Wednesday, October 30, 2019

#19 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (warrior, knight errant #a)

Warrior archetype is the archetype of destruction, yet in full expression “only destroys to make room for something new and fresh and more alive.”
His is an act of creative destruction—he doesn’t tear things down simply for the pleasure of doing so. (from

Knight-errant has broken away from the world of his origin, in order to go off on his own to right wrongs or to test and assert his own chivalric ideals. He is motivated by idealism and goals that are often illusory. (Wikipedia)

Now a little look back at some of the things that might/could/do/ happen, and already have, when these two archetypes are in full flight, even if one is not conscious of their imaginative or psychological or emotional or mythical existence.

I “knew” that bigotry in a so-called Christian homily did not belong and verbally and physically expressed my disgust: first vocally to my parents, and second physically by withdrawing from the religious organization in which I had been baptized. “If you are Roman Catholic, you are going to hell” was the first sign of self-righteous, racist, and religious bigotry, and my body simply recoiled in horror. At sixteen, I was in daily conversation with Roman Catholic classmates, friends, neighbours and even relatives. The codicil to this nefarious homily, from an evangelical fire-and-brimstone Balleymena bigot, included a banning of alcohol, face make-up, dance, movies and cooking meals on Sunday. I did not anticipate, how deep were the commitments of his religious cult until a couple of years later when the last town in Ontario to vote on permitting alcoholic beverages to be served with meals in local hotels and restaurants held a plebescite, and the town veered “left” by 61%. The head of the “yes” campaign happened to be a local lawyer who had already permitted me student access to his practice in summers between undergrad years at university.

And then, following university, apparently premised on observations made in my absence and without my concurrence, a United Church clergy orchestrated an invite for me to take part in a Lenten Study session, the topic of which read:

                                 Is the Christian faith still relevant?

Also, without my foreknowledge or concurrence that Balleymena bigot had vehemently sought and been granted permission to “do” the devotional at the end of the evening, apparently anticipating some conflict from my remarks. I had not returned to his church for the ensuing decade, although I had been married in that church three years prior to the Lenten Study session. On reflection, half a century later, I was quite moderate in my remarks, restraining myself to a question of process rather than content. I argued, based on the absoluteness, and the self-righteousness and the bigotry of the above remarks, that an approach based on the seminar model would and could and even should replace the homily. My belief supported by my attitudes valuing dialogue (now having been schooled in the Socratic method in preparation for a career in secondary school teaching in which I was then engaged) could well have been an affront to the little pip-squeek- evangelist. I did not then, and even today believe or even imagine that I was committing an act of destruction, nor even of professional attack, although I later learned that the “word” on the street had billed the session as a “X versus Y” prize fight. (Substitute your scribe’s name for one of those letters!)

This Lenten Study session, as universal “timing” would have it, was synchronous with a student variety show for which I shared responsibility for co-ordinating along with a student co-ed whom I had known my whole life, along with her family. My own marriage was suffering some of the dryness and bleakness of a kind of fish-bowl-engendered fear, linked perhaps naturally to my then spouse’s anxiety about having children. As I had grown up in the small town, again on reflection, it is not surprising that this co-ed sought my support in her then apparently fractious relationship with her born-again father, a member of the Balleymena band of evangelists. Her idealized infatuation, and my disgruntlement  in my marriage were a social, political “screwdriver” (I was the vodka, the town, the “orange juice”) of an alcoholic drink in that still largely “dry” town, and certainly in that “dry” church.

The born-again father sought the aid of the Balleymena bigot, and together they concocted a scheme that demanded my removal from the teaching staff of the local high school. To observe that there “might” have been a conflict of interest, on the part of the clergy, is, today, and was then, an understatement. The fact that the father was a building contractor with a substantial contract to build a new wing on the high school, of course, would not have given him undue influence in the decision to dismiss, now would it? Without a hearing, without warning, and without legal support or professional advocacy, I was summarily dismissed from the teaching post, hospitalized immediately in the make-shift “psych” ward  (a single cupboard of a room out of sight and reach of the public corridors), prescribed 300 milligrams of Librium to sedate my trauma, and abandoned to the nursing staff, one of whose members literally spent her day shift talking with me for the next week, until I was dispatched to Toronto for “psychiatric” treatment.

Apparently, although I was absolutely unconscious of these truths at the time, my knight errant, and my warrior were a force that, had I been tutored in their combined energy, were to hold sway over much of the next half-century. My “sin” (and sin is a highly charged, even radioactive, concept in evangelical, fundamentalist, religious right theology, both in theory and in praxis) was to have written two notes based on the poetic writings of Coleridge and Shelley to the co-ed. They were and remain the smoking gun that triggered my expulsion! So inflamed was one local physician, another member of the evangelical cult, that, according to my own physician, another Irishman a more moderate, tolerant, compassionate and empathic Anglican, he threatened to have me committed to the hospital for the criminally insane in Penetanguishene. Fortunately, at least from my perspective, my own physician helped in his restraint.

“Situational maladjustment syndrome” was the diagnosis in Toronto, along with another psychotropic prescription, trilafon* (8mgs. repetabs, and Artane, 2 mgs. for muscle relaxation, needed to offset the trilafon). So, now that I have been dismissed, shamed, and nearly committed, (although I was unaware of that prospect until a dozen years later), and my then spouse has been abandoned, likely without a full explanation of the whole situation, I am on a regular regime of pharmaceuticals to which I have no allegiance, and no intention of continuing tocy consume. Transferred to a family physician, I repeatedly requested reductions in the dosage of the trilafon, over the next eighteen years, and each time I reduced the dosage, my then spouse would cry, “You are unbearable; get back on your pills!” I can only guess that anger, frustration and/or irritability on her part, coming on the heels of my own, pushed her to utter those remarks. Nevertheless, “her” dependence, or so it seemed then, and still does today, on “my” prescription, significantly contributed to the demise of our marriage, in my view.

