump narcissitic meloldrama, has proven almost literally ineffectual. The public, naturally, has grown inured to the impotence of the Congress, as well as to the horrendous and demonstrably counter-intuitive if not outright illegal machinations of the trump presidency.

In the midst of extreme confusion, ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty, individuals usually revert to their most familiar, and often weakest option. Seeking clarity from “leaders,” the culture is magnetized by a “strong” leader’s captivation of the headlines, regardless of how that control is achieved, and also regardless of the hollowness of their content. Playing on the fears birthed in loss and uncertainty, linked to a perception of blatantly unfair policies and practices (read: tax policy and corporate malfeasance, in seeking labour at base levels and freedom from environment and worker protections offshore) trump descended that escalator in the “theatre” of the absurd king. He continues to seduce, deceive, mislead and wiggle into and out of entrapments into which others would have long ago been ensnared.

Accountability, transparency, trust and how to begin the process of taking the country back from this two-plus-year debacle is, apparently, one of the more complex goals, especially given the turbulence of both the president’s preferred modus operandi and the vacillation of public opinion. While there was a glimmer of hope coming out of the House elections in 2018, one house of Congress is not enough to effect a predictable removal from office of a chief executive who is unfit for office. Headlines, talking heads, and tweet storms have been so engulfed by the trump vacuum that most “other” issues have gone unattended, unless a public display of distraction was deemed necessary to prop the president’s popularity ratings: (read: North Korea summits, government shut-down to focus on a bogus emergency, deployment of the army to build the wall, silencing criticism of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Kashoggi, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, supporting the Netanyahu take-over of the West Bank).

For the Democrats to hide behind the “legal” curtain of criminality (and the proven evidence required), is to fail to discharge their clear oversight responsibility. There is so much flaming evidence inappropriate behaviour, insolent attitudes, tyrannical beliefs, lies, deceptions and outright obstruction of justice by this president that the American system of government is metaphorically burning, just as was Notre Dame literally doing last week. America’s position in the world has suffered irreparable damage under this administration, and the income/inequality gap has and continues to grow within the country. Race relations are worse than at any time in the last half century; immigration is so botched both ethically and administratively, it will take decades to recover. Personal pecuniary gain, a specifically forbidden for the occupant of the Oval Office, continues unabated, with impunity.

Given all the vagaries, ambiguities, uncertainties and potential political landmines that will be planted as IED’s by the trump administration, to blow his political enemies out of the water (and there will be an interminable series of these!), it is still requisite for the House to move to an Impeachment investigation, as a formal way to lay out a course and to risk the political fallout of failing to convince the electorate that whatever the evidence demonstrates, the president should be impeached.

The see-no-evil-hear-no-evil Republican Senators, complicit with all the misdeeds of their president, have to be held accountable for their anticipated vote to acquit, even if the House provides an Impeachment charge for them to consider as the “jury” with the Chief Justice (another trump acolyte) in the chair.

Surely the American public (at least a majority) are not so enmeshed in this self-imposed gratuitous cult to remain blind to the historic demands of this moment.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Reflections on the victim archetype

“At seven or eight, I wanted to be an anthropologist; both mother and father told me that was not a profession for a woman!”
“At fifteen, I wanted to be an engineer; both mother and father told me that was not a profession for a woman!”
“When I decided to be a dentist, I told no one, and became one!”
Those were the words of an immigrant dentist, yesterday, while I was sitting in her patient chair.

This story was followed by others, especially endemic to Canada, about a young, vigorous young man from Northern Ontario, Sudbury, to be specific, who, upon telling his parents he wanted to be a medical doctor, heard these words from his mother: “You cannot do that; we are not that kind of people or family!”
Another brief sketch emerged in the same conversation.

“I once dated a young woman then a nursing student, the daughter of a radiologist. When she offered that she wanted to ‘get serious’ about the relationship, after much deliberation, I rejected her invitation believing that I was not of that social class, and would not be able to keep up!”

