Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Entrapped in a bubble of our own making

In another life, I found myself in front of a dozen aspiring law enforcement students, in a private career college, engaged in a conversation about their individual and collective behaviour and attitudes inside the ‘school’. (This is more of a for-profit business than a school, given the “revenue/profit” from the enrolment eclipsed the “learning” aspect of the situation.) For the previous few weeks, this particular group had been “raising Cain,” as they acted out their libido/id and simultaneously eroded their prospects for a good reference to the official police college. Failure to gain admission to the provincial college would effectively thwart any ambition and hope of their eventually fulfilling their dream of wearing the “blue” of the several police forces to which they aspired. After having gained their attention, one early afternoon, I made a simple, obvious and apparently relevant comment:

“You guys are simply sabotaging any future in law enforcement by your attitudes and actions around here; each day you erode the potential of a favourable letter of reference to police college, regardless of whatever marks you might attain on tests and exams,” was the sum total of that statement.

They presented a somewhat shocked look, first at me and then at each other, as if they were each searching for some agreement and support in their acceptance of the relevance of the observation. According to reports, later, they made significant attempts to shift their attitude and behaviour, although whether or not any serve in “blue” today is an open question.
Unfortunately, such a simple antidote, in the midst of self-sabotaging behaviour is rarely effective, or even accepted. The singular focus of attending police college, and the obvious and clear path to that end are not always, or perhaps even often, the background to actually “hearing” and accepting such a criticism/observation. Rarely, are we as individuals, and certainly not as groups, so laser-focused, and the pathway to our aspirational destination so simply and clear. However, there is at least a single overlapping trait among these young men and among the rest of us: the pursuit of power, however that pursuit is envisioned, modelled, and pursued.

Blue uniforms, often framed in gold braid, topped with an easily recognizable and inspirational head piece, shoes or boots that literally glisten in sun, rain, mud, sleet and snow and for some, that all-important hip-holster with hand-gun, offer a gestalt for many young men and women of the kind of “self-possessed” and self-assured future of public service. Add a high-powered vehicle (and/or horse and/or motorcycle), a blazing siren, and more recently flashing blue-red mounted lights on grille, roof and rear window of their vehicle and undergird the picture with television and film dramas that paint these men and women as both potential heroes and martyrs and the picture is literally infatuating, if not seductive and at times addictive.

And even more deeply buried in the law enforcement culture is the notion of order: the hierarchy, the rule books, the reports, the prison cells, the court rooms, the interview rooms and the plethora of instruments to both master and apply in order to seek and succeed in a conviction. Another feature of the “order” is the basic notion of “right and wrong” envisioned at least in the early stages of one’s apprenticeship and appointment in terms clearly defined, and theoretically at least, relatively easily applied in the assessment of any situation to which they might be called. Not ever designed as aphrodisiacs, but rather as supports, all of these symbols of authority, respect, courage, and even compassion (“serve and protect” as the prevailing motto) magnetically draw individuals from a wide range of motivations, very often including the search for meaning, and justification. Both of these (meaning and justification) can be and often are, surrogates for “control” in the psychological, sociological and perhaps even philosophic and religious senses.

Naturally, there is at least a portion of these physical, emotional and psychological features of the profession to which we can all identify, in our own pursuit of meaning, purpose, justification, and “power” in the fullest sense of those words. Many of us, however, are not either prepared or even tempted to pursue the kind of risks to life, limb, family and career that are embedded in the life of a police officer. We are, nevertheless, engaged in a similar pursuit, however we might envision, define, investigate, and commit to its realization. And in the course of that pathway, we have inevitably and inexorably, thankfully and tragically, to confront the relationship between those extrinsic and intrinsic features both of our motivations and our world views that capture our attention.

For example, in our young lives, we are constantly chasing those “things” that come to our attention commonly referred to as “bangles and beads”…objects that simply attract, entertain, help us to engage with others, and attain some kind of identity/status among our peers. Starting with stars on our seat work in the early years, and the concomitant “approvals” at home for having been given one of those stars, we learn how to be “successful”. In this same vein, we acquire the ribbons, medals, trophies, prizes and public acclaim for some specific achievement, athletic, artistic, social justice, rescuing, embracing another in difficulty, and scholarships as more of the menu of “awards,” “affirmations,” “commendations,” and they become some of the sign posts to “our picture of our future”….however veiled and mystified that picture might appear in our minds. If we are “good” at something, there are two features that accompany and infuse that experience:

·        first that we might consider spending more time and effort in the pursuit of that “activity” and
·        second, that we can and often do transfer that “success” and all of its accompanying preparations, disciplines, skills and attitudes to a different  activity. (Sometimes both applications are appropriate!)