Only when I decided to enter therapy, in order to discuss my intention to leave the marriage, after twenty-three years, and three daughters, did I hear a new psychiatrist declare in my first visit, “Are you on any meds?” When I informed him of the details of the prescription, he almost ordered, “Get off them; you are not sick!” And when I reported his response to my family physician, the one who had been perpetuating those variable dosages for some eighteen years, his only comment was, “Oh yeah, I have been meaning to get you off those for a long time!” How is the Ontario medical system working for you these days? Not only have I never again been prescribed a psychotropic, anti-psychotic nor even an anti-depressant for the last thirty-two years since leaving the marriage and the venue where that family physician practiced. Did I really need it back in 1968? Who really knows? All I know and can say unequivocally, is that that clergy, and his born-again henchmen, both father and physician, were clearly over-stepping both their authority and their legitimacy. And while today, there are some due-process paths in place, I am certainly not convinced that that local “establishment” warrants the kind of power and control, in the name of professional ethics, and were I ever to return to the classroom, I would immediately hire an attorney, on a continuing contractual basis, to protect me and my professional integrity, regardless of the situation in which I might find myself. The teachers’ “federation” (really a professional union) has not convinced me that its spine, together with its legal and ethical teeth would be adequate in a similar situation.

Additionally, the “story” of the clergy’s enmeshment, self-protective as it clearly was, and the contractor’s conflict of interest, should, upon reflection, have been challenged and exposed. And while my warrior and knight-errant were active, my sense of self, including my own faith in my innocence, amid the tumult of the trauma, was under siege. After several weeks away, I was invited to “walk down main street” in that town, by a friend, a Good Samaritan named “Bert”, who insisted on accompanying me, to show the town that I was not the “rapist” who had been charged in a nearby town. Fortunately, I was also taken on, likely as another act of compassion and charity, by the local private school where I taught for the balance of that semester, and the summer session, before moving on to another city and teaching position. (I still retained my licence!)

And then, the shark-head of a marriage replete with unresolved issues, not merely of communication, but of much more substantive issues, kept raising its head. Refusing to participate in a social life, refusing to engage in conversation about anything substantive, while characterizing me as “an embarrassment who does not know how to talk to people and who does not know how to engage in small talk,” (both of which were, I later learned, projections of her own fears and social inadequacy) only echoed decades of similar judgements, “You are just like your father; he is no good and you are no good either, and you never will be any good!” from my mother.

Consistently re-doing the vacuuming on the living room carpet, while I had already completely, so I thought, because it was not done properly, and persistently cracking my knuckles whenever I missed a note while practising the piano, and intermittently, over nearly two decades, exploding in anger and withdrawing from the family, my mother, in today’s parlance, “was a piece of work.” Never being diagnosed with a “problem” she nevertheless left an indelible imprint on at least one classmate with whom I played piano duets. Just last month, after sixty years of no contact, she reminded me of how my mother could be heard “on one of her explosions across the neighbourhood. She certainly intimidated me; one day she even hugged me, surprisingly, because she never did that!”

Exploring the relationship between one’s family of origin and one’s marriage is analogous to trying to discern the complexities of an individual psyche. Both exercises, adventures, journeys and trials are fraught with the peril of uncertainty. The roots of multiple parents, grandparents, siblings, family histories, cultures, religions and faiths, occupations and the appropriate training for them, not even to mention genetic heredity, global influences, economic and social conditioning, political affiliations, all have their legitimate part to play. Our many tactics and strategies to comprehend, compare, integrate, theorize, diagnose and extrapolate, both technological and theoretical, offer merely a glimpse, although each breakthrough promises an heroic revelation, so we think and believe. While we walk on the shoulders of Freud, Jung, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Frankl, Hillman, Horney, More, Piaget, Pavlov, Adler, Rorschach, Laing among others, we are nevertheless, still on the frontier of discovery, similar to that of space.

And, twenty-first century men, especially, are hearing words echo in their conversations, bandied about as if they were agreed “clinical diagnoses” of various mental illnesses, like bi-polar, and using them in professional references, completely outside of their professional sphere of competence and training, while millions of “pills” for which clinical trials have not been adequately undertaken or completed, proliferate, many of them leaving tragic traces of their malignant power. We have more people in therapy, and, as James Hillman reminds us, we are more “ill” and unhappy than ever before. And he wrote those cautions long before trump and the culture of hate, violence and social media, all agents of even more social and cultural dislocation, dismemberment and discomfort as well as actual danger.

We are collectively and individual “mixing our diagnoses” as if we were mixing our drinks at a party. We are sticking labels onto each other, based on what?...a vacuous and hollow appreciation and apprehension of the dangerous, insidious and defaming culture in which we breath, eat, sleep and work. The church has lost any spine and tongue to articulate the important relationship between and differences between psychology and faith. Like the political class, the church and its leaders have become beholden to the mostly men who write the cheques, pass the motions, serve the wine and the wafers, and preach the political dogma of whatever ideology that holds sway in a particular location. Based heavily on a corporate mentality, itself based on a military and masculine infused ethos and benchmarks, reinforced by a variety of classical conditioning initiatives, men participate, if they/we are not solely responsible for, in a culture that dehumanizes each of us. And whether our participation is conscious, or more dangerously unconscious, we need to pay close attention to the details of our origins, the holes in our learning and the blind spots in our perception. Those efforts will not a Valhalla make; however, they might just offer a balance of energy to the highly motivated, and politically calculated social streams that support women and their legitimate pursuit of equity, equality and respect and dignity. If we are lacking in our own self-respect, individually and/or collectively, we are failing ourselves, our families and especially our partners.