Inferiority, as enmeshment in the victim archetype, slithers along the baseboards of our kitchens, lurks under the beds of our children, slides unobtrusively into the most innocuous conversations about the most important topics in our personal and our public lives. It wears a very seductive and deeply engrained historical mask, false humility, false modesty.

And in Canada, it also flags another of our least healthy traits: we will do anything to avoid being American. If an American (and the country by inference) is perceived, stereotypically, as a braggard, a self-promoter, a determined hero, a military behemoth, a corporate elephant, a loud-mouthed bully, then, living just north of that perceived “monster,” Canada has veered widely to the other side of the road, risking the ditch on the other side.

Victims inherently blame others for their fate, thereby avoiding even a modicum of responsibility. Victims seek out and lance, undermine, attack, defame, and pull down those who appear to succeed in climbing their own ‘mountain’ of achievement in whatever arena. Victims are also inextricably and dangerously enmeshed in the historic reasons for their victimhood, the attitudes and behaviour of their ancestors, their parents, teachers, bosses, partners and even peers.

Historically, in Canada, the “west” blames the “east” establishment for their alienation. Previously in Quebec, francophones blamed anglophones for their inferior status in the governance of the country. Provinces, traditionally and predictably, blame the federal government (as Ford-Morneau demonstrate again), rural citizens blame urban dwellers (now the vast majority) for their lack of government services. Many in therapy adopt the focus on “family of origin” issues for their own complexities and deficiencies.

Yet, if and when a primary national archetype is ‘victim’ whether of the barren wilderness, of the climate, of the hardships of removing the impeding rocks from a potential hay field, of the lack of human services because of distance and transportation facilities, it is only natural that individuals will gravitate to the ‘victim’ myth as a metaphor that, like the kaleidoscope’s turn, brings the coloured disks into clear focus. Interesting and intimate dialogue frequently turns to “past life” incidents, statements, judgements, betrayals, abandonments, divorces, deaths, accidents, bankruptcies, heavily tilting the scales of our unique perceived victimhood’s constellation of influences. At the same time, especially noticeable in Canada, (as compared with the U.S.) we discreetly and deliberately minimize/avoid/deny/disavow/brush off any references to significant accomplishments, unless and until the party conversations reach a turning point where bragging competitively becomes a kind of game.

Political promises, in so many cases, ring hollow, given our deeply ingrained distrust of such dream-like visions, on top of our subconscious (unconscious?) enmeshment in our own condition (mostly characterized by our “less than”) when silently and privately compared to the status of those seeking political office. “Ordinary” backgrounds, of course, continue to be resurrected as the “life story” of any aspiring political candidate, as his/her way of identifying with the ordinary citizen voter.

Not so insignificantly, nor imperceptibly lurking under, inside and through the fibres of this carpet of “the victim” is the manner in which Canadians “wear” their wealth. Mostly secretly, and yet very consciously defining the ‘upper class’ in each and every organization, including every political party, and every neighbourhood, classroom, church, and even social service agency/club, those with wealth, the status of office, and especially the status of “legacy” (having been around for a long time), there is a top layer of “elite”….often patronizing others, perhaps even unconsciously, given how ingrained its permanence and dependability and usefulness this status has proven throughout their lives.

On guard, suspicious, distrusting, sceptical, even fractious and rebellious, the lower classes continue to grope through the fog of classism, racism, ageism, sexism and the permanent, if imperceptible, reredos that segregates the upper class from the rest of the world. The tensions that this divide generate provide the marketing gurus with the datapoints they need to frame their sales pitch to their respective niche markets. Price points, hired shill-actors, packaging, music, camera angles, lighting and sound effects, including even the choice of animated cartoon or animal character are all subject to the manipulation of the mind-manipulators who have climbed to the top of the advertising/marketing/messaging corporate ladder.

