Friday, June 26, 2020

#99 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (embracing polarities and unity with complex nature)


Writing in “The Conversation,” June 24, 2020, in a piece entitled “Why good people manage badly,” Ottawa University’s Ken Eakin cites Bob Emiliani a professor in the school of engineering, science and technology at Central Connecticut State University, a PhD in chemical engineering.
Quoting from the Eakin piece:

He (Emiliani) weaves together incisive and inter-disciplinary analysis of why contemporary executives behave and think the way they do. Emiliani uses the metaphors of war (aggression and conflict), hunting (predation), sport (competition) and devout observances (rituals and decorum) to describe and explain contemporary management culture. What emerges is a view of a powerful trinity of sociological forces that act upon mostly well-intentioned executives, keeping them firmly attached to the status quo: Firstly, a culture that requires them to maintain their honour and status in the eyes of their peers; secondly, politics and economics, which privileges power-seeking and territorial dominance above egalitarianism and co-operation; and thirdly, metaphysical habits of thought, which give licence to executives to forgo the need  to use scientific rigour or rational logic in their thinking, and instead allows them to indulge in more mystical and supernatural explanations of cause and effect.
For nigh onto one hundred pieces, in this space, this scribe has been attempting to peel the onion of how (western) men are entrapped in a culture, of their own making historically, perpetuated by their need to hold onto power, enhanced by both personal (ambition) and cultural/sociological support, and undergirded by a metaphysic that includes a theology of embedded ethics, and the almost supernatural power to sustain that theology. (Ok, that sounds very much like an “I told you so!” kind of self-applause!)

Nevertheless, men in power, while risking the downside of stereotyping all men, is a phenomenon indelibly inscribed in our history books, as well as our metaphysical, medical, legal, political, philosophic and theological archives. The achievement of power/status/honour/title is like the brass ring of masculinity, and the Siamese twin of holding onto that “power” (in whatever form, shape, influence, compensation, reward, legacy it takes, even in shifting forms). Emiliani’s focus on “honour” requiring them to maintain their status among peers tops his list of motivators. Given that the pragmatic, empirical universe of how the world works, it is not surprising that politics and economics, (both designed, theorized and executed primarily by men) would rank second, especially since, as Emiliani/Eakin put it, “politics and economics privileges power-seeking and territorial dominance above egalitarianism and co-operation.”
Clearly established by Emiliani, and endorsed by Eakin, masculine images, definitions and executions of “management” (by other names, leadership, captainship, kindship, generalship, president-ship, CEO-ship, judge-ship, premier-ship, principal-ship), lie at the root of many of the social, cultural, political and even spiritual questions facing the west in particular and also the whole world.

Let’s pause to parse the metaphysical aspect of Emiliani’s thesis. Permitting executives (mostly men) “to forgo the need to use scientific rigour or rational logic in their thinking and instead allows them to indulge in more mystical and supernatural explanations of cause and effect” this insight verges on tentacled roots from primarily Christian thought.

Wrapping one’s sense of identity around a deeply held and protractedly taught and proseltyzed, a distorted vision/version/interpretation/exegesis of the notion of man being created in the image of god, and separate from, distinct from and superior to nature.

Metaphysics, defined as  the branch of philosophy that deals with the first  principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being,, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space is one concept in this “shawl” wrapped around the shoulders, mind and heart of many, both men and women.

Mythology, on the other hand, (from the Greek mythos for story-of-the people and logos for word or speech, so the spoken story of a people) is the study and interpretation of often  sacred tales or fables of a culture known as myths of the collection of such stories which deal with various aspects of the human condition; good and evil; the meaning of suffering; human origins; the origin of place names. Animals, cultural values and traditions; the meaning of life and death; the afterlife; and the gods or a god. Myths express the beliefs and values about these subjects held by a certain culture (by Joshua Mark in Ancient History encyclopedia, ancient.eu/mythology)

Superficially, the former is more intellectual, explanatory, and abstract while the latter is more experiential, narrative, poetic, imaginative and oral. The three branches of metaphysics are ontology, natural theology and universal science. Mythology is generally categorized based on the geographic, ethnic, linguistic, ritualistic practices, beliefs and traditions of a specific culture.

In an exploration of the myths of polarity, Alan W. Watts, in “The Myths of Polarity” writes:

For some reason profound and sensitive people are never content with such clear and drastic solutions to the problem of duality as that which is proposed in popular Christian orthodoxy: that the final foal of existence is the everlasting reward and perpetuation of goodness to the total exclusion of evil, and the everlasting punishment of annihilation of it perpetrators. This solution arouses the same sort of intuitive disquiet as all other forms of metaphysical dualism in that it leaves us with a picture of the world which, because it contains an element which is not integrated, fails to make sense as a whole. On the other hand, there is as much disquiet with the idea of a simple monism. We cannot quite swallow the second Isaiah’s reaction to Zoroastrian dualism: ‘I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create the darkness: I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.’ The thought is morally and practically confusion. It is just the kind of sophistry which the Devil himself would employ to blind the conscience of the witches’ spell, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” ….the problem is not answerable in terms in which it is proposed, simply because they confuse the map with the territory. Good and evil are abstract categories like up and down, and categories od not perform their function unless they are kept distinct. It is thus perfectly proper that the concepts of good and evil be distinct, dualistic, and irreconcilable, that they be as firm and clear as any other measure. The ‘problem of duality’ arises only when the abstract is confused with the concrete, when it is thought that there are as clearly distinguishable entities in the nature universe. (As we have seen) factual language, is never more than a strictly limited symbolism for what is happening in nature. The image, poetic or mythic, is closer than linguistic categories to events themselves, or to what I would rather call natural patterning. We pay for the exactitude of factual language with the price of being able to speak from only one point of view at a time. But the image is many-sided and many-dimensioned, and yet at the same time imprecise; here again, it is like nature itself.
The same must be said of such other duality problems as those of freedom and determinism, randomness and order, multiplicity and unity. By changing the point of view, what is actually happening may be seen as having now one aspect and now the other, and though this may be contradictory for the categories of formal thought, it is not so in actual existence. It is thus that in Christina theology Christ and Satan are irreconcilable opposed; but the imagery of Christian mythology the Serpent does duty for both--“for as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also shall the Son of Man be lifted up.’….(Alan W. Watts, The Myths of Polarity, New York, 1969, pps. 15-16-17)

Watts details the confluence of single-minded, literal and pragmatic speech with the multi-dimensional, imprecise imagery of the whole situation. It is highly likely that many executives have not spent a great amount of time reading and reflecting on the differences, and the implications of those differences for their own lives, nor for the organic life of their organizations and the people in their circle.
Logos, the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order differs from mythos, a traditional or recurrent narrative theme of plot structure and the divide has existed from the beginning of recorded time. We live in the in-between, navigating, often unconsciously between the two without distinguishing in our minds and certainly not in our utterances.