*trilafon is the marketing name of perphenazine, roughly ten times as potent as chlorpromazine, and considered a medium-potency antipsychotic. Aphasia, uncontrolled muscle movements in the face is one of the side effects. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

#18 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (intuition)

Something that is known or understood without proof or evidence…..the Merriam-Webster definition of intuition. We have all heard ourselves, and possibly others, say things that we dismissed as merely intuitive, only to learn later that the event conformed precisely to the earlier intuitive insight.

We live in a world in which “facts” are under threat, from the highest offices in government, exaggeratedly especially from the Oval Office. “Alternative facts,” a phrase coined by White House advisor, Kelly-Anne Conway, has “fallen” into the ether of political discourse, in her hollow defence of her boss. And we must be very cautious, even scrupulous, in distinguishing intuition from “alternative facts.” We live when every thing, including every word, symbol and every visual image is being weaponized. It may well have been thus for a long time, although most of us  grew up with the notion that only enemies trafficked in the weaponizing of words, ideas, images for the purposes of propaganda, manipulating the views and attitudes of a populace.

The political “messaging adage” that anything repeated often enough results in some or many people believing it to be true is one of the guidance systems for the president’s minions, including but not restricted to Fox News. Bouncing off what has been deemed to be the current left-wing “talking points,” the alt-right adopts the most extreme “facts” in opposition, likely on the premise that the trump cult will swallow the kool-aid. The over 90% support of trump in the Republican Party testifies to their premise. Political discourse, consequently, devolves into a shouting match of opposing pictures of the same “Rorschach” of whatever issue file is under the microscope.

The good-evil, Manichean absolute duality, has so entranced the political discourse, and political system, especially in the U.S. that we are all left potentially drowning in the undertow of innuendo “cananonading”  (thank you, Danny Gallivan) off our ear drums, echoing in our conversations and prompting millions to seek alternative ways of spending time, merely to survive. Nevertheless, our intuition is not euthanized, nor is it temporarily on “pause.” Like the flow of all of the rivers on all of the continents, intuition in each of us continues to “function” as an integral component of our personhood. And the degree to which our intuition has served as an early warning system, or a foreshadowing, or a visionary lightning bolt not only underscores our conscious awareness of something other than the literal, verifiable, empirical facts in our personal universe, it also echoes, resonates and amplifies the “intuitive” movement encircling the planet.

Not susceptible to anatomizing, a strait-jacket into which we attempt to imprison every single element in our contemporary vocabulary, intuition, like imagination, flows outside of, beyond, and around our shared planetary atmosphere. As Viktor Frankl writes, in The Unconscious God, (previously referenced in this space):

“Conscience is essentially intuitive. To anticipate what is not yet, but is to be made real, conscience must be based on intuition. And it is in this sense that conscience may be called irrational. But is not conscience in this respect analogous to love? Is not love just as irrational, just as intuitive? In fact, love does intuit, for it also envisions something that is not yet real. What love anticipates, however, is not an ethical necessity but, rather a personal possibility. Love reveals potentialities dormant in the love person, which he still has to make real. However, concern with mere possibilities rather than actualities is not the only common denominator of love and conscience, It is one reason why both must operate on an intuitive level’ a second reason is to be seen in the fact that both love and conscience have to do with something, or someone, absolutely unique. It is the task to conscience to disclose to man the unum necesse, the one thing that is required. This one thing, however, is absolutely unique inasmuch as it is the unique possibility a concrete person has to actualize in a specific situation. What matters is the unique ‘ought to be’ which cannot be comprehended by any universal law.( Frankl, op., cit., p.34-35)

For many of us reared in the twentieth century, this essential uniqueness, not reducible to any valid law, has been juxtaposed with what in the history of ethics is known as Kant’s categorical imperative: “a moral law that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any ulterior motive or end.” ( And, we hear every day pontifications about the absolute ethical/moral imperative of specific issues like abortion, for example. The fact that “right-to-life” activists resort to killing pro-choice professional nurses and doctors providing therapeutic abortions to women seeking them seems not to impair their adherence to the categorical imperative.

The church, however, continues to attempt to implement/impose a categorical imperative on its members, clergy and to justify this rigidity as offering a model of hope and new life for the world. Let’s continue rummaging through Frankl’s mind:
“Just as conscience aims at the uniqueness of possibilities dormant in each life situation, so love aims at the equally unique potentialities dormant in a loved person. Even more, love alone enables the loving person to grasp the uniqueness of the lover person. In this sense love has a significant cognitive function, and certainly this was appreciated by the ancient Hebrews when they used the same word for the act of love and the act of knowledge.” (Frankl, op. cit. p. 36-7)

Then capacity/intuition to look/imagine/speculate/envision/and anticipate into the future, as Frankl teaches, is the balancing force, however unconscious, to the force and energy of religious dogma, history, tradition, ethics and morality. A faith, whether personal or institutional, that is fixated “in the rear-view-mirror” as opposed to the prospect of the future, negates or at least minimizes human intuition. It is in the envisioning/anticipation/imagining the possibilities inherent in the unum necesse, and/or in the other person that intuition plays its significant part.