There may be no intentionality or design among many elites to defame those below. And there is, unfortunately, another kind of reverse snobbery among the lower class that smears contempt on the public faces of the upper classes. There is also, unfortunately, a kind of symbiosis in this class divide: the rich often depict the poor as worthless, lazy, undisciplined, drunks, drug-addicts, homeless. We do not, in Canada, use the term “caste” to designate the upper class; however, its imprint can be found in every restaurant, every hotel, every classroom, every church sanctuary, within social and political and corporate organizations.

How we become conscious of the role the “victim” archetype in our lives merits a national conversation, a serious look at the language we use in our public discourse, the language used by our teachers and principals, our parents and athletic coaches. Martin Luther King used to dream that all people would be judged by the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Clearly a noble aspiration!

And yet, the quality of one’s character is not mirrored by the medals of their winnings, the size of their investment accounts, the brand of vehicle they drive, the corner office (title) they occupy (wear), nor the length of their service, just as it indisputably is not a function of the colour of their skin or their ethnicity, or their religion (in spite of the blatant claims of many faith communities to be the “right” religion!)

How many other conversations are occurring right now that imitate the conversation in the dentist’s office? How many reputed “leaders” role models, mentors, coaches, parents, teachers, and religious practitioners are currently engaged in conversations that betray their implicit bias, their implicit imposition of their victim/bully on their colleagues? At the same time, how many of those who are wearing the “charges” of impropriety, injustice, inequality, abuse of power, the twisting of the facts, the distortion of reality to suit their personal agenda are even open to giving serious consideration to reflect on their part in the circumstance for which their opponents are judging them?

Margaret Atwood wrote eloquently about the “dialogue of the deaf” when referring to the former sovereignty debates between Quebec and Canada in the not so distant past. Are we witnessing a different variant of that theme, (dialogue of the deaf) between, among and around the relationship (?) tension, conflict, between factions, individuals, ideologies, interest groups, classes, men v.women, Liberal v.Conservative, Republican-Democratic, trump v. world?

Is the victim-blame game the best we can attain in our public and our private discourse? Have we deferred to a model of discourse linked to a mind-set that would/might be more appropriate among pre-teens? Are we doomed, (sentenced? hard-wired? programmed?) to repeat, and repeat the dialogue of the deaf between the bully and the victim?

Are those who defer from this model of reflection and discourse, relation-building and alienation to be considered “outliers” for being “different” or “outcasts” or iconoclasts or “too complex” and “too complicated”?

Falling into a trap that has already demonstrated its capacity to sabotage those of us who used it, as Canadians, as victims, as “not American,” surely is not an expression of our better angels.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

We each need both a sword and a harp

Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western Psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness and ecstasy….Romantic love doesn’t just mean loving someone; it means being “in love.” This is a psychological phenomenon that is very specific. When we are “in love” we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves. Life suddenly seems to have a wholeness, a superhuman intensity that lifts us high above the ordinary plain of existence….This psychological package includes an unconscious demand that our lover or spouse always provide us with this feeling of ecstasy and intensity….Despite our ecstasy when we are “in love,” we spend much of our time with a deep sense of loneliness, alienation and frustration over our inability to make genuinely loving and committed relationships. Usually we blame other people for failing us; it doesn’t occur to us that perhaps it is we who need to change our own unconscious attitudes—the expectations and demands we impose on our5 relationships and on other people…This is the great wound in the Western culture. It is the primary psychological problem of our Western culture. Carl Jung said that if you find the psychic would in an individual or a people, there you also find their path to consciousness. For it is in the healing of our psychic wounds that we come to know ourselves. (Robert A. Johnson, We, Understanding the psychology of Romantic Love, p. vii, xii)

Greeks, ever the professional parsers of definitions, discerned and expounded four different types of love: eros, storge, philia, and agape, whose respective realms are:
Romantic and sexual (Eros), family (Storge), friendships (Philia), divine love that comes from God (Agape).

