Looking for ‘light’ in this dark cloud, some might anticipate a revival of global humility, uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity, emerging from the obvious truth that humans are not “in control” of this coronavirus Whether as ancillary or corollary, or perhaps supporting concept to the potential humility we all seek, launching facts from one side of the political “table” to the other side of the political table in a literal and metaphoric “food fight” is not merely foolish and foolhardy, but narcissistically self-sabotaging.
Just recall the skirmishes over “enough” ventilators, masks, gowns, face covers, ICU beds…all of them based on a variety of statistical models, themselves based on a variety of premises ranging from the most cataclysmic to the most rainbow-like. Uncertainty, the absolute anathema of the corporate/establishment world, is endemic to rolling pandemics. And in the midst of crisis, everyone responds in a unique way, depending on the convergence of multiple factors in this partial list:
ü Personal history of trauma
ü Personal traits of loyalty, ambition, opportunism
ü Personal fear of being a victim of the immediate crisis, and/or its implications
ü Assessment of responsibility for the crisis itself
ü Current office or status, and the need to protect or maintain that status
ü The cultural demands for transparency/accountability and their benchmarks
ü Comparisons/relationships with neighbours both near and far
ü Nature of the crisis and its relevance to multiple ‘publics’
ü Consciousness of the cultural realities of other publics
ü Role of the ‘birthing’ jurisdiction of the crisis, in relation to a wider jurisdiction
ü Assessment of various instruments of mediating, or controlling the breadth and depth of the crisis
Immediate and spontaneous responses, from all quarters to any crisis like a volcano spew “facts” about, behind, and implicit in the crisis. The “facts” like left-over food in that proverbial family food-fight, are the bullets, the headlines, the tweets, the assembling of the cast of characters whose voices and faces will dominate the impressions of the specific crisis everywhere. The volume of food (facts) thrown, and the velocity and the density of the “fact” that seems most penetrating will begin to tilt the respective public recipients’ collective conscious and unconscious interpretations of the crisis.
So obvious, you say, this description is flatuent and redundant!
Try to withhold your impatience….there is more.
Each of the persons picking out specific food bits (facts or lies) has his/her own perspective so deeply embedded in his/her psyche that the selection of those food bits is partially determined by that perspective. Serving his/her agenda, as well as a hopefully broader and less personal agenda, underlies each volley from all the active participants.
While our cultural norms rush cameras and microphones and their technicians to the scene of the crisis, in order to broadcast the ‘true meaning’ of this crisis, millions of people watch and wait leaning toward or away from their favourite or least favourite broadcast outlet respectively. Following the old adage of the lawyer chasing ambulances (looking for clients), we are all engaged in our own pursuit of the ‘facts’ (food) to feed our specific hunger, itself dependent on our current and active lens, appetite, ambition, perspective and/or religious belief. Commonly, however, we are neither conscious at that moment of ingesting the “evidence” of the latest crisis or our own “lens” or world view, or archetype, and thus simply enter into the reported scene of the crisis from that perspective.
But how tantalizing, even riveting is the replay of that highly dramatic and even traumatic food-fact-fight. Naturally, like magnets first and then reverting to paint-ball guns, we first ingest our “version of the crisis” and then “spew” it out to whomever will listen. Like the crude oil in our family or neighbourhood or political party’s pipeline, we pump our perspective out, without ever having to build or finance that pipeline.
And those pictures are both the food for our imagination and the energy we pump into the imagination of our circle. Never quiet to hoard our “perspective” we are intimately and it seems, permanently hinged at the hip of our prevailing archetype.
Yesterday, however, it we had been witness to the same crisis, enacted by different actors in a different situation, we might easily, and most likely, have taken in different facts, and processed them differently and shared them with a different, potentially receptive audience. Siding with a different slant/perspective/interpretation/view of the crisis, while seeming to demonstrate an inconsistency, and an untrustworthiness, and a shallow ‘take’ on the severity of the moment, for those we spoke with in the first crisis, we are simply giving voice to a little honoured foundational premise of our human imagination.
There are indeed multiple voices, perspectives, orientations, even roles playing over the “food”(facts) in each situation we encounter. Yet, most of those voices remain hidden, silent and even discounted given our pursuit of a public persona that generates stability, respectability, responsibility and acceptance, and perhaps even those vaunted promotions, appointments, and awards we all seek. And the public “food fight” over tidbits of facts, each fact having significance dependent on the person/party/class/religion/status/role of the observer, merely captures the sizzle so endearing to the marketing and public relations departments of our organizations. Branding, naturally, demand the integration of specific information that paints the “brand” in the best possible light, in the eye of the specific and targeted audience that has already begun to endorse that brand, or the audience most likely to endorse that brand, given new information that suggests they are open to come on board.
Transactions, however, are just that, encounters ready and open for measurement, rate increases, sales spikes, promotions, new investors, and perhaps a reputational legacy. And at the root of every honoured legacy is some for of the definition of the hero, at least in North America.
And at the root of the heroic archetype, lies the Christian model of the various archetypes that have been painted onto the face of Jesus Christ, Resurrected. Whether he is teacher, healer, shepherd, or king, just to name a few of the more prominent “archetypes,” all of them flowing, interacting and generating responses from the others, those who follow, whether they/we are cognizant of it or not, have a preference for which “model” of the saviour we endorse. (This is not to suggest a branding of any deity, by disciples or opponents!) All of these dynamics flow like underground streams in our individual and in our collective unconscious.
Nevertheless, these dynamics continue to play out whether or not we give them homage in our public discourse.