Not surprisingly, it follows that “not only love and moral conscience are root in the emotional and intuitive, nonrational depths of the spiritual unconscious. Thus, ethics and aesthetics as well have their foundation and basis within the spiritual unconscious. In fact, in his creative work, the artist is dependent on sources and resources deriving from the spiritual unconscious. The nonrational intuition of conscience is paralleled by the inspiration of the artist. Artistic creation emerges out of recesses in a realm that can never be fully illuminated.” (Frankl, op,. cit. p. 37)

Here we can see the potential of the combined energy of the artist and at least one significant twentieth century theologian. Jurgen Moltmann, in The Future of Creation, posits very cogent and penetrating insights:

“The information ‘in the beginning God created’ establishes time together with creation. But if time begins simultaneously with ‘creation in the beginning,’ then creation must be subject to change from the beginning, for time is only perceived from alteration. But if creation is subject to change and is open to time from the beginning, then it cannot be a closed system; it must be an open one. Consequently the time that begins with creation does not have a symmetrical structure either, in which future and past, goal and origin correspond to one another, like the two halves of a circle. Time’s structure is a-symmetrical. It is open for a future which does not have to be the return of what was at the beginning, in the form of restitutio in integrum…      
‘Creation’ as the quintessence of God’s creative activity comprehends creation at the beginning, the creation of history and the creation of the End-times. It embraces the initial creative activity, creative activity in history and the eschatological consummation….Creation is then not a factum but a fieri  ( a becoming)…Having called creation in the beginning a system open for time and potentiality, we can understand sin and slavery as the self-closing of open systems against their own time and their own potentialities. If a person closes himself against his potentialities, then he is fixing himself on his present realilty8 and trying to uphold what is present, and to maintain the present against possible changes. By doing this he turns into homo incurvatus* in se.

A society of this kind will project its own present into the future and will merely repeat the form it has already acquired. For this society the future ceases to offer scope for possible change; and in this way the society also surrenders its freedom…Natural history demonstrates from other living things as well that closing up against the future, self-immunization against change, and the breaking off of communication with other living things leads to self-destruction and death….Closed systems bar themselves against suffering and self-transformation. They grow rigid and condemn themselves to death. The opening of closed systems and the breaking down of their isolation and immunization will have to come about through the acceptance of suffering. But the only living beings that are capable of doing this are the ones which display a high degree of vulnerability an capacity for change. They are not merely alive; they make other things live as well.” (Jurgen Moltmann, The Future of Creation, SCM, London, 1979, p.118-123)

Intuition, in ethics, love, aesthetics and eschatology** can be considered integral to the healthy individual life, as well as to the ultimate destiny of the people inhabiting the planet. It is not confined to an ideology, a gender, a geography, an ethnicity, a language, or a religion. Nor can it be encapsulated by a single or even multiple laws. Nor can it be examined by a graduate course in philosophy. It, like the fog that lies in the valleys in autumn, not only gauzes over the pine and the oak trees on the surrounding hill but also enhances the mystery and the majesty, the artistry and the eternity of the landscape itself. Our attempts to dissipate, to dissolve, and to fight the ubiquitous ethereal nature of our inherent intuition only belie our very existence, making us self-sabotaging victims of our own blindness.

And men, placed in front of their computer screen, or their fork-lift, or their semi-trailer, or their scalpel, or their case law books, or their classrooms, focused on the immediate, literal, practical, empirical information at hand, are likely to let our energies, talents, imaginations and universes become imprisoned in that cell.

Opening to a less constricted view and attitude of his own potential and the potential of the universe can and will only enliven not only his literal breathing and the potential for freedom for all of his ancestors and his legacy.

 *(Latin for turned/curved inward on oneself, a life lived inward for oneself rather than outward for God and others.
**The part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

#17 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (faith, hope, love)

On Friday, President Barack Obama was applauded for this statement in his eulogy for The Honourable Elijah E. Cummings:

It has been remarked that Elijah was a kind man. I tell my daughters—and I have to say, listening to Elijah’s daughters speak, that got me choked up. I am sure those of you who have sons feel the same way, but there is something about daughters and their fathers. And I was thinking, I would want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I would also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honourable. You are not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect. (from

Shining his personal, political, historic kleg light on the features of kindness, compassion, looking out for others, and respect for others, in celebration of the life of the passionate, courageous, dramatic congressman from Baltimore, Obama, on  one hand, (for critics) promulgated what some consider the obvious; for others, he reminded the world of a trait of masculinity that has been closeted for decades if not centuries. That we all needed his reminder is a testament to the depravity of our contemporary culture. That the congregation responded in applause signified their concurrence with the heroic contribution of the Congressman to the life of his people, city and country.

Conflict in pursuit of justice, as opposed to conflict for personal ambition, is, in the public “mind” a fine distinction, apparently lost on many men and women. Bullying abounds, inflicted on the weak and the “different” among school students on both side of the 49th parallel. In the corporate and political world, competition, even to the degree of debasing one’s opponents, seems to reign. Children see and are compelled to emulate a theory and psychology that runs something like this:

“Don’t take any shit from that ________!” (fill in the blank, from your own experience) Parents, coaches, want their “children” to develop a muscle that serves to protect them from future dangers and threats. And if and when a conflict emerges, a reflex response is to seek revenge as a matter of honour, respect, reputation and dignity. Instant, impulsive responses in anger, seeking vengeance blurts out of many hockey games, as players who have suffered an “unfair” blow turn on their opponent if they are able, or look to their team-mates for surrogate revenge. Young men and young women both have a vindictive instinct, if they exercise that instinct differently. Young men and women are both engaged in defaming and even destroying peers with whom they have a dispute. A billboard on Interstate 81 in upstate New York reminds against the savagery of bullying and the shared need to counteract its vengeance. CBC The National, in Canada, has dedicated a full week to exploring the bullying issue in Canadian schools, bringing the attention of their audience to what they call a “kind” school, as an alternative approach to the epidemic.

