Friday, June 21, 2019

Challenging cultural 'norms'

Have you ever watched a hockey game in which one player drove his stick into the groin of an opponent without attracting notice of an official followed immediately by that “victim’s” slash of the perpetrator prompting a referee whistle and an immediate penalty?

Retaliation, reprisal, any act of pay-back, and revenge is so prevalent that many of the initial acts go under-reported and clearly under-remembered given the disproportionality of the reprisal. On the global political stage, Al Qaeda terrorizes New York on 9-11 (that’s 2001) and retaliatory wars continue to this day, June 21, 2019. Eighteen years of retaliation, with the accumulated loss of human lives numbering 500,000 (Iraq and Afghanistan) could well be considered disproportionate to the initial event.

Retaliatory acts, especially committed by those charged with public trust and accountability, often far exceed the proportions of the precipitating event. While we can agree that revenge seems to be part of our human hard wiring, it does seem significant that the representatives of “order” are inordinately enmeshed in excessive force, limited if any due process, and manipulation of the ‘facts’ in their pursuit of their own innocence.

Police screaming at a mother and her children, ordering them out of their vehicle by shouting vulgar and demeaning words and thereby terrorizing a four-year-old child, because that child had “taken” a doll from the shelves of an adjacent store, is just one of many recent examples of retaliatory police abuse. Of course, the mother and her family are black and statistics prove blacks are far more frequent targets of law enforcement retaliation than whites in the U.S.

Similarly, employer retaliation for worker whistle-blowing, now ranks at the top of the list of frequent legal cases in workplace law. We have a culture, formerly demonstrated to be dominated by the warrior/victim conflict between men/women, now characterized by an additional application of this archetypal conflict: employer as warrior versus worker as victim. Similarly, the warrior archetype is readily and appropriately applied to the Republican Senate majority, retaliating against the bottom layers of the economic, cultural, racial and educated demographics.

Retaliation, too, can be inferred from the results of the 2016 presidential election, in which angry white men, mostly without university educations, put the current president in office. What were these men retaliating against?

The short answer includes the erosion of jobs, income, dignity and political status resulting from the amorphous multi-headed monster including: high tech, tax policies that incentivize moving jobs off-shore for slave wages, freedom from environmental protections and the absence of labour rights and responsibilities. Probably also implicit in their vote is their own unleashed racism, following the two-term presidency of the first black president. (See: Malcolm Gladwell’s moral licensing: after doing something virtuous and boosting our own self-image, we let ourselves indulge in more unseemly ones) It can be argued that this moral licensing is just another form of retaliation, given license, by a one-time “act of virtue.”

Iran is now complicit in complex acts of retaliation against the U.S. withdrawal from the Nuclear Accord and the imposition of muscular sanctions by firing on two oil tankers and shooting down an American $100M drone in the Strait of Hormuz. And, predictably, prompted by Iranian retaliation, the U.S. is now actively engaged in further retaliation to “counter” the retaliation by the Iranians.

Just this week, the Republican Senate voted to block the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the president’s geopolitical ally, in retaliation for the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi by the Saudi leaders. That act of murder itself  is arguably another act of retaliation for the criticism of the Saudi regime by one of the regime’s most vocal critics, in a highly respected American daily, the Washington Post.

Retaliation begets retaliation… begets retaliation… begets retaliation… both the political and the personal realms of our lives. In spite of the demise of the Soviet Union, the Cold War “enemy” status continues unabated in the U.S. with respect to the Kremlin, incubating the “Mueller Report” into “foreign interference in the presidential election of 2016…leading to the indictment of Russian operatives, the imprisonment of trump campaign officials and the continuing investigation of the potential commitment of “high crimes and misdemeanours” (Impeachment Inquiry) on the part of the occupant of the Oval Office.

Politics as currently practiced particularly in the U.S.  has become a melodramatic series of retaliations, tragically leading to the erosion of the American “leadership” mantle in sustaining the world order of the last three quarters of a century.
Considered as a restrained response to an offensive act, reprisal finds unlimited expressions in the political, the corporate and the legal world. Generally, there is a buffer of “judges” or objective actors between the two opponents, rendering limited actions more feasible, more likely and, of course, more preferred.

On the personal level, however, revenge is a much more subjective, impassioned and direct “act” perpetrated by an individual who considers his/her reputation, honour, dignity, respect and even perhaps safety to have been infringed. Obviously, the higher the level of emotions, the greater the likelihood of acts of revenge. And when these acts occur under an umbrella of an organization, or a public law enforcement, when the intense emotional cauldron encounters the “official” establishment, there is an collision of models: the legal and the personal.