Implicit in this portrayal of our “skill” and “identity” development are the several “others” who, themselves, have gone before us in their lives, learned their own respective “meaning” and “purpose” and “identity” and “career” and presumably their own “power and authority” over their lives.

Significant, in the cultural envisioning of this process of development is the role of extrinsic motivations offered by others. All of those people have and continue to recognize and reward the kind of attitude and behaviour that is consistent with their own picture of the successful “artist” or “athlete” or “debater” or “scientist” or “doctor” or “nurse” or “social worker” or “engineer” or “accountant” or “lawyer” or “diplomat” or “astronaut” or “activist.” Roles, as symbols and incarnations of performances, take on a highly significant stature in our envisioning of our personal and social and cultural future lives. And very often, we become highly adept at one or more of those roles, find deployment, income and personal satisfaction in their execution. And, in developing a more sophisticated and subtle mastery of both the skills and the attitudes, the world views and the expectations of adaptation to new circumstances in our chosen “specialty,” we further advance “up” the ladder of the pyramid that comprises our chosen field, or arena or theatre, lab or board room.
Naturally, too in the course of these developments, we encounter men and women in other “fields” who themselves, have championed their own respective “operating room,” and have attained their own recognitions and acclaims for their contribution to the health and future of the society.

Parallel to the above pursuit of professional and personal achievements, and often interrupting or interfering with that process, both within individuals and in their scepticism of the universality of the pattern, is another pathway, often encumbered with defeat, self-doubt, self-loathing, scepticism and even cynicism. Systems that are predicated on the inevitability of this “other side,” include hospitals, prisons, courts, public accounting, law enforcement, social work and fire-fighters, among others. It is not simply a class war, nor a balanced equation of one side needing the other (applied to both sides) that this picture evolves, although some of the public rhetoric inevitably falls into that sewer of disdain, contempt and hate, from both sides.

The successful ones, naturally, start their public philosophy from the perspective that they have “pulled themselves up” by their bootstraps, and everyone else needs to do the same. That is the first merely partial, but highly inflammatory archetype. The second equally highly inflamed archetype comes from the “street” many of whom have lost hope, dreams and the will to live, and blame their situation on the imbalance they can easily see and document that favours the “upper class”. Whether this social division has racial, ethnic, linguistic, political ideological, gender or age dimensions, there continues to be a growingly fractious rubbing of sociological/political/economic/environmental/religious/cultural tectonic plates that seem to be generating more and more social/cultural/political/economic/environmental/ethical earthquakes. These quakes are more frequent, more intense, more widely dispersed and more diverse in kind than the world may have witnessed for centuries.

As the most recent polling of U.S. prospective voters indicates, many people are using words like “fear,” “anxiety,” “apprehension,” and lack of trust in the viability and reliability, the trustworthiness of the next presidential election in 2020. Of course, public opinion polls ask questions on a highly specific subject, and rarely undertake to connect the dots between a number of variables. Little wonder these words are coming to the surface of the public discourse.

The Amazon is on fire.
The nuclear proliferation treaty between the U.S. and Russia has been ditched.
The Iranian Nuclear Accord has been abandoned.
The Paris Climate Accord has been trashed by trump.
The trade war between the U.S. and China threatens the world markets and foreshadows a recession.
The Strait of Hormuz is dangerous for needed shipping.
Hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, and tropical storms are increasing in both frequency and intensity, as well as in distribution.
The plight of refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and displaced persons grows daily, as does the resistance to their numbers, and their kind among the “developed” world.
Mass shootings, especially in the U.S. and addictive drugs, both illicit and prescribed, inflict hundreds if not thousands of preventable deaths.
Corporations inflict products and promises on innocent consumers and clients, for their own profit and greed.
Politicians serve, first and foremost, their own electoral/power/identity/career ambitions.
Digital technology has provided a universal platform for millions of thugs to hack, invade, destroy, assassinate and debilitate in anonymity and impunity.
And, those people and institutions traditionally entrusted with addressing the many and varied, dangerous and planetary issues, have eunuched themselves and their institutions by turning them over to personal extrinsic ambition, power, greed and “success”….all of this really a siren call of insecurity, impoverishment, and the addiction to power and authority, in its extrinsic application and sense.