Let’s pause and consider the source of the vast majority of human conflicts: pride at an insult, pain at a defamation of character, a background of abuse that generated anger, resentment, bitterness and the proverbial “chip on the shoulder,”…and each of these can be clustered under the umbrella of fear, weakness, insecurity and even neurosis. However, such word magnets are often, if not always, accompanied by the perception/belief/reality that violent revenge is the  only option. And here is the place at which young men demonstrate a difference between young women. Physical size, strength of young men, compared to young women, predicate different starting points at the emergence of conflict; young men are not in the habit of “talking” whereas young women, more familiar and comfortable with speaking, perhaps given their conscious awareness that a physical fight, especially with a young man, is at a distinct disadvantage. The cultural norm of young women “circling” in support of their peers differs from the “fight your own fights” epithet among young men, except when a “team” concept is involved.

In a public policy debate, however, the organized protest of large numbers of individuals who, both individually and collectively, believe they have suffered injustice, band together to seek what they deem to be justice. Now, the ‘victims’ have legitimacy, some degree of protection, a common cause, and usually a common purpose and method. Whether their actions veer into the violent, as the research indicates, bears directly on the prospect of their success: if violent, they have a reduced likelihood of achieving their goals. And as individuals form larger groups, or even organizations, like labour unions, churches, social-justice non-profits, pursue their stated goals, the public ranges from spectator to activist and all of the intermediate stages in between.

It is in the interface between the ideal of justice and the instinct to seek revenge that a significant personal, as well as cultural dilemma emerges. Each personal “drama” of such a conflict does two distinct things: it mirrors its incubating culture and foreshadows the future of that culture as mirror and lamp. However, in the middle of the drama, few of us are capable or perhaps willing of acknowledging the need for “support” in our dilemma. We could well be ashamed that the conflict exists, at least in part because of our “failure” either of commission or omission, and therefore dig an emotional hole in which to hide. We could believe firmly that only through our personal engagement, physically and/or verbally, to confront our enemy will our legitimate pursuit of justice be satisfied. We may also live in a universe which has already demonstrated its unwillingness and/or inability to provide support, counsel and advocacy, thereby leaving us “to sleep in the bed we have made” as the phrase of “tough love” goes.

Options, and the need for time, prior to impulsive acts of vengeance, is one of the variables that often appear to be missing from our consciousness, especially when we feel we are “under fire”. Especially if we have been raised in a climate and culture of crisis, we are most familiar with that the “crisis” of conflict and its implications. We even have “skills” and experience in knowing “how” we need to move, transferring our experience from our family to a totally new and different situation, without taking reconnaissance of those differences, and the options that might be available. Immediacy, in terms of immediate gratification of our deep and profound feelings of injustice, whether directly dependent on the specific situation of the moment, or equally likely dependent on our history of being unfairly treated in previous situations or more likely dependent on both (if unconsciously) nevertheless very often takes over.

In literally millions of instances of perceived injustice, individuals and organizations will adopt a “silence” and a waiting period, until a “convenient” time in the future in which to seek and wreak the revenge against their offender, without, in the meantime, “wasting” time and energy reflecting on their own contribution to the conflict. Immediate gratification, on most superficial perceived needs, contributes significantly to a mind-set, especially in young men and women, that “the moment” is paramount in satisfying a perceived need, as well as in inflicting the most immediate and proportionate “punishment” on the enemy. “Waiting for my revenge will only exacerbate my emotional upset and contribute to my own unease, or even illness,” sounds like a reasonable, contemporary rationalization for many young men and young women. “Justice delayed is justice denied” is a phrase deeply embedded in the culture of North America of the twenty-first century. Instant gratification has become a demand regardless of whether the “justice” evinced instantly is either appropriate or satisfactory, to either the enemy or the justice-seeker.

This instant gratification is linked deeply to a wider cultural meme: a literalism, devoid of context, background, investigation, and the most critical component for ensuring justice, objectivity, detachment and a degree of maturity. If everyone, including law enforcement, has a public “chip” on the shoulder, feeling “under assault” or believing in the absence of public trust, or feeling under-appreciated and under-valued seeks instant vengeful justice, including the state, as an over-riding model of how “institutions” preserve their own safety and security, then a culture will be hoisted on its own petard. Is the current North American culture is that position? I leave it to readers to reflect on the question!

Now, back to the question of invoking “kindness,” and “compassion” and “respect” for one’s enemies, as an equally important, relevant and operative principle of ethics and morality in the lives of individuals and organizations, not to mention cultures, including schools, colleges, universities and churches. We all desire a reduction in the incidence of vindictive justice, if indeed that phrase, “vindictive justice,” is not an oxymoron, on which much of our pursuit of justice is impaled. We want to transform our enemies into our friends, at least as an ideal to which we give lip service. And yet, what if that ideal were more important than warranting mere lip service?

For the state, we have elected and appointed “professional experts” who are charged with adjudicating the prosecution of justice. And we have to hope and trust (“while verifying,” tipping our hat to President Reagan) that those professionals will serve our better angels, not or most base instincts. White police officers shooting young unarmed black men in the back, is not indicative of a  justice system in which we can or will entrust our loyalty and confidence, regardless of our race. A dominant white majority that shamefully, or worse carelessly and blindly, imprisons a vast majority of indigenous and racially profiled young men, as happens in Canada, is also not a justice system in which Canadians can or do have trust and confidence.

And so, while we can and do dispute how our justice system operates to carry out the law, we have a residual question about how justice, and especially faux justice through revenge, floats through the atmosphere/ethos of our shared culture. And that means how each of us confront our own experiences of injustice, oppression, racial profiling, alienation, and potentially injury and death. Only recently, a fourteen-year-old was murdered outside his school in Hamilton, after a social and educational system failed him according to his mother. Other teens have taken their lives following repeated bullying on social media. These incidents are not results based exclusively on the new digital technology. They are the work of human beings, themselves over-wrought, suffering and perhaps even lost long before they inflicted their violence. Our North American culture, however, is loath to pay more than lip-service to the problems of those who inflict vengeance and violence. In part, we are all enmeshed in a culture of ‘instant gratification’ and a kind of literalism that, while insatiably devouring the gory details of each and every violent act, turns a blind eye, a deaf ear, and an denying mind and concentration to the plight of the obviously guilty offender.

