Thursday, April 9, 2020

#68 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia ( New Life in Spring, 2020)


This is the time of year for religious holy days, celebrations, renewals, and new life.
In the Hindu calendar this year April 8, Hanuman Jayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Hanuman, the symbol of energy, and strength and people worship him to ward off all evils.

Yesterday was the first day of the Jewish Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), the spring festival which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites form Egyptian slavery, lasting seven or eight days.

In Buddhism, Theravada New Year, this year also occurred yesterday, April 8. This is a three-day celebration surrounding a full moon during which many Buddhists use rituals that involve water and sand. Some communities have colourful processions or build sand sculptures on the banks of rivers. Each grain of sand represents a wrongdoing. And when the sand is washed away by the river, the bad karma caused by the wrongdoing is erased as well. (from belief.net)

In Sikhism, Vaisakhi, a historical and religious festival that celebrates the Solar new year, marking the birth of the Sikh order. It is also a spring harvest festival for Hinduism and Sikhs. This year, its celebration takes place on April 13 and 14.
In the Christian tradition, today is Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. “Maundy” a shortened form of the Latin mandatum, meaning command. The scripture verse that denotes the specific command: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13; 34) (from Christianity.com)

Coming as they do in this most dark time in human history, given the thousands of deaths, and even more thousands of infections from the coronavirus pandemic, the world risks an ever greater threat of not merely legal self-isolation, but spiritual withdrawal, and the concomitant resentment, finger-pointing, blaming, and outright bigotry leading to  hatred, violence and not only another impending pandemic of a different virus, but perhaps a planetary crisis of the environment.

“Working together by staying alone” has become a cliché in many communities, in  a shared commitment to restrain, if not completely contain, the spread of this toxic microbe. And while valid, there is a hint of the “alone” part of the epithet lingering long into the aftermath. Just as in this crisis, “we are all in this together” applies directly, so too, in the over-riding threat of global warming and climate change, we certainly all face a common if more visible existential threat.

In differential calculus, an inflection point is a point on a continuous plane curve at which the curve changes from being concave (downward) to convex (upward) or vice versa. (Wikipedia) Depending on one’s point of view, whether or not the global community was, prior to this pandemic, on an upward or downward trajectory, this historical moment has to be considered an inflection point. Simply put, for most living humans, everything has changed.

Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Everything” focused like a laser on the impending threat of existential global warming and climate change. Many thought leaders, including globally celebrated children, have developed a following that, at the grass roots, champions collaborative, and sustained initiatives of various kinds, to both generate enhanced consciousness and public programs to reduce the risks of climate change. At the same time, others have pooh-poohed the dangers of global warming and climate change just as they have this pandemic.

If ever there were an inflexion point in human history, this seems to meet the criteria.
Whether we are truly, authentically, sustainably, and demonstrably about to “love one another” as most world religions and most sentient humans would argue is a worthy, if aspirational goal, remains etherized, like a spider, in a botanist’s lab, waiting for dissection. Unfortunately, such a connecting, potentially liberating, and ultimately determinative aspiration can no longer await the inevitable dissection, after its euthanasia. Like a museum piece of religious hope, a commandment to love one another cannot be restricted to laudable sings posted on the windows of dining rooms in nursing homes. Nor can it be restricted to the even more laudable global connecting concert sponsored by Lady Gaga, and many corporate sponsors, on Saturday evening April 18.

Loving one another,
·        while generously incarnated in the millions of beaten pots, and blown trumpets of thanks for frontline health care workers, and
·        epitomized in the billions of rescue cheques erupting from capitals like Washington and Ottawa, as well as some European capitals, and
·        symbolized in transport jetliners filled with tonnes of medical supplies flying out of Moscow to Beijing, and then out of Bejing to Washington and Ottawa
·        negotiated by 3M when threatened by the White House to withhold N95 masks from Canada
·        contained in reduced interest rates on credit cards, mortgages and car loans
does not, and cannot stop there.

This is a time for reflection on the full imaginative spectrum of how the people of the world can and must accept the liberating and also threatening perspective that we are not enemies vying for the same limited piece of the economic pie. If this Spring’s Easter/Passover/Hanuman/Thervada/Vaisakhi celebrations are to have the degree of impact on all of our respective communities, including those who celebrate the renewal of growth without a religious component, then the most broad definition of love, in the most innovative, unconventional and unsuspected surprising transformations will have to be incubated in the cafes, the bistro’s, the pubs, and the living rooms of the nearly 200 nations on t
he planet.
Releasing ourselves from the imprisonment of belief in:
Ø the false security of walls,
Ø the false security of nationalist isolation,  
Ø zero-sum competitions,
Ø the false security of bulging bank accounts and investment portfolios,  
Ø the false superiority of “developed” as opposed to “underdeveloped” nations,
Ø false security of incarcerations, and scape-goating especially those at the bottom of the social/economic/political caste system which infects every nation on earth, with or without the official name
Ø the persistent pursuit of greed through the virtual rape of landscapes native to wild animals and birds
Ø the resistance to global collaboration, co-operation, collegiality and surrender of national sovereignty, as if to cling to national sovereignty will ‘safe’ anyone from the all-too-predictable futures
Ø a blatant sycophancy to capitalist ‘sacred cows’ as idols that paradoxically imprison and destroy millions of human dreams and lives
Ø our compulsive genuflection to incipient tyrants, oligarchs, and wannabees
will be a challenge of the kind of proportions circumscribed by the “pan” prefix in this pandemic.