Depending to a sycophantic degree on pollsters, advertisers, image coaches, policy wonks and legal departments, our political “leaders” have abdicated their authentic roles as “servants” of a public good, and have become mere straw men and women who fail to answer legitimate questions posed by legitimate reporters and interviews, who themselves, are bound by politically correct rules and procedures not to “inflame” their “sources” in order to preserve both the status quo and their access to those sources. Failing to even use the word “racist” to describe the current occupant of the Oval Office, is just one of the many examples of a failure of integrity, authenticity, and courage that is emitted from the public media every day and hour.

And to depict the current global/international/national/provincial/state/urban crisis  as merely an
Ø economic or structural failure, (as candidates Warren and Sanders specifically are doing) or as a
Ø political systemic failure, or
Ø a failure of the global marketplace, or as
Ø a breakdown of the IMF, The G-7, U.N., or as
Ø a failure of government institutions to “keep up” with the pace and complexity of technological change, or
Ø a moral bankruptcy of all ideologies, or a collapse of religious institutions,
Ø a failure of the education system to “keep up” with the employment needs of the future, or merely of
Ø a failure to “see the big picture” and to “obsess about the minutiae, or
Ø to over-administer addictive drugs or to fail to develop an adequate national security apparatus,
Ø or merely to defer to the “dialogue of the deaf” as Margaret Atwood dubbed the nationalist movement in Quebec decades ago
Ø or to champion a war of the genders on behalf of one or the other, or of the many
Ø or to depict the world as falling into the trap of Orwell’s 1984, or Huxley’s Brave the World
Ø or to expect some heroic figure a super-man or super-woman to fix this immanent and consuming vortex
Ø or to think that eliminating a trade imbalance will rectify Wall Street
These are all minimalist, to a degree in their frame. And, at the heart of our situation is the human being, the singular human being who has been thwarted, both through an indoctrination into an extrinsic portrayal of success (even churches adopt the corporate model of balance sheets of dollars and numbers of pew-sitters) at the expense of a much more intrinsic picture both of our identity and our prospects for a future on the planet.

We are never going to eliminate “evil” from the planet. We are never going to have to reach out a helping hand, both individually and collectively. We are never going to make PEACE between all of the many factions among us. However, we might begin to consider “things” and “people” differently, not merely as functions in someone else’s equation, (even one of their’s that we have put on as our’s) but as having beauty, worthy, value, respect, honour and dignity per se.

 I once gave a copy of David Gurian’s book, The Wonder of Boys, to a young couple who had just welcomed home their first baby, a boy. The father consumed every paragraph and page of the book, while the mother refused even to open it. So deep, within a single family, are the divisions, the antipathies, the degrees of separation between and among us that even a dialogue between those two parents about Gurian’s celebration of their newborn is literally, metaphorically and tragically implausible, and impossible. When I suggested to the Men’s Dove marketing and PR department that they consider a similar gesture to all parents of newborn boys, they replied, “We don’t to that!”

This is not merely a cognitive dissonance. Nor is it an ideological divide, nor a gender divide, nor an ethical divide, nor a wealth and income divide. It is a cloud-cover of willful, deliberate, conscious, and at the same time somewhat naïve, innocent and duplicitous slide into instant gratification enboldened by an availability of trinkets, a surfeit of insouciance, a distancing from “the other” and a planetary disease of self-sabotaging narcissism, greed, individualism and fixation on my power this moment.

All else is potentially, if not in fact, enemy, dangerous, to be resisted and avoided…and yet our lives are so inextricably and inevitably entwined that we each need a poster of POGO hanging on our wall….

“We have met the enemy and he is us!” ….just like those young men in law enforcement class.   

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Eliot's Wasteland more appropriate than Orwell's 1984 as portrait of NOW

Two recent conversations have left me puzzled, as if I am not puzzled by many, if not most, things I witness these days.