At some risk, I put candles on the altar for Harris and Klebold, immediately following the massacre at Columbine, in Denver in 1999, for a service of remembrance, reflection and prayer at the horror of the bloodshed and death. They were the perpetrators of that heinous killing. Evidence of their anger, resentment, alienation, ostracism only trickled out long after the massacre. Of course, the victims and their families were under extreme distress and trauma and were
inconsolable. And so were the parents of those young men. All of those families will never be the same as they were when the morning of that day broke on the horizon.

However, similar massacres, mass killings, have only been increasing in both number and severity since that horrific day. Guns, as the literal means of such killings, have become the focus of the public debate, since public policy seems loath to face the conundrum of the underlying root causes of such vengeance, resentment, anger and poverty of the spirit, if not the body and the mind of the perpetrators. There are some, however few in number and modest in voice, who consider the deeper issues of our individual and our shared search and pursuit of things like meaning, purpose and ultimate destiny.

If it is true, as a compendium of personal anecdotes would suggest, that in our darkest moments, one finds a kind of insight, a glimmer of a light in that tunnel of darkness, perhaps a gift of insight of meaning, purpose embedded in what can only be considered unexpected “compassion” that escapes understanding, cognition and even sensate perception, then could such a moment not also be available to a culture willing and vulnerable enough to be receptive to such a gift.

Viktor E. Frankl, in his work, The Unconscious God, writes about “a religious sense deeply rooted in each and every man’s unconscious depths” (Frankl, op. cit, p.10) While discerning the difference between conscious and unconscious religion, Frankl also asserts:

I have learned and taught, that the difference between them is no more nor less than a difference between various dimensions..that these dimensions are by no means mutually exclusive. A higher dimension, by definition, is a more inclusive one. The lower dimension is included in the higher one: it is subsumed in it and encompassed by it. Thus biology is overarched by psychology, psychology by noology,* and noology by theology. (Frankl, op.cit, p.12-13)

Referencing Albert Einstein, Frankl notes it was the great man…

“who once contended that to be religious is to have found an answer to the question, What is the meaning of life? If we subscribe to this statement we may then define belief and faith as trust in ultimate meaning….The concept of religion in its widest possible sense, as it is here espouses, certainly goes far beyond the narrow concepts o God promulgated by many representatives of denominational and institutional religion. They often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers…  ‘Just believe’ we are told, ‘and everything will be okay. But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more important, it is doomed to failure: obviously there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded or ordered and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith hope and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I: cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love---and least of all can I “will” to will….To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon laughter: you cannot order anyone to laugh, if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke…If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably—and you must act credibly yourself. I:n other words you have to do the very opposite of what so often is done by the representatives of organized religion, when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believe in, and who rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. (Frankl, op. cit. p.12-15)

In a culture dependent to a dangerous degree on instant gratification, literalism, vengeance and will, (ultimately individual will, as the agent for all thoughts actions, beliefs and attitudes), and especially are men dependent on the dangers of these reductionisms, give our complicity in conforming, and in “going along to get along” even if those tendencies are unconscious, we men might begin to reflect on how we might rely less on our will for order, for compliance, for simple justice and for the imposition of our ideology as THE way out of our shared circumstances.

Our shared fixation on the “power” of command, of the will, in the important areas of faith, hope and love, central concepts in a healthy existence is conversely a trap of sabotage, individually and certainly culturally. Perhaps, recognition of the implausibility of its resolving our most dark moments, both personally and culturally, through our “will” can only help to loosen the grip of such a premise.

*Noology: a systematic study and organization of thought, knowledge and the mind.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

#16 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (existential threats)

How can any man who has lived through the last half of the twentieth century and into the first quarter of the twenty-first avoid reflection about the stresses posed by the plethora of existential threats facing humanity?

Growing up in a town, the bedroom of workers in a arms-production facility in war, and then transformed into a nitroglycerin production facility, later morphed into a development laboratory for the futuristic, if fatally terminated by Diefenbaker, Avro Arrow, the notion of militarized conflict was never far from home. How can one born in the middle of WWII not wonder how the confluence of birth and war might have shaped a psyche? Stocking up on flour and sugar and coal and garden preserves in preparation for and resistance to another “depression” whose cloud still hung over my parents’ generation, our family shared the spectre of engagement in events and affairs that far exceeded the local culture and mind-set. Into this mix of geography, history, economics and family, inject a disciplined “religious” participation that proferred a link to the eternal, the beyond, the supernatural and how one might relate to that dimension.

In the spirit and context of that small-town mid-century culture and ethos, this piece purports to look at the several studied prospective “apocalyptic” and existential threats facing humanity, through the lens of Arnold Toynbee’s clinical diagnosis of the demise of civilizations. A second filter will include the masculine perspective on how to adapt to such threats.