Watts writes: 
To survey and control the earth we must reduce its formations to the formal abstractions of geometry, and translate it into the flat and dry symbolism of maps. But as Korzybski* so often repeated, the map is not the territory. (Watts, p. 13) Watts also writes: Knowledge, or better knowing is a relationship in which knower and known are like the poles in a magnetic field. Human beings are aware of a world because, and only because, it is the sort of world that breeds knowing organisms. Humanity is not one thing and the world another; it has always been difficult for us to se that any organism is so embedded in its environment that the evolution of so complex and intelligent a creature as man could never have come to pass without a reciprocal evolution of the environment. An intelligent man , argues, without any resort supernaturalism, an intelligent universe. (Watts, p. 4-5)

One with nature, swimming, paddling, wading, trudging and even marching in a universe of complexity and multidimensionality, this complex, multi-dimensional homo sapiens also struggles with anything that looks like, sounds like, smells like or resembles psychopathology. Executives are no different. And we have established some long-held diversions and denials, particularly at the executive level, if we are confronted with psychopathology. James Hillman details three such pathways of denial. It seems to this scribe that executives, while vulnerable to all three, just like the rest of us, may have a preference for the third.

1)    Nominalism, the naming and classifying of psychic complaints, “this approach is the main attitude behind psychiatric nomenclatures. The technical terms—which are now also often popular insults—stress accurate clinical sketches of symptoms, their onset and course, and their statistically expected outcome. Nothing further about the nature of the person exhibiting the syndrome or about the nature of the syndrome itself is necessary for applying one of these pscyhopathological labels. Schizophrenic behavior can be precisely described and attributed to a person independent of whatever might be its underlying reasons: genetic, toxic, psychodynamic, biochemical, social, familial, semantic. The empirical nominalistic view calls for nothing more, nothing deeper that mastering a technical vocabulary. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 58, 60)

2)    Nihilism:  The anarchic denial goes like this: classifications are linguistic conventions deriving their authority wholly from a consensus of experts, from tradition and textbooks. These words become power words, political words, words of a psychiatric priesthood. They are ways of wrapping prejudices in a white coat so that certain political medical, and cultural styles can be guiltlessly condemned. They help namers and hurt the named; their importance is only for those who win at the language game called psychopathology….Diagnoses must be done away with, for they merely draw a person into the doctor’s existential situation of sickness and his fantasy of the future called prognosis. There are no neuroses, only cases; no cases, only persons in situations, so throw it all out, start with nothing (nihil), simply be present in simple authenticity, communicating, encountering. (Hillman, op. cit. p 61-62)

3)    Transcendence: A third way to refuse psychopathology is to stand above it. This is the transcendental denial. It comes in several varieties, one of which is humanistic psychology…In attempting to restore his dignity to man, this psychology idealizes him, sweeping his pathologies under the carpet. By brushing pathologies aside or keeping them out of its sight, this kind of humanism promotes an ennobled one-sidedness, a sentimentalism which William James would have recognized as tender-mindedness. It shows immediately in the words favoured by contemporary psychological humanism. Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with appositive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, hoy, meaningful relationship, play and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent—for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession,  besides all this, its idea of the psyche is na├»ve if not delusional. (Hillman,op. cit. p 64-65)

Eakin/Emiliani are fair and just in their caption that “good people” too often provide bad management. And while speculating about whether and how most executives will modulate, or evolve, or transform into a more collaborative, collegial, empathic and sensitive attitude toward both themselves (first) and then to their “others” there is hope. That hope depends on an initial urge, nudge, epiphany, aha-moment  that prompts a courageous, deep and reflective peering into the personal, psychic, intellectual and metaphysical mirror in search of the potential myth(s) that have been shining a light in the darkness of the forest in which each executive dwells.

And that will include a sensitive discernment of map from territory, metaphysic from myth and literal from poetic, as well as their universal unity.

Along with Red Green, “We’re all in this together, and we’re pullin for ya!

*Kortzybski, a Polish-American independent scholar who developed a field called general semantics, which he viewed as both distinct from and more encompassing than, the field of semantics.


Monday, June 22, 2020

#98 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia ("yielding" without breaking)

The strongest reason for giving woman all  the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body, for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition, from all the crippling influence of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility for her own individual life. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Resignation Speech as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, 1892 from historymatters.gmu.edu)

Elucidating this speech, Vivian Gornick writes in the June edition of The Atlantic wrties:

Reading Stanton’s speech, one senses that perhaps the aloneness is innate. However close people are to one another—family friends, lovers—there is a level of confession to which none descends; it is the level at which the fear of humiliation is paramount. To the greatest degree our solitude is self-created, locked as we are form birth into a psychology of shame. (Vivian Gornick, The Fellowship of Suffering, The Atlantic, June 2020, p. 20)

Gornick’s piece details the experience of women whose lives were isolated, and even desperate, who nevertheless, engaged fully, energetically and gratefully in activities born of trauma, in a cause, as a way to “grow a self strong enough to do battle with life’s irreducible starkness.” (Gornick, ibid.)

The human dilemma, locked in a psychology of shame, and needing each day and moment both to acknowledge we are in that place, and to summon whatever acts, thoughts, beliefs, or even impromptu dreams and visions, to prompt rising from our beds, from our shame, from our isolation, and from our descent, rising ascending, once more into a potentially new bloom of our bent and broken self.

Sad to say, however trite and true it may be, men and women confront our respective fears/shame/isolation/alienation differently. Men, generally (without falling into a trap of the stereotype) hide our fear/shame/aloneness as we busy ourselves in frenetic activity that we hope/pray/believe?/anticipate might serve as that needed cover for our nakedness. Given that such an approach is a pattern we can see from a very early age of the men around us, including those granted community respect, doctors, lawyers, clergy, teachers, and judges, as well as sports and entertainment/politics figures, it is not surprising that young men might adopt the pattern, in however a unique manner they can. Those men born in the middle and latter half of the twentieth century, to which cohort this scribe belongs, are painted as competitive, ambitious, driven, focused and to some degree highly successful, by their peers. Scholarships, awards, trophies, records, medals, promotions, and the pathways to their achievement consumed a large portion of our time and energy.