The Christian tradition of carving out the Eros, romantic love, as the problem because of what they considered rampant promiscuity in the time of the Apostle Paul, poured the concrete footings of a theological belief and practice of ministry that precludes sexual relationships outside of their “sacred” and exclusive access to marriage (and that between a man and a woman only). For the most part of western history and cultural development, storge, philia and agape have been sidelined at best or ignored/denied at worst. Occasionally, some cleric will use the word “agape” as an ideal modelled on the gift of God’s love that we might emulate in our relationships with others. Nevertheless, the western culture is fundamentally unfamiliar (ignorant, “ignosco,” I do not know) with the three various forms of love, different from eros, romantic love. The Christian church’s claim on how individuals should (must, in order to avoid excommunication, and must in order to please God) engage in Eros, has unfortunately resulted in some of the major chasms of ethics and morality both within and outside the institution. Celibacy, for both men and women “of God” is only one of such divisions of “holiness” and spiritual “status” inside the church, as possibly in the secular community as well. The complications of annulment, divorce, separation, also flow from this tradition.

Also, the attribution of “red letter” social exclusion, alienation and character defamation for those “caught” in the conundrum of an unexpected/unwanted pregnancy, is a direct consequence of the church’s exclusive appropriation of human sexual behaviour. Flowing out of this tradition, too, is the violent, and vehement culture “war” against abortion, regardless of the specific “term” designated in a specific legal framework. So, from the paradoxical “ministry” focus of the Christian church, to give voice to the voiceless, to comfort the infirm and to provide discomfort for the “comfortable,” this laser focus on sex sabotages the ministry attempts needed and expected by imperfect and non-compliant adherents. This microscopic (and it says here, anal) focus on an attempt to manage, control, manipulate and ironically and paradoxically sacralise sexual activity among parishoners, also puts the church outside the legitimate attempts to integrate the human psyche, and outside the natural world’s hard wiring.

Especially if biology (the sexual ‘shiver’) and human ethical behaviour imprinted in our gregariousness are inextricably linked, the Christian tradition needs a re-think, and not a merely superficial, public relations re-boot.

Lionel Tiger’s The Manufacture of Evil, is cogent here:

It is possible we have been systematically misled about our morality from the very beginning. Why should God have interfered eith Eden as he did, evidently for the dual offences of sexual awareness…and empirical skepticism, that forbidden fruit. And why blame poor Adam, whom after all God made? And why was what happened in Eden the “Fall”? And why were Adam and Eve so harshly and disproportionately ridiculed for their sexual frisson? Were not those perplexingly pleasureable nerve endings in their genitals there for a purpose? Was orgasm an accidental spasm, which happened to be so mightily pleasing that (later on when churches got going) its occurrence or not could be held up as a measure of obedience to God?...This is mad. No wonder practitioners of the morality trades have so enthusiastically separated man from animal, culture from nature, devotion from innocence. If morality is natural, then you don’t need priests as much as you’re likely to enjoy being informed by scientists. If morality is a biological phenomenon, then it is merely insulting to harass mankind for its current condition because of an historic Fall in the past and an putative Heaven in the future. When spirituality became as special flavor and ceased being fun, when mystical congregation and speculation became instead a matter of bare knees on cold stone and varying renunciations; when involvement with the seasons and the other subtle rhythms of nature became formalized into arbitrary rituals governed by functionaries, then the classical impulse for moral affiliation became translated into something else: into a calculation of ethical profit and loss supervised by an accountant Church and a demanding God. A new tax was born, The Tithe. Ten percent for the first agents. (Lionel Tiger, op. cit. p.32-33)

Regardless of whether one considers the Genesis story a “literal history” or a mythical representation of a “beginning story of humankind” written by inspired humans, one is compelled to take note of the different interpretations and implications. Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God, recently reminded us (see ‘Suffocating on the altar of logos,’ previously in this space) of the significant difference between logos (rationality) and mythos, a story that underlies the human condition, repeated throughout the centuries in various cultures, a kind of psychology of religion and faith.