From the website, WIRED, a piece based on the work of a team of highly educated academics, lawyers, scholars and philosophers, working under the title, The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk ( CESR, commonly referred to as ‘caesar’) and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence here is their list of ten existential threats and the probability and prospective date of their occurrence:

1.     Artificial Intelligence takes over the world…likely date: 2075
                                                                        X-risk priority: very high
2.     Pandemic diseases threaten humanity….likely date: today
                                                                         Priority: very high
3.     AI-powered weapons seize control and form a militia…likely date: any time
                                                                                         Priority: low
4.     Nuclear conflict brings about the end of civilization…likely date: any time
                                                                                   Priority: low to medium
5.     Extreme climate change triggers collapse in
 infrastructure..                                                              likely date: Any time
                                                                                Priority: Low to medium
6.     An asteroid impact destroys all traces of life…
                                                                  likely date: 50 to 100 million years
                                                                  Priority (in 2017): Low
7.     Life as we know it proves a complex simulation….likely date: unknowable
                                                                                  Priority: very low
8.     Food shortages cause mass starvation……..likely date: 2050
                                                                      Priority: High
9.     A true vacuum sucks up the universe at the speed of light…
                                                                       Likely date: technically now
                                                                       Priority: Very low
10. A tyrannical leader undermines global stability:…likely date: Now
                                                                                 Priority: Medium

British historian Arnold Toynbee…
‘argues that the breakdown of civilizations is not caused by loss of control over the environment, over the human environment, or attacks from the outside. Rather, societies that develop at expertise in problem solving become incapable of solving new problems by overdeveloping their structures for solving old ones. The fixation of the old methods of the “creative minority leads it eventually to cease to be creative and degenerates into merely a dominant minority. He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their “former self” by which they become prideful and fail adequately to address the next challenge they face…The final breakdown results in ‘positive acts of creation,’ whereby the dominant minority seeks to create a Universal state to preserve its power and influence, and the internal proletariat seeks to create a Universal church to preserve its spiritual values and cultural norms. He argues that the ultimate sign a civilization has broken down is when the dominant minority forms a ‘Universal state’ which stifles political creativity within the existing social order….As this process of decay proceeds, Toynbee argues there is a ‘schism’ within. In this environment of discord, people resort to archaism (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future) detachment (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world) and transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, e.g. by following a new religion) (Wikipedia)

First, the difference between the list of existential threats, as studied contemporarily, and the Toynbee analysis of the contextual process of a coherent dynamic is dramatic. More like a literary critical analysis of the plot of a civilization’s biography, Toynbee’s analysis incarnates a perspective that details the cognitive and existential dissonance between old solutions to old problems and old solutions to new problems and the resulting divide between what we would today call the “elite” or the “establishment” and the mass, Toynbee’s proletariat (another dated word, evocative of the communist state). We are left with a basic question: Does a civilization fall as a result of an external “impact” or more likely from an internal collapse?

Of course, none of the listed “causes” are or could be exclusive of internal elements. Disease, weapons, Artificial Intelligence, food shortages, asteroids, climate change, and a tyrannical leader all emerge from a human petrie dish. Only a true vacuum seems to remain outside of human “prevention” and “influence.”  The concept of “power” and its control and manipulation, as the single informing imperative of the Toynbee analysis, seen through the lens of the ‘historian’ poses a central question for each of us students of both history and the history of power.

The notion of “power” however, cannot be contained within a political process. It arises inevitably and irrefutably from the nature of “power” that attends every individual person whether s/he is a overt, participating actor in the political process or a mere spectator/student of that official process.  Like a wave pool, power is a wave generated by some in pursuit of their particular value system and ideology, only to be followed by another wave of energy in response to the original wave. Time, as the linear arbiter of how these respective waves behave, dictates the length and to some degree the strength of each wave of political thrust. If the waves proceed in sequence, people generally watch, are somewhat entertained, and to a degree determined by each, engaged or detached in a single wave.

If the waves collide, one in regression another in forward movement, there is a crisis. And whether or not such a crisis is mediated, or refereed, monitored and controlled or not will signal a dystopic prospect.

History shows that men, especially as the generals, the historians, the judges, the politicians and the philosophers setting the “frameworks” of civilizations, pay more than a perfunctory notice to “ideals” as their benchmarks for leadership, and for the administration of “power”. Through their ideals, naturally they have been attempting to pay homage to a deity of their conception, belief and imagination. Gothic cathedrals, symphonies, oratorios, masterpieces, historic pieces of  rhetoric…these are some of the devices by which power is conceptualized and delivered and even worshipped. And, whether by nature or by habit, through official or unofficial and more casual discipline, in order to incarnate the deployment of power, human  nature is and has been historically enmeshed in its own paradox: observing and paying homage to titular and official power, and preferring a more private, silent, inconspicuous and more personal integral exercise of one’s identity and person. While they are not exclusive, the public “power” symbols become cultural heroes, whereas the private persons who ‘hold their own counsel’ are less visible, far less influential and far less idolized.

Men, throughout history, have attempted to navigate this public/private energy, and have been perceived by their contemporaries primarily by their public images, and much less by their private lives. Not surprisingly, men have also enforced this “appearance” and definition, by our own hard-wired resistance to publicly emoting and seeking attention, except for those few whose lives depend on their public adulation. And within this dichotomy, men have also attempted to balance their private pursuits with their capacity for the care of others.

It is this latter division, between the private “profession” and “income-earner” and the “public conscience” of empathy and compassion that divides many men in the past, as well as into the future. We are, or seem to be, hard wired, as world citizens, more resistant to the domestic duties and rigors of house cleaning, meal prep. and child wardrobes than to the latest stock ratings, the latest sports scores, and the office politics of promotions and demotions. As a consequence, at least partially, of this gender identity, our political issues have tended to exclude issues of shared classrooms. So long as there were no criminal or dangerous rumours puffing from the school smokestacks, men who were not official board members, paid little or no attention to the school system.

Whether we can now attribute “neglect” or “irresponsibility” to the vast majority of men for abandoning their education systems, the teachers of their children, and the ethos, including costs, of those systems, remains mute. Women, however, do not warrant either the notion of “neglect” or “irresponsibility” given their much more intense observance of the daily stories of their/our children about their “day at school”.
In both the list of existential threats, and in the Toynbee analysis of civilization’s demise, the question of the origins, and the developmental process of the children of those cultures that have atrophied is omitted. It says here that such an omission, both in fact and in scholarship and political action and policy development, has paid and will continue to pay negative dividends on whatever threats impact the future of humankind.