Of course, we also knew that we had to learn and apply lessons of debating, investigating, engaging in organizations that educated us, employed us, offered teams on which to compete, athletic and professional; nevertheless, the pursuit of whatever ‘ring’ it was that caught our fantasy, (excluding our choice of a partner). However, it was our personal biography that we knew we were writing in some distant beach sand of time, only to have it washed away with the ebb and flow of the tides. Family photos, certificates, the occasional news story, the occasional golf/curling/hunting and the gold watch celebrating a career in some organization, followed by a pension that might be adequate…these were just some of the benchmarks that first loomed, and then were checked, and then finally remembered wistfully as we view the lives of our fathers, grandfathers and eventually our own.

Occasional periods of turbulence, such as a death/suicide, a divorce, a down-sizing/firing/redundancy, perhaps an illness, were part of the misty, yet infrequently spoken, snap shot of how live would be, is, and finally was. How we talk to ourselves about our darkness, however, remained in the closet of our psyche. Even the ravages of war, if we had enlisted, remained largely, if not totally, vaulted from public utterance, including our own potential, if undiagnosed PTSD. Perhaps without reading or acknowledging Margaret Laurence’s insight in The Stone Angel, when Laurence has Hagar utter these words, “Pride was my wilderness, and the demon the lead me there was fear” we behaved in ways that encased our fear and shame in a vest pocket of our heart. We released only the occasional burst of anger, or excess alcohol consumption, or some frenzied piece of work (tearing an engine apart, building a garage, painting a house, clearing a forest for a cottage) in a vain-glorious attempt to maintain the “face” of propriety, strength, stability and dependability, under the psychic rubric of “responsibility.”

History books, too, mostly written by men who were giving recognition to those acts that succeeded in adding another feather to someone’s (male) hat, remained replete of trauma of a personal nature. The fact that the pandemic of 1981 did not receive its first open reporting (including both fiction and non-fiction) until 1931 attests to the premise I am attempting to articulate.

On the other hand, as far back as 1892, Elizabeth Cade Stanton…was demonstrating a depth of courage, and ‘confessing’ that remains unfamiliar, if not totally foreign to most men in 1892, and sadly, continues to be today for too many men. Her resignation speech applies today to every single person, especially to black brown and all minorities who deserve the “opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body, for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition, from all the crippling influence of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility for her own individual life.” (copied from the Stanton speech above)

And it is not incidental to note that it is, has been and unfortunately will likely continue to be men, some black but mostly white, who will continue to block, impede, thwart and resist the legitimate authentic well-spring of energy, courage, creativity that Stanton brought to the suffragette movement that is needed today.

The church, too, holds considerable responsibility for the resistance edifice that has encumbered the legitimate parades, speeches, and even violence that has accompanied protests against slavery, against restricting the vote, redistricting and gerrymandering (continuing unabated today, as reported and documented by Stacey Abrams and others) and at the head of that institution(s) have been and continue to be mostly white men. It could almost be deemed, in a reductionistic yet perhaps warranted, assessment that the church considers “status quo” including all of the many glaring inequalities and discriminations has an aura of the sacred as compared with the legitimate “progress” that is continually being demanded by victims of the oppression, including wrongful conviction and imprisonment, including physical and emotional abuse, including a deeply buried unconscious bias. It is this unconscious bias that merits consideration as “systemic bias” and yet those words, especially “systemic” tend to shroud the concept with a veil of the clinical.

Systemic bias, after all, is an attitude within human beings, a perception and a set of behaviours and even a mind-set that holds (apparently almost religiously) to a superiority of race, a superiority of culture, a superiority of education, intellect, integrity and respectability that, when looked at closely, only attests to a fear and a shame of not knowing if and how life could be lived under different premises. Systemic bias, therefore, cannot and must not be “treated” or “diagnosed” or analyzed, or even discussed as if it were a physical or a mental illness, although its dimensions reach even further into our cultural DNA than a single case of any of those conditions as outlined in the DSM-5

One of the significant frictions that emerge when a social/cultural/political movement is considered from a single intellectual or academic discipline’s perspective. And the legal system, too, is not ready to deal adequately with the current compounding movement, one of a virus, the other of a cultural cancer. We have to walk beside, deeply listen to, and then attend to a protracted period of prayerful reflection on the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as part of our individual and our collective commitment to participate in this, “our” moment in history.

One of the guiding precepts of this space is that women will ultimately have to take their men, by both the metaphoric and the literal “hand” and walk us into the wilderness of our own fears, our own shame, our own fear, in the words of the Jesuit John Powell, “I do not tell you who I am because you might reject me and that is all I have!”

It is the masculine perspective of “all I have” (characterized clearly as “not enough”), a human trait that indigenous Canadian writers are exploring through the fiction and non-fiction they are ‘penning to inspire their young people, many of whom struggle to the point of suicide, to know that they are loved, valued, respected and worthy and that they can do whatever it is they choose with their lives.

However, for individual humans to consider themselves “not enough” is a starting point which, apparently ironically, does not always lead to what some consider the needed extra effort or the identification as something or someone “special” in order to acquire self-justification. Paradox, irony and the unexpected, along with change are integral components of both human and wild nature, not to imply that wild and human are disparate or exclusive. Superhuman effort, including superhuman armaments, armies, kingdoms, corporations, dominions, empires, dynasties and governments (painted with the same brushes that define extra-ordinary) seem to have been the most desirable and sought-after human goals, given the records of history written primarily by men. Necessarily, anecdotes of surprising individual demonstrations of compassion, empathy and even secret and potentially illegal hiding of innocents from their rampaging oppressors or exterminators, have been embedded into those triumphal stories, rendering them both credible and  accessible. After all, ordinary humans do not easily or readily identify with the exploits of an Alexander, or a Napoleon, or a Czar, or a King or Queen.