The first exchange happened as I was searching for dried cranberries in the local supermarket. I asked a young grocery clerk, reminiscent of my own summer adolescence in the local grocery chain, if he (and it was a “he”!) could help me find the missing item. “It might be on those shelves or maybe in aisle 3,” he muttered without making a single move to point it out, and then he walked into the backroom of the store. A more unequivocal and resounding incarnation of contemptuous, careless, unprofessional and negatively unforgettable conduct I have never experienced in all my more than seven decades of shopping. I had never met this young twerp, and my inclination to return to the store in which he works has significantly declined.

The second exchange occurred when I mentioned the little epigraph above to a senior manager in a busy pharmaceutical supermarket. She shook her head, and said that it was her perception that this ‘kid’ could not care less, that his ‘head’ was not in his work and then she continued, after my question, “What is happening to young people these days?”

“Well,” she replied, “these kids are being raised in homes where they have a sword hanging over the heads of their parents; if the parent attempts to discipline them, they hold out the threat that they will call ‘child’s services’ and complain about how they are being treated by their parents!” Her nearby husband interjected, “The only thing these especially unnecessarily privileged kids are ‘into’ is their devices,” as he pointed to the cell phone sitting on the adjacent window ledge.

I offered the observation that I had recently ‘surfed’ the job ads on a local job site, noting the large number of sales/service jobs in retail sales, delivery, hospitality and digital service going unfilled. “I guess that it must be very hard to fill these jobs,” I offered, given the attitude of that young man and the difficulty employers must have in training such applicants.

“In our business, we are trained to physically take the customer who is searching for an item right to the specific item, before leaving them!” the supervisor-wife stated, “but it is also  true that, if after three days of training, if they can’t operate the cash, they are ‘out’! If they can operate a computer, then they should be able to operate the case; it is just another computer.”

Of course, I am just a “grumpy old guy” whose eyes and ears are taking in sights, sounds and implications I never could have either imagined for the first half-dozen decades on the planet. Things like broken and abandoned nuclear treaties, abandoned climate accords, trade wars and unjustified and unjustifiable tariffs, bully-acts of bombs, mass killings, and political discourse that oscillates between the picayune and pedantic on the one hand and the threatening and character assassinating of the pre-adolescent school yard…taken together demonstrate both a degree of hopelessness and despair, and a level of contempt for the “public good” that surpasses (negatively) much of what passed for history in the last half of the twentieth century.

The neophyte grocery clerk’s “cultural greenhouse” seems devoid of supportive oxygen, in spite of the perfectionistic protection he and his peers claim as threats to his obviously disempowered and confused parents. Of course, no one seeks to return to a “belt” out behind the shed, when discipline is required, as was the case in our grandparents’ lives. And no one wishes a child to be “harmed” through physical, emotional or sexual abuse as thousands have been. And yet, one has to wonder if we have not “thrown the baby (common sense) out with the bathwater (responsible authority and effective, nurturing, honest and loving discipline).

It is not rocket science to postulate that anxiety, fear, personal insecurity, cultural and political deception (fake news, lies, mis-representations, projections of blame, failure to take responsibility, refusal to apologize) are hardly the stuff of gardening a flourishing flora and/or fauna…not to mention a health populace.

A sign on a local church I drove past earlier today read, “This church is not closing, that was fake news!” In the UK, some churches have taken to installing mini-putts, and child adventure rides inside the sanctuary, as a way of bringing people inside their walls, in the hope that something about the art, the architecture, the history or perhaps even the spiritual atmosphere of the place will bring them back. Is it gimmickry? Of course, but gimmickry and headlines that shoot verbal bullets of extreme “special effects” (a new segment of the digital arts explosion) are apparently what it takes to attract attention.

If that apprentice grocery clerk suffering, like so many of his peers, from a psychological/cultural lead weight attached to his neck and shoulders (metaphorically) screaming “you are not good enough” or  “you have to be heroic” if you want to be accepted, revered, honoured and successful? We have even generated a new “app” that emits sounds of falling rain, in an attempt to help individuals find a moment of peace and solace in the midst of their turbulent, frenetic, and obviously “productive” days.