In the immediate scan of North American culture, with the unprecedented explosion of social media and the anonymous bullying it fosters and exposes, linked to the existential threats of cyber-crime-and-war, global warming and climate change, ebola outbreaks, and the entropy of agreed facts, men and women around the globe share both the immediacy of new “threats” without appropriate and concomitant answers and solutions and the original “patriarchial” attitudes and philosophies that undergird our public discourse, political processes and structures and a neurotic pursuit of perceived emasculation. It is this emasculation, inflicted on men by both men and women, through both an incomplete understanding and repressed expression of masculinity, rendering each man in North America  a mere symbol, an image, and a kind of cultural ghost.

Through claiming responsibility and the promise of a new and confident, an engaged and sensitive, an emotional and imaginative, as well as a warrior/wanderer identity, so long forgotten or denied, men can and will take their honoured place in the way our culture confronts its many existential threats. Women, as the current dominant cultural warriors, leaving men to their “fighting fields and boxing rings,” whether they acknowledge it or not, need and want a healthy masculinity to dance with, especially when storm clouds are forming on the horizon.       

Thursday, October 24, 2019

#15 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia ("mighty men")


This space has presented several arguments advocating enhanced conscious sensitivity on the part of corporations for the individuals working in their employ. This piece details Lionel Tiger’s scathing attack from the 1980’s on the “individualized” economy and culture, from the perspective of an anthropologist. On the surface, this might appear as a fundamental contraction, or at least a paradox. Individual corporations, based on considerable evidence, have reduced “employees” to functions like “enhanced profits” and/or “reduced costs,” perhaps  as an “unforced error” under the cultural rubric of the “gig” economy in which millions now operate their own enterprise, without the benefits and loyalties and implicit respect that once attended corporate deployment. The relationship of the individual both to the organization for which they work and secure their income, livelihood and a sizeable portion of their “identity” as professionals, is a dynamic  river flowing through the turbulence of “white water” and then the quiet eddies of a calm distance. As James Hillman reminds us, in organizations, individuals are perceived and treated as ‘components’ and symbols of a larger archetype. Similarly, from a political policy perspective, individuals are “categorized” and “classified” in numerous “clusters” as if such “demographic identity” is adequate for the calculations underlying the design of public policy. It is far too easy for water-cooler conversations and the culture generally slides back and forth between perspectives of “archetypes” and individual biographies.

Seemingly, without formal research, we appear to be intensely interested in the “background” of an individual when a “crisis” emerges while retaining a disciplined detachment, in other times, so as not to “interfere with the privacy” of the other. Even getting to know our neighbours, or church pew cohorts, or social club members frequently, if not exclusively, gives way to a privacy, and a detachment that renders millions to a reiterated form of “isolation” and “alienation” whose collective costs are rarely, if ever, considered in calculating the “health care” budgets of contemporary North America.

Based on the emergence of physical, emotional and/or psychological symptoms, in individual lives, as they appear in consults with family physicians, or in emergency room triage, our “health” conversely includes the culmination and summation of multiple factors. And prevention, in all of the ways that concept could be applied to our public and political debate, remains another of the silent denied forces, so obsessed are we with fixing immediate crises.

It is the irony and paradox of the application of a similar “diagnosis” and “remediation” to our cars, our furnaces, our refrigerators and washers and dryers to our “bodies, minds and spirits” that confounds both logic and even the collective, conscious debate and resolution of personal health issues. And the relationship of the individual to the organization(s) in which they/we work that plays a significant role in the spike in illicit medications including alcohol, drugs, gambling and obesity. Just as the costs of “pollution” of carbon gases need to be borne by those who pollute, a similar equation is equally applicable (if politically radioactive) to those corporations who decimate the very persons for whom they share responsibility.
This issue is ripe for union leadership. It is ripe for politicians with the spine, the vision and the respect of their electorate to introduce into the public debate. And while denticare, pharmacare and visioncare are all legitimate and worthy of inclusion in public budget calculations. So too is the virtue, morally and ethically, as well as economically, of elevating the need to address the concept of prevention, in some many of our social and economic policies, not to mention our global address of global warming and climate change.

A cultural mind-set that feeds on an obsessive and insatiable appetite for “crisis” in our movies and television dramas, in our obsession with weapons, in our obsession with hot “news” stories that generate ratings and readings, in our obsession with athletic violence and the concomitant life-threatening injuries (e.g. concussions in football, hockey, soccer, and the interminable injuries and deaths from excessive speed in a variety of motor sports)

The "driver" archetype, as the Type A executive, is not only a threat to his own well-being; he is also a threat to millions of those who consider his "model" one to emulate. And he is closely aligned to the "risk-takers" who underscore and reinforce the stereotypical definition of masculinity as "macho" and intense, and intensely in the moment, at the price of the long-range, more reflective and yet sill male model whose sensibilities moderate their own "king" dreams to include and to revere a closer connection to the ground, the earth, nature and vulnerability, as opposed to invincibility. And in their decision-making process, the underlying premises that those who are risk-resistant are weak, effeminate, and less worthy than those men who will throw themselves into the "melee" that is the current organizational crisis.
Unfortunately, Winston Churchill is a war hero, whose leadership, and incarnation of masculinity, while relevant and appropriate to war, and serious emergencies, is not a model to be emulated in the flow of the  ordinary rhythms of markets, and organizational peaks and valleys, as well as family tensions in which they insert themselves inappropriately.