Just as the world faces a Chinese dragon breathing what feels like fire into the public debates facing the worlds nations, (pandemics, nuclear weapons, cybercrime, global warming and climate change, and intellectual property and its theft, not to mention currency manipulation, and governance secrecy and withholding), it seems it might be an appropriate moment to draw the curtain back from a period of Chinese history recorded by Karen Armstrong in her latest work, The Lost Art of Scripture (Knopf, New York, Toronto, 2019)

The eighth century BCE had seen an environmental crisis. The Zhou (dynasty) had made great progress in clearing the land for cultivation, but intense deforestation had destroyed the natural habitat of many species, centuries of profligate hunting had decimated the wildlife of the region; and there was less land for the breeding of sheep and cattle. Slaughtering hundreds of animals for the sacrificial banquets was not longer acceptable, since the shock of this new scarcity had made the Chinese wary of such ostentation. The ritualists now st54ictly controlled the number of sacrificial victims and limited hunting to a carefully defined season….To the modern sensibility, these rituals seem arbitrary, pointless and even absurd. But the environmental crisis had led the Chinese to recognize the folly of exploiting the natural world, and  they felt compelled to repair the damage. Moderation and control became the order of the day…

And also:….

It was probably the ritualists…who added the “Canons of Yao and Sun” to Documents (written instruments to be inculcated into the new discipline of moderation). These two kings, founders of the Xia dynasty, were said to have ruled the Great Plain int eh twenty-third century BCE and, unlike the other Chinese heroes of the ancient past,. They fought no battles and killed no monsters, but had reigned by their ‘virtue’ or ‘charisma’ alone. The Canons opened with a description of Yao:

 He was reverent, intelligent, accomplished, sincere and mild. He was sincerely respectful and capable of modesty. His light covered the four extremities of the empire and extended to heaven above and the earth below….

Instead of creating a self-interested and exploitative government, Yao had established the Great Peace (Dai Ping)….The gestures of the li (rules of appropriate behaviour) were designed to develop an attitude of yielding (rang). Instead of competing aggressively for status and flaunting their achievements, the prince’s counsellors were expected to defer to one another….Underlying the family rituals was perhaps the psychological truth that if people are treated with absolute respect they acquire a sense of their intrinsic value. (borrowed from McGilchrist Iain, The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western Mind, New Haven CT. 2009) (Armstrong, op. cit. pp.87-88-89-90)

How often have we heard the Santayana adage? “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. (Wikiquote)

Given the chasm of both time and culture between both the twenty-third and the seventh centuries BCE, and the additional chasm from then until the twenty-first century AD, we cannot be surprised that the brief gleam of hope and light that shone in both BCE periods in China would have long receded into the fog of time, war, multiple dynasties and regimes. In the west too, militarism, domination and empire-building and decay have dominated our shared history. While inordinately “hard” (to use John F. Kennedy’s word about the space flight), the cultural shift from power and domination to yielding, and to moderation is once again worthy of the attention and commitment of the men who consider themselves leaders in the developed world, as well as in the developing world.

Never lost, and not to be ignored are the best examples of how the ‘better angels’ of a people facing severe scarcity, loss, and threat, have and can again reclaim the courage, to confess our own shared fear, shame and the concomitant commitment to amend our ways, even if some of that leadership comes from what many today consider the west’s worse enemy, China! (Would that also be the world’s worst fear?)

We all have an army of shoulders to walk on in this adventure!


Friday, June 19, 2020

#97 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (an unreserved apology for boldness in our leadership)

In his mid-twentieth-century book, “What is History?” the 1961 published version of the Trevelyan Lectures at Cambridge, E. H. Carr explores how history grapples with the question of “the progress of humanity” as a clarifying/qualifying lens through which to view history. Given the historian’s culturally-influenced world view, and the required selection of certain facts as important, primarily as ‘successful actions,’ Carr writes about the shifting perspective of history:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries man had already become fully conscious of the world around him and of its laws. They were no longer the mysterious decrees of an inscrutable providence, but laws accessible to reason. But they were laws to which man was subject, and not laws of his own making. In the next stage man was to become fully conscious of his power over his environment and over himself, and of his right to make laws under which is would live. (Carr, p. 135)

“In the eighteenth century, history was still a history of elites. In the nineteenth century, British historians began, haltingly and spasmodically, to advance towards a view of history as the history of the whole national community. (op. cit. p. 149)

It was not till the turn of the century that we completed the transition to the contemporary period of history, in which the primary function of reason is no longer to understand objective laws governing the behaviour of man in society, but rather to reshape society, and the individuals who compose it, by conscious action.(op. cit.p. 137)

Quoting the first Cambridge Modern history, published in 1910, Carr writes:
The belief in the possibility of social reform by conscious effort is the dominant current of the European mind; it has superseded the belief in liberty as the one panacea….Its currency in the present is as significant and as pregnant as the belief in the rights of man about the time of the French revolution. (op. cit. p. 141)
And then, Carr himself asserts:

(M)an has begun, through the conscious exercise of reason, not only to transform his environment but to transform himself…But the most significant of these changes have probably been those brought about by the development and use of modern methods of persuasion and indoctrination. Educators at all levels are nowadays more and more consciously concerned to make their contribution to the shaping of society in a particular mould, and to inculcate in the rising generation the attitudes, loyalties, and opinions appropriate to that type of society; educational policy is an integral part of any rationally planned social policy. The primary function of reason, as applied to man in society, is no longer merely to investigate, but to transform. (op. cit. p. 142)
And then there is the prevailing question of “how” to effect such transformation. As reference Carr points to “Professor Popper, (who) attacks policies which allegedly aim at ‘remodelling the ‘whole of society’ in accordance with a definite plan’(and) commends what he calls ‘piecemeal social engineering,’ and does not apparently shrink from the imputation of ‘piecemeal tinkering’ and ‘muddling through.’ (op. cit. p. 154)

And then Carr explodes with his own vision:

Progress in human affairs, whether in science of in history of in society, has come mainly through the bold readiness of human beings not to confine themselves to seeking piecemeal improvements in the way things are done, but to present fundamental challenges in the name of reason to the current way of doing things and to the avowed or hidden assumptions on which it rests. I look forward to a time when historians and sociologists and political thinkers of the English-speaking world will regain their courage for that task.
It is, however, not the waning of faith in reason among the intellectual and the political thinkers (of the English-speaking world) which perturbs me most, but the loss of the pervading sense of a world in perpetual motion. This seems at first sight paradoxical; for rarely has so much superficial talk been heard of changes going on around us. But the significant thing is that change is no longer thought of as achievement, as opportunity, as progress, but as an object of fear. When our political and economic pundits prescribe, they have nothing to offer us but the warning to mistrust radical and far-reaching ideas, to shun anything that savours of revolution, and to advance—if advance we must—as slowly and as cautiously as we can. At the moment when the world is changing its shape more rapidly and more radically than at any time in the last 400 years, this seems to me a singular blindness, which gives ground for apprehension and not that the world-wide movement will be stayed, but that this country—and perhaps other English -speaking countries—may lag behind the general advance, and relapse helplessly and uncomplainingly into some nostalgic backwater. (op. cit. p. 155-156)

Although written and published way back in 1961, Carr’s resonating clarion call for boldness, as the west seems to be drowning in the minutiae of resistance to anything even hinting a social responsibility, including a bold acknowledgement of  the vacuum of attention, thought and policy development, and the legislation to support those endeavors, to address rising mental illness, racial disparity, poverty and the rape of natural habitats in reckless and unbridled pursuit of more wealth for those already saturated in cash.