It is not surprising, for example, that town and city law enforcement officials literally hate to get a call from a “domestic violence” occurrence. These are all “he-said-she-said” incidents, perhaps stretched over weeks, months or even years. Ferreting out the core issues, the motives and the concomitant charges is a task worthy of the most highly trained ‘sherlock holmes’ investigators. He retaliates because she has been unfaithful or precisely vice-versa. She retaliates because he has been fired, or persists in drinking, or gambling, or an addiction to video games.

And once again, when the personal and the organizational intersect, for example when the personal relationships that inevitably arise inside an organizational environment then all “systems” of order and hierarchical administration seem to wilt. Not incidentally, their inevitability is assured by human nature, and is not and will not be retrained by their banishment. In fact, it is both reasonable and credible to posit that the “rules” banishing personal relationships inside organizations, including those based on mutual consent are a perverse provocation of the continuing incidence of these relationships. The argument for those rules usually takes the form of a “power imbalance” based on the implicit trust in the “authority” figure and the implicit “inferiority” of the other party. What the rules do not wish to acknowledge is the legitimacy of authentic, responsible and comprehensible relationships between consenting adults (of both genders, and of same genders) within an administrative, hierarchical structure, between those charged with responsibility and those as colleagues, clients, students, co-workers.

Naturally, the adult-child model appropriately recognizes the innocence and the responsibility of the adult to “protect” the child in all circumstances from any hint of inappropriate behaviour on the part of the adults. However, to extend that adult-child model to the adult-adult world, especially when it addresses the adult male-adult female encounter is a stretch too far. That stretch assumes that, by nature, the  female is “weaker” and more “vulnerable” and the male, by definition is “stronger” and more “dominant.” Nothing could be more divorced from both the facts and the healthy implications of the future ideal of equality of the genders.

To posit that all females are “inferior” in any supervisor (male)-supervisee (female) relationship, (the reverse is also true) is simply unwarranted. Adult females are every bit as competent, responsible and integrous to make authentic decisions around the implications of any human relationship as are any men. Similarly, adult males, even in positions of responsibility are also competent, responsible and integrous to enter into relationships with their female colleagues, regardless of the apparent “power imbalance.”

It could well be worthwhile to require a measure of disclosure to the organization of the existence and/or termination of such relationships within organizations. However, both the secrecy and the presumption of “weakness” stereotypically of the worker to the supervisor, regardless of the gender of each render a perpetuation of both the curtailment of integrity and the presumption of a gender inequality that does not comport with the authentic equality of men and women, irrespective of their hierarchical and organizational status.

So, adults who consent to relationships, cannot and must not be permitted, by law or by cultural convention, to resort to reprisals for their decisions even if those relationships are terminated, irrespective of the agent of the termination. It is long past time when, for example our culture accepted the profound truth that a termination of a relationship (whether married or common law, between same or different genders) is not “caused” by the “third party”. The dissolving relationship was dissolving long before the “third party” arrived. The “dumped” party’s invariable penchant for retaliation has to be regarded not as either normal or acceptable, but as tragic and self-sabotaging. Like the referee who missed that “shot to the groin” and caught the victim’s retaliatory slash, the cultural response needs to shift its focus from the retaliatory act to the initial act.

In the case of the broken relationship, the act (s) of retaliation by the dumped party must be given barely token acknowledgement and certainly not respect and honour by those in authority. Such retaliation has to be considered under the rubric of the motive, rendered toothless, unless and until it constitutes physical or fiscal harm and then it has to be prosecuted for its legal, ethical contraventions.

We have to take significant steps to transform our perceptions of those who commit acts that we consider illegal, immoral and unethical. To start with a finite and highly defined “charge” rather than a lens of tolerance, compassion, empathy and a diligent exploration of the background of the “hurt” that has been experienced by the person in question is a cultural act of sabotage. In fact, such a perspective breeds additional empowerment of a disproportionate “authority”…and social and cultural “super ego” as an embodiment of deep and debilitating social and cultural fear.

It is precisely that deep-seated and debilitating fear that is at the root of the social and cultural and political power imbalance in the macro, mega, meta and historic landscape of the human narrative. Fear of the loss of control, itself, resides in almost if not all, public decisions, public legislation, social and cultural norms and clearly religious morality and ethics.

This starting place is not only unsustainable; it is a threat to civilization. Rather than enculturating a society of open and responsible and self-respecting selves, so that we are also open and responsible and respecting of the “others” who share the planet, we are incubating a cauldron of distrust, disrespect, dishonour and presumed abuse..and then growing an army of “thought” and “action” and relationship police to keep things in order.

And how is that working for us?


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