Morphing our definition of human identity into a productive unit that ultimately generates profit (wages, dividends, stock options, bigger and bigger offices, promotions and retirement packages) at least for those still on the inside track of the “gig-economy” is just another way to illustrate, and thereby prove definitely, that only one’s capacity, willingness, and total surrender to the demands, the exigencies, the expectations and the discipline of the “organization” (family, school, church, employer) will satisfy the inherently insistent gold ring of social, cultural and political success.

He will never hear me say it but I am sincerely worried and sorry that that adolescent boy is growing up in a world in which the road maps (life patterns) have been reduced to digital pixels, the support systems have become dark shadows of their own authentic potential, and the “north stars” of one’s dreams have been clouded over with the greed, the narcissism and the selfishness of his adult mentors.

And when he looks around at the wider world, there is little reason for his optimism, his hope and his aspiration to find sustenance, support and guidance. And global warming and climate change are only one symptom of the malaise confronting him and his generation.

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”

Nothing again nothing.

“Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

From T.S. Eliot's, The Wasteland.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Can we find 3.5% of the population to join Extinction Rebellion Canada?

Extinction Rebellion: Rebel for Life
Let’s welcome “Extinction Rebellion” into our consciousness.

From its website:

XR  (Extinction Rebellion) is a movement in which citizens come together to measure the imminent danger of extinction that ecological crisis represents. For the sake of life, they commit themselves non-violent, immediate and determined for survival in a better world.

It was created in the UK by a group called Rising Up!, founded in 2016 with the aim of empowering citizen groups committed to social change. In 2018, Rising Up! Started giving the presentation ‘Heading to extinction and what to do about it’ and then organized training in civil disobedience, bringing together motivated people to participate in the Extinction Rebellion movement.

In December 2019: launch of Extinction Rebellion Canada  (or XR Canada)…As of March 2019 XR Canada has more than 1000 members. Currently, ER Canada is actively spreading in many provinces: Quebec, PEI, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia)

Since November 2018, movements have been   USA, France, Italy, Germany, Australia New Zealand. Other branches are being formed (Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Brazil, Colombia, Sweden. India)


1: We have a shared vision of change. Creating a world that is fit for generations to come.

2: We set out mission on what is necessary. Mobilizing 3.5% of the population tyo achieve system change—using ideas such as “Momentum-driven organizing” to achieve this.

3: We need a regenerative culture. Creating a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable.

4: We openly challenge ourselves and this toxic system. Leaving our comfort zones to take action for change.

5: We value reflecting and learning. Following a cycle of action, reflection, learning, and planning for more action. Learning from other movements and contexts as well as our own experiences.

6:  We welcome everyone and every part of everyone. Working actively to create safer and more accessible spaces.

7: We actively mitigate for power. Breaking down hierarchies of power for more equitable participation.

8: We avoid blaming and shaming. We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.

9: We are a non-violent network. Using non-violent strategy and tactics as the most effective way to bring about change.

10:  We are based on autonomy and decentralization. We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.


1: Tell the truth

     That the Government must tell the truth about how deadly our situation is, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.

2: Act Now

    The Government must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions in Canada to net zero by 2015 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth or resources per year.

3: Citizen’s Assembly

     The creation of  a Citizen’s Assembly in charge of deciding the measures needed to reach goals and guarantee a just and fair transition.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Is provincialism a necessary petrie dish for fascism?

Oxford defines parochialism this way:

A limited or narrow outlook, especially focused on a local area; narrow-mindedness, insularity, small mindedness, provincialism.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism this way;

A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

There is a tidal wave of verbiage, both oral and written, that is engulfing the American media in the wake of 250 mass killings in 2019 alone, much of it focused on “white supremacy” and “fascism”. Immigration, as it has done, and continues to do, is tearing the country’s heart open and bleeding. Fueled largely by the bigoted rhetoric of the current occupant of the Oval Office, the political atmosphere characterized by grief, desperation, loss and hopelessness is compounding what has been a protracted period of political obstruction, defiance, insouciance and paralysis. Obsessed by fear, anxiety, distrust and frayed nerves, evidenced by the panic that ensued following the “backfire” of a motorcycle engine near Times Square in New York, the American people are starting to ask some cogent, penetration questions.