In Greek religion and mythology, Pan (Roman: Faunus) is the god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks nature or mountain wilds, rustic music and impromptus, a companion of nymphs…(H)e is also recognized as the god of fields, groves, wooded glens and fertility and sexuality and the season of Spring. (Wikipedia)
Perhaps we, from all religions, ethnicities, geographies, ideologies and cultures, would consider a return to a very distant past, in this Spring of 2020 We could (even must?) focus on the potential of what is essentially a beautiful gift of the totality of nature, and begin to question some of the implicitly and explicitly sabotaging ‘totems’ of our ‘sophisticated’ (exclusive, isolated, patronizing, demonizing, and threatening) way of “doing business.”

And “business” in this context cannot be restricted to the transactional exchanges of politician/voter, or entrepreneur/customer, or professor/student. It must include all of the many and varied, purposeful and casual, even schlepping encounters, that bend the curve of our individual lives from those of acquisition, accomplishment, achievement, extrinsic awards and rewards towards the far more sustainable model of moderated altruism. Philanthropics, incentivized as they are by tax laws, shine light in the direction of this “bending” without offering a total answer to our shared, sustainable future. Marketing “good-deeds” like the Pepsico sponsorship of the Lady Gaga Concert, while worthy, honourable, and commendable, are tokens in the effort to level the playing field between the have’s and the have-not’s of our towns, cities, provinces and states, and certainly between the “developed” world and the “undeveloped” millions.

Samantha Power, Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations, on MSNBC, last night with Chris Hayes, pointed out that in America there are 26 medical doctors for every 10,000 people, whereas in Africa, for every 10,000 people there are 3 medical doctors. In Africa where the COVIC-19 pandemic is just starting to be discernible on the public radar, there are far fewer safety-net provisions, foreshadowing even less access to treatment, by far, than the access available in cities like New York. In North America, we are pleading for PPE, those protective pieces of medical gear that could save frontline workers from becoming infected. In places like Africa, those same workers will face their own deaths, in far greater proportions that health care workers face in North America.

Disparity, whether conscious or unconscious, of such a degree, sounds many alarms in places like the World Health Organization, from where we are hearing clarion calls for co-operation, collaboration, and a restraint from politicizing this pandemic. Threats to withhold financial support from the WHO, coming from the Oval Office, sound precisely the most sinister, and least Easter-like, bell one could imagine.
In the Christian tradition, in order for there even to be an Easter morning of Resurrection, there has to be a preceding Good Friday of death, internment and mourning.

There are clearly many attributes of our conventional, western, capitalist, increasingly nationalist, “class” culture that need to be ‘nailed to the cross’ of history, in order that a rebirth of a new kind of life can begin even to be envisioned. Instead of the Pontius Pilate’s of our time, meting out the kind of apocryphal decisions based on personal, private, narcissistic neurosis, resulting in the loss of human life in proportions for which Roman Emperors would have been dethroned, we need the most neglected, the most forgotten, the most disparaged and the most needy people in our towns, cities, and all nations to be not merely the subject of research commissioned by the Governor of New York, but the guiding beacons of light, discernment and new life to which we can all contribute.

Only by truly recognizing our insouciance, our blatant ignorance, and our false superiority (masked too often as false humility and token altruism) over the millions of starving, diseased, under-or-un-educated, and by accepting that we have not only the opportunity, but more importantly the obligation, for their sake as well as for our own, to design a new structure of international aid, international monitoring and international bank-rolling legitimate, if minimal, needs and aspirations everywhere.

And those political and economic oligarchs and plutocrats who appear to be standing in “our” way to the inevitable unfolding of history in the direction of equality, respect for every human being, tolerance of differences through enhanced engagement, education and socialization, will have to surrender what they believe to be their inherent right to power. And their disappearance from the public stage, based on their own usurpation of their legitimate power, once conveyed by whatever process, will be a signal, like the early morning sunrise that ushered in that first Easter Sunday morning.

From the demise of the Pontius Pilate’s and the power-driven oligarchs, we might envision a world in which the voices, the pleas and the dreams and aspirations of ordinary, authentic and highly resilient individuals, previously forgotten and ignored, currently living in the shadows of our towns, cities, and foreign lands, will resound as a cry of new life, in a manner evocative of the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Oratorio, The Messiah, in the Christian tradition.

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