Investigating each of our own ‘preferences’ is a process that mines our biographies, our families, our faith practices and beliefs, and our imaginations. The ideas, impressions, glimpses, echoes, stories, snap-shots, films of past events, words, places, even personal traumas all flow together into our “psychological archive” that some would denote as our identity, while others might prefer our “evolving’ development. Whether we consider ourselves as a “fixed” template, or a transforming stream of both consciousness and unconsciousness, is another of the “choices” (again both conscious and unconscious) we make, to be re-visited as our life unfolds.
Watching the food-fight over the procurement of ventilators, masks, gowns, testing kits, leaves everyone both exhausted and quite impatient, because we all know that the fight delays or even obstructs the acquisition of needed supplies, and threatens the lives of seriously ill individuals. Nevertheless, like moths to the porch-light, we gather round each evening, only to fall (metaphorically) to the porch floor, succumbing to our political and psychic fatigue at the spectacle, of all light and no warmth, compassion, empathy and those emotional needs we crave to feed at this time.
Some could posit that Democrats, finding repression everywhere among the dispossessed, seek to fill the holes in the status quo, through the provision of new supports for the most deserving. Republicans, on the other hand, clinging to a model of ‘the king’ seek to preserve the authority, dignity and honour of their wealthy, white and respectable and honoured colleagues. From a previous conflict between the warrior and the victim (men and women respectively, see Carol Pearson’s The Hero Within), have we moved to a conflict between redeemer and king as exemplified primarily by men?
What is clear, nevertheless, is that the conversation about the ‘Gepetto’ archetype(s) for our individual and collective public personas, seems to be left to the artists, the writers, the film-makers, while even the acknowledgement of such a “fictitious” process of lying through the minimalism, and the literalism, and the reductionism of the food-fights is off-limits to both the political actors and to the reporting media who ‘edit’ and cover’ their words and actions microscopically, infinitesimally, analytically and myopically.
“Covering” the Oval Office, if and when it clearly does not deserve to be wall-papering our living rooms for two hours each night, is not only irresponsible; it is downright distortive. A wall of effluent from the mouth of the president offers neither hope nor light in this dark tunnel. And another cataract of rebuttal, in lock-step refutage only magnifies the bi-polar, binary notion that truth can be simply divided into two pots, one served at ‘our family’ dinner’ while the other is served at the diner table of our enemies.
Weaponizing two incomplete, simplified, superficial and reductionistic versions of a critical crisis, even what some would call an existential crisis, is insulting, both to the actors and to the audience. If this were a Broadway play, it would have closed after opening night.
Stereotypes of individuals, merely caricatures (yes, even trump) mouthing robotic memes, both on twitter and in face-to-face ‘press conferences’ washing over this one scribe, have driven me to avoid both MSNBC and FOX, and turn to sources like The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the CBC, CTV and The Globe and Mail (the latter three in Canada).
As someone who looks at things from the ‘underside’ (James Hillman, The Knight Errant, in Revisioning Psychology, p. 161),I am much more comfortable seeing how ridiculous I can be and correspondingly, just how hollow and ‘fictitious’ are the ramblings to which we are being treated in this crisis. I am utterly tired of watching our North American (dominatingly masculine) culture’s being trapped in the “poverty of materialistic perspectives” (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology). There are so many legitimate perspectives politically, rationally, intuitively and imaginatively between the raw uncooked offerings from one side of the table and the burnt offerings from the other side of the table.
And yet in order to ferret out those “perspectives,” we have to develop a plethora of independent, courageous, and indefatigable detectives whose editors and managers and executives champion diversity, exhort themselves and others to engage in complexity, ambiguity, humility and integrity, at the obvious expense of the pursuit and maintenance of power, a kind of faux heroism that sees each and every situation as a zero-sum game, to be either won or lost.
It is not an accident that those countries whose record on controlling the pandemic is exemplary are governed by women. And beyond those female attributes acknowledged by Madeline Albright on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria on Sunday last:
o the ability to multi-task,
o the ability and willingness to listen,
o the desire and urgency of collaboration and
o the attention to the details of personal well-being,
I would underline and expand the Zakaria observation that women have annual medical check-ups, follow the prescriptive suggestions of their doctors, and follow ,a more healthy lifestyle and diet than do men. This gestalt of facts, to the establishment culture, may seem trivial. However, if one is going to be cavalier with one’s own body, and with the legitimate need to observe medical cautions, prescriptions and a generalized approach of individual heroism, as most North American men seem hard-wired to do and to be, then there can be little wonder that the ‘doctors’ diagnosis of the pandemic, and the diagnosis of the health of the planet would be given a similar ‘back-hand’ of rejection, denial, avoidance, and self-sabotage.
If and when men cop to the complexity of our own masculinity, including the multiple and androgynous voices in our ‘heads’ and reject the tyranny of heroic, solo and quixotic voices that have been driving our gender for centuries, without abandoning their importance, when needed (but not as a default position), then our grandchildren might be able to envisage less scapegoating, less prevarication, less dissembling, less deviousness and deception and an injection of integrity, humility, ambiguity, complexity, patience and empathy.
The male scientists[ja1] and governors whose expressions of care, compassion and empathy, along with their respective and diligent discharge of management responsibilities, are not defaming their masculinity, nor are they incarnating a weakness or an uncertainty that defies the current complex situation we all face. Taking a page from the ‘playbook’ of their female counterparts in Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Iceland for example, would serve the world’s suffering and frightened people honourably.