Far from becoming a “post-racial nation” as some trumpeted immediately after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the U.S. has witnessed an unleashing of racial tensions, giving proof to the paradoxical notion that “having voted for a black president” and demonstrating that I am not a racist” now I can express the hatred, fear, contempt and bigotry I really espouse, without any concomitant guilt. Below the radar, the number of white supremacist groups began to spike after Obama’s electoral victory. And, in 2018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, these groups exceeded 1000.

“Rapists” “murderers” coming over the border from Mexico were verbal bullets fired by the then presidential candidate in 2016 as he descended the “gold” escalator to announce his candidacy. And then there were his comments (“good people on both sides”) following Charlottesville’s ugly protests by opponents of white supremacy encountering the shouts of those very klansmen, “We will not be replaced by Jews!” echoing both the hatred and the danger reminiscent of the 1930’s in Germany. The Muslim ban, the shithole countries in Africa, the AIDS spectre from Haiti, all of these racial slurs erupting like lethal molten lava from the president’s larynx, underlined and removed any doubt, at least in the public mind (if not the “mind” of Senate Republicans) that the leader of the free world is, has been and will continue to be a fascist white supremacist.

And the answer to the question, “Is he a symptom or the root cause?” has to be the former. One man, even one as reprehensible as this president, so narcissistic, so depraved and so disconnected from the people, the history, the law, the traditions and the culture of the nation he is elected to protect and defend, cannot be held responsible for all of the “carnage” he so despises about America.

I spent nearly four years working in a county on the west side of the Continental Divide, at the end of the last century, a county that voted 87% for this president in 2016. As an “alien” in legal and definition terms, I was clearly an outsider, and reminded of my “alienation” each and every day I lived and worked there. There are so many examples of significant cultural and sociological differences between my home country, Canada, and this outlaw county that a catalogue would be excessive. Basque cattle and sheep herders lived and worked on the outskirts of the little town; within the town, coal miners and workers at the coal-fired power plant and a few merchants, with a smattering of ex-military personnel. Blacks were few and mostly invisible; liquor stores abounded; reading was disdained and conversation was restricted to hot sauces, hatred of environmentalist “tree-huggers” and contempt for the rich out of state whose homes were powered by the electricity from the local plant.

So deep was the hatred for those “California” wealthy, that one miner, an explosive specialist, injected a charge into a new hole and blew himself up, after leaving a piece of hateful scribbling. Bloviating about having “fought” in Vietnam, by a former marine who never set foot in that country, echoed over too many restaurant tables, on too many noon hours on days off, as did the bragging about having to “hide” for at least half of a ten-hour work shift by a unionized power plant electrician. Trophy wives, at least in the eyes of their spouses and their spouses male associates, abounded, as a single preponderant image, evidencing a dominant, if unconscious and closed patriarchy. As part of this ‘meme’ of course, was a contempt for any male interested in the arts, music (except country and western), books, hiking (except for hunting), and dance.

So narrow were the mental guardrails for the male population, and so submissive were the attitudes, words and actions of many of the women that even when a  twelve-year-old daughter begged her father, “Please don’t shoot!” he father nevertheless fired a shotgun into the sparrow on the clothesline right in front of her. One professional woman actually bragged about having purchased a new $50 portable television that she could watch alone, while her spouse indulged in ‘his’ preferred tv-pornography, after nearly forty years of marriage. Drugs, mostly methamphetamines, were couriered from the “south” through town, and on up north to more northern states, while supplying the local young men with their needed fix. I am uncertain if there were “meth” labs in the town. Drinking among high school graduates resulted in road deaths nearly every spring following graduation. A teen help-line, set up under the auspices of the local McDonald’s owner/operator, went silent because local teens did not trust the confidentiality of those volunteers who staffed it on weekend evenings and nights for several months. Meetings held in a home of a long-time resident, in what was literally sagebrush desert, both hot and dry, went without even an offer of a glass of water for participants, so alien from the human culture was the host.

During the time of the Bosnian war, there was little talk of or interest in world affairs, given that most television news was restricted to state boundaries, and few if any national newspapers were delivered to local residents. Almost nothing was either known or asked about the country to the north, Canada, from which I had emigrated. Disassociation, and also alienation from “outside” influences, was so apparent and so operative that one person felt compelled to inquire about the acceptability of a “black” relative from the state capital to a community celebration before granting permission for him to attend. The local community college attracted a low enrollment, offering training in manual and social service skills. Entertainment, outside of television, centred around rodeo activities, and the sign on the highway at the town’s entrance read, “The Real Wild West” as a proud, if hollow, claim to the land of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who had prowled the region decades previous.