The relationship between faith and culture, both positively and negatively, have rarely been able to be segregated. They impinge on each other often imperceptibly, yet rarely without significance. Early religions teachings, dogma, tradition and ultimately foundations were necessarily and inevitably linked to the available best knowledge from the best thinkers, poets, shamans and prophets. And one of the existential points of discernment among religious thinkers is the question of whether “revelation” (from God) is a once or a continual, ever-present dynamic. For us, the latter is the only reasonable, relevant and credible response.

And, contemporary consciousness has to include thinkers and prophets like Carl Jung, whose insights can and would afford a small flicker of a candle of hope, light and new life through the coming to consciousness of how humans have become entrapped in the distortion between romantic love and the fullness of love. The imposition of our expectations on others, including our intimate partners, that would more appropriately be assigned to, attributed to  and acknowledged by each of us, as a core energy of our spiritual growth and development, including our relationship to God, offers what Jung considers an optimum opportunity for healing our shared psychic wound and finding our path to consciousness. By potentially learning about the limits of romantic love, we might thereby encounter a new level of consciousness, having shed what had previously remained in our unconscious.

Johnson (op. cit.) posits: As a society we have not yet learned to handle the tremendous power of romantic love. We turn it into tragedy and alienation more often than into enduring human relationships. ( p. xiv)

And, so long as romantic love is encased in the Christian church’s intellectual, moral, ethical and “sacred” vault, humans living in what is commonly called a Christian culture are both metaphorically and literally excluded (even forbidden) from a consideration of their sexual lives as an integral and primary component of their spiritual lives. From a common sense perspective, a ‘natural law’ perspective, a legal perspective, and an ethical/moral perspective, this separation makes no sense. Whether it is a precipitate left over from multiple Manicheanisms, or not, seems less relevant than consideration of the potential paths to a renewal of Christian theology, emblematic of the original Resurrection, to New Life.

This space has persistently clung to the potential incarnated in the word mystery, in matters linked to faith, to spirituality and to divinity. Here, mystery seems to apply to the spark of the divine that is an integral “part” of each of us. At this time in our pilgrimage through history and meta-history, we can legitimately link our unconscious to the unknown, accessible through new patience, new insights, new experiences and new openings in our closed, anxious apprehensions and anxieties.

“Things” or “notions” that persist in separating things from each other, while perhaps appropriate for intellectual and academic inspection, tend to elevate the empirical above the mystical. Power attached to one or the other “notion”  generates inevitably a “power-imbalance” for all. Maleness, for example, cannot any longer be considered more important than femaleness. The power structures, including  the narrow and limiting theologies that emanate from masculine lltheologies and academic disciplines, themselves are also no longer applicable and relevant. Andrognyny, the healthy balance of masculinity  (sword) and femininity (harp) is a psychic, as well as a spiritual state to which we can all aspire, about which we can dream, and toward which we can begin to walk. Organizations that are built on premises that emerge from masculine parameters, by definition, limit the scope, appreciation and promise of the feminine. Similarly, relationships that are built on masculine power myths, focussing on the conscious as more important than the unconscious, also limit the potential for the enhanced androgyny to which both men and women are “hard-wired” if Jung is even partially credible. So long as we enmesh ourselves in stereotypical injunctions, definitions, expectations and rules that render as permanent and nature, the perceived inequality between men and women (another of those “warm fuzzies”) that attend and attempt to address what appears to be a permanent power imbalance, we risk the denial of the complementarity of each gender to the other.

Men, as exemplified by Johnson by the sword (the use of power) are different from women (represented by the harp) who innately comport to compassion, community, nurture, poetry and harmony and these differences need each other for the kind of balance to which all healthy, mature and integrated persons aspire. And what else would any God worthy of the name and the appropriate honour and praise want?
If the Christian church can and will begin to shed the mouldy skins of the self-and-other-sabotaging premises around human sexuality that both inhibit and even prelude the full development of both clergy and laity to a state of the integration of what up to now has been the segregated unconscious from the conscious, perhaps then our so-called Christian culture can come out of the cave of human denial, avoidance, alienation and life-defying constrictions.