The notion of social and human enhancement, through courage, imagination, creativity and a perspective that sees past the next opinion poll, the next headline and the next court battle, needs a school for all of those qualities on which bold, optimistic and courageous changes depend. And this courage and boldness must never come under cover of narcissistic, opportunistic, avaricious (again) mostly men who seek to inflate their own depraved ego’s with false bravado.

Micro-analysis of each syllable in a presidential tweet, itself inflated to bloating with buffoonery and flatulation, demeans the analyser and the audience. McConnell’s description of the House bill to compensate towns and cities and states as “over-reach” is just another of the litany of vacuous expressions, like fat-fried foods that have an initial sweet taste and leave the consumer struggling with both indigestion and cardiac infarc, offensive to both head and heart. It is not only a choir of self-possessed political actors, legislators and legal advocates to emerge from the shadows of their own neurosis/psychosis/sycophancy and self-sabotage, but a media that seeks out such voices from the history books, not only of their own country, but from the history books of other nations who have faced similar threats.

Not incidentally, these current threats to health, to wealth, to personal security and safety, to truth and to a generally agreed and held vision of how the future needs to look, are all man-made. It may seem as if the pandemic was unavoidable, because it rose from the virus in wild animals. Yet, we all know that how humans interact with those wild animals is at the root of the spread of the illness.

From the Atlantic, we read from the piece by Nathan Stoltzfus in the September 1992 issue:

It complicates our received idea of totalitarianism to learn that there were successful protests in Nazi Germany…On April 1. 1943, the American Legation in Bern sent this dispatch to Washington: “Action against Jewish wives and husbands on the part of the Gestapo…had to be discontinued some time ago because of the protest which such action aroused.” The protest to which this dispatch referred has been a street demonstration a month earlier in Berlin. The demonstration was remarkable for the courage of the people who participated in it, for the sheer fact of its occurrence, and above all for its outcome. For it marked the single instance of group protest by Germans of the Third Reich in behalf of fellow citizens who were Jewish—and it worked…..If nonviolent mass protest by Aryan Germans worked in Berlin in 1943, could it have slowed or stopped the destruction of German Jewry? The question is, of course, provocatively abstract. Whether or not it could have, history shows only that the mass of Germans either did nothing or supported the Nazi regime……
When the Nazi regional leader from Oldenburg, in Protestant norther Germany, issued a decree, on November 4, 1936, ordering the removal of crucifixes (and pictures of Luther) from public schools throughout his district, his action resulted in what secret police reports called a ‘storm of indignation’ in the town of Cloppenburg, a Catholic enclave. Prelates of the area supported the protests, ‘with all means,’ and cried that godless Bolshevism was threatening the fatherland. A special nine-day church service of entreaty and penance was held, church bells were rung in protest every evening sand families began holding their own devotional ceremonies at home. Children went to school wearing crucifixes around their necks; numerous protest commissions sprang up, demanding that officials rescind the decree, and church officials complained bitterly to the government. To the consternation of officials in Berlin, the ‘grave unrest’ caused by the crucifix decrees spread even into Nazi Party circles. Nazi administrators put office resources at the disposal of protest groups; the Nazi Women’s Organization refused to carry out certain orders; even members of the Hitler Youth failed to co-operate.”

Or course, some readers will immediately object that this reference to courageous and creative protest is not analogous to the current unrest around the world in support of Black Lives Matter. There is no Third Reich currently opposing racial equality. Nevertheless, the persistent racism that defies a political party or ideology  can be considered just as venomous as any totalitarian regime, given than advocates for respect, dignity, and justice for minorities have to take their cries to the streets of towns and cities under all political ideological leaderships. So, in a sense, the systemic bias that infects each and every institution in most, if not all, countries and regions, like the pandemic is less visible, less predictable and less able to be confronted frontally. In like Ukraine and Hong Kong, where Russian and Chinese officialdom respectively compromise the freedom and the security of ordinary citizens, while the west looks on seemingly in silence, the rights of individual humans are under threat. So too does any ‘concentration camp’ for Uygers in China represent an assault on human rights, freedoms and dignity, again which the current occupant of the Oval Office concurs with its establishment in an transactional move to indenture himself to the Chinese government in support of both his trade deal and his re-election.

It could just be that the current world conditions of racism, poverty, discrimination and the multiple abuses of human rights crying out for redress are potentially as threatening, in the long run, as was the long shadow cast by the Third Reich in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s, without the ease and the benefit of having to face official opposition and protest. Just as a global pandemic demands a collaborative global response (multiple, yet co-ordinated), so too do the issues of human rights, climate change and global warming and the threat to international institutions leaning on the WHO, NATO, WTO, and the International Criminal Court demand collaborative, creative, if differentiated while being co-ordinated, response(s).

The danger of sliding backward, foreshadowed by Professor Carr seventy years ago, is as real and dangerous today, in the face of so many challenges, all of them viewed conventionally and negative, and thereby debilitating, as it was back when he wrote. And the centrifugal forces (acting outward on a body (politic) moving around a centre, arising from the body’s inertia could well threaten human existence as we know it.

There is a clear inertia embedded in the current manner of our public discourse, including a persistent clinging to that “piecemeal social engineering” so preferred by Professor Popper, and echoed in the echo-chamber of the mass media, that any resulting inertia can only be considered another of man’s unconscious (deliberate? attempts at self-sabotage. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

#96 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (the seduction of dependent identity)


If I am because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.
(Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: Later Masters, (NY) Schocken Books, 1948, p. 283 quoted by Steven Kushner, in Spiritual Authenticity, on reformjudaism.org.)