Would I, and do I dub this picture the epitome of parochialism?

In a heartbeat, YES!

It sees only as far as the local hills and mini-mountains, the opportunity to hunt and to mine and to drink and to “do” drugs, with so little cultural, intellectual and social and political winds blowing through its valleys and tumble-weed scattered streets as to be virtually an intellectual, emotional and psychic wasteland. Hatred of the city, and even more profoundly of the “EAST” as represented by New York and Boston, Harvard and Yale, Columbia and all forms of government, these people were still mired in their own ignorance, and the walls preventing penetration were so thick, deep and high that nothing from “outside” except drugs and more evidence to instill anxiety were going to penetrate or subvert their mental prisons.

Male anger, regardless of the specific “root cause” flowed like a noxious and toxic gas up and down each street and out into the river valley and up onto the sandstone outcropping that offered a panoramic view of the town, itself dominated by some two dozen churches of different denominations, in a deliberate and almost military obsession to demonstrate moral, ethical and spiritual purity as integral to this exclusivity.

Reading, what little took place, was devoid of even a hint of poetry, given the literal and legal constrictions on the local mind-set and the false security that such an approach seemed to provide. Relationships were, predominantly, transactional, leaving nuances aside, and struggling merely to accommodate only the bare essential of getting by, both from a personal perspective and from a community perspective.

Of course, I detested this human wasteland, and the forces that guaranteed its permanence. Like a frozen iceberg, in a frozen tundra, this piece of human life was not ever likely to thaw into its full potential, and of course, welcomed the opportunity to thumb its nose at the world and the “effetes” like Obama from Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the EAST who had been in office for too long, in their mind.
Like an earnest eunuch, I banged my head against the walls of this community, and my fists into the walls of the house to which I had been assigned, until I broke….and had to leave.

Looking back, both my innocence and my earnest need to “break through” such walls of resistance, (as a career educator, whose challenges had never been so resistant or so successful in sustaining their resistance) were part of my undoing. I detest provincialism, racism, white supremacy and the vacuous and narcissistic individuals who peddle in this social and political anaesthetic.

Nevertheless, there are still millions, just like those “wild west(erners)” who never did and never would have accepted me, nor I them even if I had stayed for the past two decades.

Is provincialism a necessary petrie dish for fascism? I am beginning to think it might be.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Paying homage to James Hillman's gift, "Revisioning Psychology" (Harper, 1976)

Reading James Hillman’s Revisioning Psychology, one comes away both enlightened and puzzled; enlightened because each page offers a laser-like insight into contemporary culture, and puzzled because the complexity of our enmeshment in our own blind sabotage offers scant light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Broadening and deepening the potential of psychology, from therapeutic interventions into a psychology of “soul” and “soul making,” Hillman posits that soul is a “perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the does and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground.” (p.xvi)

Discerning the profound difference between the contemporary place of today’s words: (“Of course we live in a world of slogan, jargon, and press releases, approximating the ‘Newspeak’ of Orwell’s 1984,” and “Words like angels, are powers which have invisible power over us” (p.9), Hillman actually names words as “angels” and as “persons” “transcend(ing) their nominalistic* definitions and contexts and evoke(s) in our souls a universal resonance….Words like angels, are powers which have invisible power over us. They are personal presences which have whole mythologies: genders, genealogies…histories and vogues: and their own guarding, blaspheming, creating and annihilating effects. For words are persons.” (ibid)

Stretching for a new perspective on a dominant “Christian” cultural image, for example, based on the Easter story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Hillman shines a LED on the notion of depression. He writes:

Because Christ resurrects, moments of despair and desertion cannot be valid in themselves. Our one model insists on light at the end of the tunnel, one program that moves from Thursday evening to Sunday and the rising of a whole new day better by far than before. Not only will therapy more or less consciously imitate this program (in ways ranging from hopeful positive counselling to electroshock), but the individual’s consciousness is already allegorized by the Christian myth and so he knows that depression is and experiences it according to form. It must be necessary (for it appears in the crucifixion), and it must be suffering; but staying
depressed must be negative, since in the Christian allegory Friday is never valid per se, for Sunday—as an integral part of the myth—is pre-existent in Friday from the start. The counterpart of every crucifixion fantasy is a resurrection fantasy. Our stance toward depression is a priori a manic defense against it.
 Even our notion of consciousness itself serves as an antidepressant: to be conscious is to be awake alive, attentive, in a state of activated cortical functioning. Drawn to extremes, consciousness and depression have come to exclude each other, and psychological depression has replaced theological hell….
Depression is still the Great Enemy. More personal energy is expended in manic defenses against, diversions from and denials of it than goes into other supposed psychopathological threats to society: Psychopathic criminality, schizoid breakdown, addictions. As long as we are caught is cycles of hoping against despair, each productive of the other, as long as our actions in regard to depression are resurrective, implying that being down and staying down is sin, we remain Christian in psychology.
Yet through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. Depression is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens the dry soul, and dries the wet. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, gravity, weight and humble powerlessness. It reminds of death. The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression. Neither jerking oneself out of it, caught in cycles of hope and despair, nor suffering it through gill it turns, nor theologizing it—but discovering the consciousness and depths it wants. So begins the revolution in behalf of soul. P 98-99)

Neither a denigration of Christian theology, nor an anthem for traditional psychology, this vision of the intimate, integral and unavoidable relationship between cultural myths/archetypes and the human psyche needs some unpacking.

Consciousness of the implications of this Easter/Death/Resurrection dynamic on our visceral, unconscious and often ignored/denied/avoided psychological entrapment can potentially offer both a new and freeing psychological vision, and even a more profound appreciation for the penetration of each of the multiple myths/archetypes/fantasies/ with which we walk, eat, breathe, sleep and dream.

First, we need not remain trapped in our limited vision of depression as sin. Also, we need not jump to distracting activities in order to curtail the depression that comes often without warning, without preparation, without constraint and without easily accessible support. Depression, seen as “angel” or as “person” or as having a voice to which it begs us to attend, will, if we accept Hillman’s perspective, offer gifts from its depths that will only enrich our sense of our self, our capacity to see and experience both our self and our world in new and authentic ways.

Seeing our psychic life in more imaginative scenes, replete with fantasy, angels, visions, dreams and n an esternal archetypes can enable us to open to “self-talk” that integrates our conscious “voice” into conversations with these figures, these angels, these characters silently waiting for us to invite them into our “world.” Similarly, our swimming in the waters of the cultural archetypes that swim in those same bays, eddies, inlets, rivers, isthmuses and whirlpools and permitting their “presence” to become part of our consciousness not only enriches our psychic breast-stroke, back-stroke, crawl and even our treading water, not merely increasing the strength of those skills, but selecting to the most appropriate ‘stroke’ given the fullness of the psychic environment and our appreciation of its complexities, really our own complexities.
In the Christian tradition, the “dark night of the soul” has captured the attention of mystic spiritual seekers and has provided narratives that inspire others, while also perhaps terrifying some.

Eckhart Tolle writes about the dark night of the soul:

It is a term used to describe what cone could calla a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life or a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level. The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies. Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning, --and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievement, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for  some reason collapses. (Eckhart Tolle website)

Our tendency to pathologize this “darkness” (this deep depression) as either or both a sin or an illness, based on the traditional religious and/or medical model respectively, sabotages our attempt to deal with our own reality, our own truth. In order to appear “well” or “not evil”….or also to avoid being ostracized, alienated, or declared “unfit” for acceptance in employment, social association, neighbourhood, or even amateur athletic teams, too many of us rush into a public “face” of “being OK”….and thereby cover our depression, both to ourselves and to others we “don’t want to worry”.

We cannot afford to avoid, deny, disdain or trash Hillman’s cultural revisioning of our conventional perceptions of our psychic realities. And, obviously, it will take each of us, including all of our thought leaders, our shamans, our pedagogues and our clergy (especially) to “unbind” the constrictions of many of the reductions of conventional psychology and society if we are to enter into an enriched culture of poetic imagination.

As Red Green reminds us, “We’re all in this together, and we’re pulling for you!”

*nominalism: the doctrine that universals or general ideas are mere names without any corresponding reality, and that only particular objects exist; properties, numbers, and sets are thought of as merely features of the way of considering the things that exist (Dictionary)