Barring human intimate relationships, of any kind, including between clergy and parishioner, or between men and men, or women and women,  for the purpose of serving the immediate power-equalization needs of any group, for example, only digs these stereotypes further into the unconscious of both individuals and the culture generally. It is the premise of natural inequality, including the power imbalance that favours the male hegemony, that needs to be re-thought, re-examined and over-turned. And only through a revisiting of the innate equality and moral goodness of both genders can this process even begin.

Is such a “Resurrection” of the ecclesial body, mind and spirit even conceivable? Can we put a harp in those clinging to their swords and a sword in the hands of those clinging to their harps?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Suffocating on the altar of logos

(The) rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism. The two are related. The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century. In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favour of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism that is unparalleled in the history of religion. In the United States, Protestant fundamentalists have evolved an ideology known as “creation science” that regards the mythoi of the Bible as scientifically accurate. They have, therefore, campaigned against the teaching of evolution in the public schools, because it contradicts the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis.

Historically, atheism has rarely been a blanket denial of the sacred per se but has nearly always rejected a particular conception of the divine. At an early stage of their history, Christians and Muslims were both called “atheists” by their pagan contemporaries, not because they denied the reality of God but because4 their ind conception of divinity was so different that it seemed blasphemous. Atheism is therefore parasitically dependent on the form of theism it seeks to eliminate and becomes its reverse mirror image. (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God, p. xv-xvi)

In most premodern cultures, there were two recognized ways of thinking, speaking and acquiring knowledge. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary. Each has its own sphere of competence, and it was considered unwise to mix the two. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled people to functions effectively in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. People have always needed logos to make an efficient weapon, organize their societies, or plan an expedition. Logos was forward looking, continually on the lookout for new ways of controlling their environment, improving old insights, or inventing something fresh. Logos was essential to the survival of our species. But it has its limitations; it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles. For that people turned to mythos or myth…..

Myths may have told stories about the gods, but they were focused on the more elusive, puzzling and tragic aspects of the human predicament that lay outside the remit of logos. Myth has been called a primitive form of psychology. When a myth described heroes threading their way through labyrinths, descending into the underworld, or fighting monsters, these were not understood as primarily factual stories. They were designed to help people negotiate the obscure regions of the psyche, which are difficult to access but which profoundly influence our thought and behaviour….A myth was never intended as an accurate account of a historical event; it was something that had in some sense happened once but that also happens all the time…..
Today we live in a society of scientific logos, and myth has fallen into disrepute. (Ibid, p. xi)

Of course, digital drives vacuum mountains of “data” overwhelming our more balanced perspective of the universe. Dollars, bank accounts, bills, scores, test scores, bond ratings, blood pressure numbers, heart rates, chemical/blood scores for various illnesses, temperature declines, GDP, jobs numbers….these are all sought, measured, compared and deployed as bases for a plethora of decisions of a personal, organizational, political, psychological and even “definitions of success/failure.

Today, emerging from the scandal around the illicit admission of college students based on the manipulation of SAT scores, and the payment of millions to scam artists to manipulate applications, many American colleges are dropping the SAT score as a litmus test for admission. Not incidentally, we also learned today that many university bond ratings are dependent on SAT scores. Just the last hour, we received a letter from our insurer that credit rating scores will now be accessed (in what they call a “soft” inquiry that will not impact the credit rating) to better provide data for the companies to determine policy premiums. Refusal to grant permission will not deny coverage but could preclude “best price” options.