This insight from Buber through Kushner, comes from an explication/interpretation/exegesis of why the Jewish people wandered so long in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt, in part explained by the perception reported by their scouts, that they appeared as ‘grasshoppers’ to themselves and must also have appeared so the people currently living in the new land. Kushner writes: “Their failure wasn’t even that they had low self-esteem, that they saw themselves as grasshoppers. For this they could be forgiven. Rather It was their preoccupation with how others saw them that was their sin….The failure of that generation escaping Egypt was that they were incapable of self-reflection.” (op. cit.)

Personal anecdote: A middle-aged woman’s response to the question, “What would you do if you were attending a party and happened to hear a racist joke being told among a group of people?” goes like this: 

“Well, I would withdraw from the group without making any comment, because I would not want that group to think that I thought I was ‘better’ than them in any way.”
That woman’s self was more determined by how she wanted the ‘group’ to perceive her than facing the challenge of confronting the racism (and the story-teller) to which she objected by withdrawing.

How many people do we know whose “self” is contaminated by (or even perhaps originates in) a deep consideration of how s/he is perceived by another, rather than whose identity is authentically resulting from a self-possession determined through deep and continuous self-reflection.

There is a strong social/political/cultural/ethical and even spiritual current flooding the streets of many towns and cities on many continents fueled by rage, betrayal anger and the evidence of profound, deeply-ingrained and seemingly ineradicable racism (as well as sexism, now being grafted onto the protest). And each of us witnesses the events, shares the headlines, and somewhat empathizes with the centuries of victims whose life stories fill archives of court documents, history books and novels, poems and films, without apparently succeeding in eliminating the stain on the heart and soul of many nations, especially those in North America. Both men and women, unfortunately, are influenced by the insight from Buber’s pen, and one of the possible reasons for such a lack of identity is the motive to avoid conflict, to make peace, to appease, to ‘fit in’ and to ‘succeed’ in whatever situation we find ourselves.  On the one hand, we too often ‘fear’ what the other might think of us, especially in and when we are faced with a new situation. Leaving home to attend school on the first day, each child is apprehensive about how other children and especially the new teacher will regard him/her. And this sensation continues each September when school terms begin, long after first grade, in part depending on those early ‘first-day’ memories. Similarly, first dates are shadowed by the angst and anticipation of the potential of rejection.

In a Christian culture, too, the notion of an all-powerful, omniscient, omni-present deity “looking down” and judging all creatures (‘we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Paul writes in Romans 3:23), adult humans have lived with the underground current, sometimes silent and sometimes not so much, of imperfection, inadequacy, and its concomitant, false modesty, that makes it not only facile but ubiquitous to equate modesty, humility and the potential negative judgement of the other as a starting point in any new encounter. Libraries filled with trees of pages lined with gallons of ink have been written in various attempts to off-set this original sin, not totally disconnected from the Genesis Original Sin of Adam and Eve. And the church has historically attempted to frame a theology of redemption through the Atonement of the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Resurrected. Nevertheless, the inauthentic self has multiple seeds in the original plant, propagated by centuries of some vain and some legitimate lives of discipleship and reflection. Another different yet scriptural notion of humanity, created in the image of God (imago dei) has taken second or even worse, last place in the theology and the psychology of the church. To focus on gender identity, as the prime underlying interpretation of this concept, is, however, to impose a reductionism on the phrase, not so surprising given the church’s fixation with sexuality, as a prime identifier both of Christian morality and ethics, and of human  beings generally. (The concept of sexual inadequacy is a topic for another space and time, although it too comprises another of the many faces of inadequacy imposed on and imagined by many!)

I have visited too many palliative patients, again mostly men, who have expressed deep and profound anxiety at not being good enough to die and to meet God, as one significant restrictive legacy from Christian church teachings. This notion of our relationship to God, while the most complex and significant of all human relationships, whether articulated or merely felt, is an issue with which each of us struggles. And there is serious justification for the Jewish view that we are unable to know the mind of God, not so much as a way to ignore or minimize the impact of God, but to acknowledge the limits of both the intellect and the imagination of all humans, in the face of such an ineffable and unknowable Being.

If we are to listen to Buber’s guidance, and to take it to heart, then we have to be alert to our own potential to make assumptions both about the other and about ourselves which fail to reach audibility and lie ‘hidden’ in our self-talk, without our having to face such talk. The twelve-step program speaks about ‘stinking-thinking’ as one of the identifiers of the alcohol-dependent man or woman. IT would seem reasonable to include Buber’s insight as part of what our culture might consider ‘stinking-thinking’. Yet, there are no pills to eliminate or ameliorate its insistence and persistence in our mind-set.

And the process of our spiritual development too depends on the sources and the influences to which we are exposed, introduced and whose teachings we attempt to assimilate.

Everywhere we hear that systemic racism infects each and every public institution, and consequently it is another of the “poisons” which have to be “excised” from our institutions and from our culture. And we are apparently hell-bent to achieve that excision, or perhaps neutralization as if the poison were an acid needing a salt to neutralize it. Surgery and/or chemistry, while valid, are not going to remove this stain on our heartsandminds, and thereby from our public institutions.

Racism, like other forms of prejudice, bigotry, hate, contempt and all of the many ways and situations in which it overwhelms us, is rooted in fear, in the false anticipation that the other is not “safe” and not “right” and not “without being drugged/drunk/high/in seizure….and that perception/anticipation/assumption comes first of all from inside each of us. Identifying with those who live under the overpasses of our cities, is still beyond the reach of our imagination for many. Identifying with someone struggling with mental illness of any sort is still beyond the reach of most of us. Identifying with the victim in a domestic violence situation is still beyond the reach of most of us. Identifying with the child who is physically and emotionally and sexually abused is still beyond the reach of the imagination of most of us. Momentarily, when we learn of an incident that betrays our sense of how things should be, we are alarmed, perhaps even disgusted, and perhaps even angry. Yet, in the next moment, we turn to the next headline, like those people in Frost’s poem “Out, Out” when the boy’s hand has been severed by the wood saw,

They listened to his heart.
Little—less—nothing! And that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs. (from poetryfoundation.org)

It is true that these latest protests have a different ‘ring’ and ‘tone’ and potential to their duration, intention and resilience. And one can hope that some legislative steps are taken to alleviate the rain of death on black and brown primarily young men, at the hands of primarily white law enforcement officers.

It is not incidental to note that working as an “alien” in the United States, one does feel “suspect” simply by being an outsider, different, and as a Canadian, a ‘pinko, communist bastard” as I was described by a white “Christian” in Nebraska. Was that comment racist? Of course! And it happened inside a so-called Christian church late in the twentieth century, not that long ago. Did I retaliate or respond? NO! Would I retaliate or respond today? Of course! And I would, I hope, say something like, “You know, you speak more about your own fear and vulnerability than you do about me whom you do not know, and apparently do not care to get to know!” Like that middle-aged woman above, I was in the process of applying for a job in a new congregation, and had just preached an “audition” homily and conducted an “audition” service, and to have confronted my ‘protester’ would have been a counter-intuitive move. Nevertheless, I do not regret not having been selected for that post.

False humility, like false superiority is a dangerous mask, almost interchangeable without much notice, from our faces, depending on the situation and our estimate of the situation we are about to face. False, of course, can be applied to many of the faces we put on “to meet the faces that we meet,” (T.S. Eliot, The lovesong of J. Alfred Profrock)….

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes:
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea. (from poetryfoundation.org)

And indeed, it is time for us to stop taking time to “murder and create”…these are irreconcilable acts, in a civilized culture, whose civility is falling like salt from the cliffs of Dover into the sea. It is our civility and our decency, our common sense and our inherent and accessible better angels that we have apparently lost. And whether we have lost them in an obsessive-compulsive pursuit of something like vanity, and greed, and instant fame (or infamy, we seem not to care), or whether we have lost them because we believe everyone around us has sacrificed them on an altar of immediate gratification of whatever kind the menu offers, we are in danger of not being true to ourselves, and consequently not being true to the most disadvantaged among us who, themselves, can only weep in despair both for their own tragic and repeated losses and for our harsh boldness that we have the answers for their plight.

That, in itself, could be a sign that we have yet to accept our own complicity, both overt and covert, in a culture that relies on the lie of superiority/inferiority as a papier-mache foundational stone. That can only be another iteration of Lincoln’s house divided against itself that cannot stand.

"If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.
We are now into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation.
Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall-but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old and well as new—North as well as South." (June 16, 1858, Springfield Illinois, from abrahamlincolnonline.org)

It would seem to this “alien” from Canada, that the United States, rather than finally making a choice between decency, respect and honour of its minority brown and black citizens has rather chosen a condescending and narcissistic path of wanting it both ways…to continue to abuse blacks and minorities and walk and talk as if the division has been put to rest.

The ghost of the deep dark  Shadow history of the United States of America has been aroused, stuck in its side by the venomous arrow of white superiority which itself clings to another version of the “greatest show on earth” while the cliffs of truth, justice and authentic hope fall into the sea.

The United States, like each one of us, cannot be an authentic “self” so long as it clings to a mirage of how it wants to be seen by the world, without acknowledging the trap of its own making in which it struggles.

Monday, June 15, 2020

#95 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (reclaiming the right brain)


Is it primarily, or perhaps exclusively, the church on which we have to rely in order for western ‘men’ to re-acquaint themselves, and their sons, nephews, grandsons, and fathers and grandfathers, with their right brain?

In her most recent book, The Lost Art of Scripture, Karen Armstrong writes these words about the right hemisphere of the brain:

…(T)he right hemisphere of the brain is essential to the creation of poetry, music and religion. It is involved with the formation of our sense of self and has a broader, less focused mode of attention then the left hemisphere, which is more pragmatic and selective. Above all, it sees itself as connected to the outside world, whereas the left hemisphere holds aloof from it. Specializing in language, analysis and problem-solving, the left side of our brain supresses information that it cannot grasp conceptually. The right hemisphere, however, whose functions tended in the past to be overlooked by scientists, has a holistic rather than analytical vision; it sees each thing in relation to the whole and perceives the interconnectedness of reality. It is, therefore, at home with metaphor, in which disparate entities become one, while the left hemisphere tends to be literal and to wrest things from their context so that it can categorize and make use of them. News reaches the right hemisphere first, where it appears as part of an interlocking unity; it then passes to the left hemisphere, where it is defined, analysed and its use assessed. But the left can produce only a reductive version of complex reality, and once processed, this information is passed back to the right hemisphere, where we see it-insofar as we can-in the context of the whole.
Our modern focus on the empirical and objective insights provided by the left hemisphere has unquestionably been of immense benefit to humanity. It has expanded our mental and physical horizons, dramatically enhanced our understanding of the world, greatly reduced human suffering, and enabled more people than ever before to experience physical and emotional well-being. Hence, modern education tends increasingly to privilege the scientific endeavour and marginalise what we call the humanities. This, however, is regrettable because it means that we are in danger of cultivating only half of our mental capacities fully. Just as it would be insane to ignore the logic analysis and rationality produced by the left hemisphere, psychologists and neurologists tell us that to function creatively and safely in the world, its activities must be integrated with those of the right.
The left brain is by nature competitive; largely ignorant of the work of the right, it tends to be overconfident. The right hemisphere, however, has a more comprehensive vision of reality which, as we have seen, we can never grasp fully. It is more at home with embodiment and the physical than the left. The left brain is essential to our survival and enables us to investigate and master our environment, but it can offer us only an abstract representation of the complex information it receives from the right. Because the right hemisphere is less self-centred, it is more realistic than the left hemisphere. Its wide-ranging vision enables it to hold different views of reality simultaneously and, unlike the left, it does not form certainties based on abstraction. Profoundly attuned to the Other—to everything that is not ourselves—the right hemisphere is alert to relationships. IT is the seat of empathy, pathos and our sense of justice. Because it can see an-other point of view, it inhibits our natural selfishness. (Karen Armstrong, The Lost Art of Scripture, Rescuing the Sacred Texts, Alfred Knopf, New York Toronto, 2019, p. 5-6)

Armstrong continues:

Traditionally, the sacred was experienced as a presence hat permeates the whole of reality—humans, animals, plants, stars, wind and rain. The Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) carefully referred to it as ‘something’ because it was indefinable and, therefore, transcended propositional thought. He had experienced
                                              a sense sublime
             Of something far more deeply interfused
             Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns
             And the round ocean and the living air,
             And the blue sky and in the mind of man (From “Tintern Abbey,” 1798)
(Armstrong continues:)

He has, he says, ‘learned’ to acquire this insight. We might say he achieved it by deliberately cultivating a right-hemispheric awareness by-for a limited time- suppressing the analytical activities of the left. When people tried to access then ‘ultimate,’ therefore, they were not submitting to an alien, omnipotent and distant ‘being’ but were attempting to achieve a more authentic mode of existence. WE shall see that right up to the early modern period, sages, poets, and theologians insisted that what we call ‘God,’ ‘Brahman,’ of ‘Dao’ was ineffable, indescribable and unknowable—and yet was within them: a constant source of life, energy and inspiration. Religion—and scripture—were, therefore, art forms that helped them to live in relation to this transcendent reality and somehow embody it. (Op. Cit. p. 9)

The notion of embodying the transcendent reality seems to have suffered a fatal blow at the hands of our ‘left-brain-shifted-and-now-fossilized’ culture. And the church, too, has fallen into the trap of its narrowness. It is not merely the pre-eminence of the parish treasurer, the guardian, law enforcement officer and custodian of whatever few pennies (or millions of trust funds) that contributes to this chop-block. It is the literal, weaponizing of the words, concepts and themes of scripture that ensnares so much of contemporary religion.