Many of the scurrilous headlines about “touching, kissing,” are founded on the notion that such behaviour is either “a violation” or evidence of being a dunderhead, out of touch with the current mores surrounding male-female relations. Two options, either-or, is the base from which we make many decisions without paying attention to the multiple positions that invariably exist between the two options, especially with respect to human thoughts, motivations, attitudes and beliefs. So, we have not only become dependent on the collection and evaluation and interpretation of objective, empirical verifiable pieces of information; we have also reduced things like meaning, purpose, belief and relationship to the universals to the binary template that defies the clarity we obsessively demand. God, gods, Allah, Dao…all faces of divinity, however, categorically refuse to be contained in our micro-data-points.

In fact, they all elude such imprisonment, whether we like their defiance or not. And when we reduce our faith expectations to a belief/denial of a dogmatic epigram, we defame the very notion of faith, as well as the notion of divinity, as well as our potential relationship to the mysteries of the divine.

And if this fracture or erosion of the human-divine relationship results from our binary exclusivity, so too then does it become even more likely and prevalent for us to reduce our potential relationships with other humans to a digit of political advocacy:

·        for or opposed to a woman’s choice,
·        for or opposed to the protection of the climate,
·        for or against the construction of pipelines for crude,
·        for or against the imposition of carbon taxes,
·        for or against the building of a phoney wall
·        for or against the extension of public health care
·        for or against the establishment of pharmacare
·        for or against Brexit, NATO, UN, WHO,
·        for or against open borders to refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers

Talking, reporting, reflecting only in terms of black/white, either/or, right/wrong, ethical/immoral, fundamentalism/atheism…and then accepting public policy based on the most elemental, bones of an argument, (lacking the political, philosophical, ethical, archetypal, cultural “meat”) is a rapid and sabotaging race to the bottom of all arguments.

It is not only the demise of the nuances of myth, (mythos) and the elimination of the multiple positions between and among all extremes that is leaving us all exhausted. We are exhausted not only by the volume and the sheer ratings-based repetition of the coverage; we are also exhausted by the failure of the political culture to achieve compromise simply because to compromise would be, in fact, an acknowledgement that the other side has some significant value to their position. And since such a position is counter-intuitive to “winning” and sustaining public support and esteem, (both of which are among the most fickle and ephemeral of human expressions), we refuse to risk even the slightest modicum of failure in the public eye, ironically an eye blinded by the very obsession with the extremes, which themselves deny the scientific reality they purport to express.

It used to be said that the public had endowed the medical profession with an inordinate  degree of power and influence, based on their “scientific diagnosis” that either was or was not amenable to treatment, surgery, prescriptions, therapies or some combination. Not only was that a failure to accept our individual responsibility for the preservation and protection of our own personal health; it was also a failure by imposing inordinate pressure to perform and to deliver super-human outcomes.

Ironically, that model of inordinate power and influence being attributed to a profession has been extended to various forms of publicly expressed opinion especially by those serving as elected officials. And with that wave of co-dependence on the model among the political class has come its extension to offices like Supreme Court Justices, with recent and projected appointees expressing extreme ideological positions, thereby sacrificing their intellectual independence, and modelling their serf status to the person/ideology in power.

While correcting all of the gerrymandering, voter-repression, voter-manipulation through social media campaigns and the buying of both advertising space and on  their personal acolytes are all noble and worthwhile political goals, as a way to preserving (or rescuing democracy) for the future, the very application of the lines from Paul Simon’s lyric, My Little Town, to the epic issues facing the people of the planet, as well as the issues and public discourse that frames each of the issues, including especially the paralysis that encases each of them in concrete, the cement of blind hubris and denial:

My Little Town     (Simon and Garfunkel, © Universal Music Publishing Group)
In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord, I recall my little town
Coming home after school
Flying my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze
And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colours are black
It’s not that the colours aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
Everything’s the same back in my little town
My little town, my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
In my little town
I never meant nothing, I was just my father’s son
Saving my money
Dreamin’ of glory
Twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun
Really nothing by the dead and dying back in my little town…