“In the early modern West, people began to read the narratives of the Bible as thought they we logoi, factual accounts of what happened. But…scriptural narratives never claimed to be accurate descriptions of the creation of the world or the evolution of species….Because it does not conform to modern scientific and historical norms, many people dismiss scripture as incredible and patently ‘untrue,’ but they do not apply the same criteria to a novel, which yields profound and valuable insight by means of fiction. Nor do they dismiss the poetic genius of Milton’s Paradise Lost because its account of the creation of Adam does not accord with the evolutionary hypothesis. A work of art, be it a novel, a poem or a scripture, must be read according to the laws of its genre and like any artwork scripture requires the disciplined cultivation of an appropriate mode of consciousness.” (Op. cit. p. 12-13)

The capacity and the willingness of the leaders of mainline churches to accommodate a version of scripture that comports with the left brain’s logic, analysis, and stability, at the expense of the right brain’s capacity, willingness and delight in poetry, creativity imagination and attunement to the Other. Naturally, laity are raised and enculturated in the principles, precepts and denotations of the left brain….that is the basis on which their households are organized, their corporations and their philanthropics are operated, and their personal lives are assessed.

And because of the literal and metaphoric deference to the logos, the rational, the empirical and the judgemental, including the psychological default into what Hillman notes is the categorizing of aberrant behaviour, attitudes and perceptions into either “sickness” or “evil” that has resulted in the imprisonment, not only of men but of women and children to a lesser extent.

It says here, admittedly somewhat tentatively, that men are more dependent on the left brain and its benefits, and are more comfortable in passing by, ignoring, and perhaps even denying (defying) the right brain’s capacity and benefits of relationship, wholeness, ambiguity and compassion. And this convergence of management theory, executive responsibility, personnel assessment and their combined capacity to “write” the curriculum vitae of each individual leader, further compacts the vision and the imagination and the capacity to explore the more ineffable, the more ultimate and the more unknown and unknowable, the sine quo non of religion, faith, scripture and the disciplined spiritual life.

How often has a church leader expressed contempt for the things of the right brain while upholding the categories and the capacities of the left brain as sacred by itself? How often has a bishop disdained the vagaries of the spirit, in favour of the political correctness of the current cultural debate, for example, to include the gay community as members, and later as clergy, or to permit the church to engage in gay marriages? How often has a bishop fawned over the desperate plight of a well-endowed church donor, while ignoring the plight of the dispossessed? How often has a bishop intervened in an ecclesial tragedy, in the form of a military general, in order to smooth over the dramatically frayed nerves and sensibilities of a disoriented, betrayed and mourning congregation?

And, these questions to male faith community leaders are just the tip of the iceberg that haunts the streets, the banks, the real estate offices, the doctors’ officers and the legal and accounting offices on the North American continent at least. In the barricading of the right brain, along with our innate capacity to envision, even if incompletely, another perception of ourselves and especially of the Other, we risk losing not only our own profound and rich and compassionate humanity, but also are complicit in a conversation and a culture that perceives the other as enemy.

“Enemies everywhere,” even if those enemies are considered to be playing ‘by the rules’ of whatever game is being played, is a mind-set that can only infantilize the individual participant, as well as the other. It is only through opening to and embracing and celebrating the right brain, including being conscious of its own limits, that men especially, might re-gain the 20-20 vision that a bifocal (right and left hemisphere) perception offers.

Only if and when we men are interested in and committed to the reality of the intimate relationship between what we call humanity and nature, rather than its defiant and permanent separation, that we can and will open the door to embracing thought processes, perceptions and attitudes that welcome both the sacred and the secular not as enemies but as complimentary energies that give life to each of our moments.
Striving for a mytho-poetic bifocal vision, perception and the attitudes that naturally flow from such a rich embrace of the whole of reality can and will also open our discussions of the most pressing, and problematic and seemingly untangled personal and political knots of complexity, to far more creative, compassionate and ultimately effective options.

Our current debates about body cameras, and banning choke-holds, and defunding law enforcement while shifting funds to social services, all of which warrant consideration, however, need to be seen as bricks on a foundation of a very different metaphysic, and a very much more complex intellectual and belief framework based on a balanced inclusion of both right and left hemispheres of our brains.

There is a growing cadre of outstanding female leaders facing both cameras and public scrutiny while discharging public responsibility for both law enforcement and the long-overdue racial equality. It is no accident, nor mere fluke, nor a one-off that these women command the public respect. They, by their nature, and by their formation have been aware of their deep and profound and undeniable “relationship” to the universe, to nature and to the divine. They are at one with their right and their left brains.

And rather than reduce any of their various and specific policy proposals to whether or not the budget will accommodate it, the men sitting at the same tables would do well to listen, not only with their left brains, but with their right brains as well, to the wholeness of the perceptions, including the long-term visions and compassion and empathy embodied in those proposals. This inflection point in history around the globe should not pass as just another policy fight between the political right-wing ideologues and the left-wing ideologues, nor between the law-and-order ideologues and the more liberal proponents.

Civilization, including all of our churches, and their impoverished and curtailed leadership, have access to the divinity within, as one of, if not the most potent and creative and compassionate and ineffable sources of love and empathy, if only they can and will open the eyes of their own poet, artist and creative genius. The human ethos, given the dire threats we all face as one, demands of our leaders of all political and religious stripes, an authentic grasp of their own ineffable divinity and the richness of the depth and breadth of the right brain. And in their reading, and their reflecting, their prayer time and in their public utterances, the gifts of such personal discipline can and will open the hearts and minds of those to whom they are charged with serving and protecting.

And the Other will be as important as the “self” in all of their deliberations…

And there will not be a wimp among them, of either gender!