Monday, June 1, 2020

#91 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (reflections on chaos and responsibility)


In a class entitled, “Ethics” for Law Enforcement candidates, the most troublesome issue, one over which the class never climbed or even signalled a desire to consider, was the clearing of the mind, the heart and the pre-conceived notions of guilt, innocence and even ambiguity, when faced with an encounter with human conflict. Minds bent on a false sense of security that dismisses the possibility of ambiguity, uncertainty, and objectivity prior to facing the situation, are doomed to ‘rush to judgement’ and  perpetuate false accusations, deceptive trial proceedings and ultimately unjust judgements.

Given that we all carry a large trunk of experiences, perceptions and beliefs into each new situation, it seems incumbent on each of us to become aware of the finer points of those aspects of our psychic identity. A brutal history with an iron-edged parent, boss, partner will inevitably leave a mark on our capacity to perceive a new confrontation with authority subject to an inevitable transference: we will ‘paint’ the new authority figure with some of the same colours as we previously ‘painted’ the tyrant in our past.

Coming face to face with our own psychic history, then, seems both a reasonable and even a required first step for all professionals to take, in their formal and informal preparation for engagement in the judgements of others. While essential, however, such a formal training step is not necessarily integral to the training curricula of many professions, including the training of police officers, teachers, social workers, lawyers, and certainly political science academics. One hopes that those pursuing careers in psychology, psychiatry, criminology and the practice of ministry will have been required to explore their personal psychic baggage, both conscious and unconscious.
It is not only a personal perspective of power above, but also a perspective of  its inverse, inferiority, that humans transfer from previous learning/ experience/teaching/belief. If we grow up in an ethos in which people of a different race, ethnicity, linguistic  and/or religious tradition are considered ‘alien’ and different and inferior, we are highly likely to transfer that ‘attitude’ into our daily lives, especially when those lives are facing heightened anxiety, fear, depression, desolation and alienation. Our attempt, when under duress, to stabilize and to over-compensate for our distress, will almost physically ‘throw’ us back to what we know deep in our being, those same biases on which we were raised. And we will engage in acts which we ourselves, and certainly the rest of the world know, without an iota of doubt, to be wrong. And we will know about how wrong we are at the very moment when we commit such an act.

And while much of the western world has come to regard the writing and the passing and the enforcing of law to be the guiding principles by which mature adults are to govern our lives, at a far deeper level, we need not to have a single degree or certificate to know about the difference between an act that is considered by virtually everyone to be wrong and one considered universally as right.

Borrowing from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life, An antidote for Chaos, we find these words:

What can I not doubt? The reality of suffering. It brooks no arguments. Nihilists cannot undermine it with skepticism. Totalitarians cannot banish it. Cynics cannot escape from its reality. Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That becomes the cornerstone of my belief. Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or a gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dungeon, I grasped what it meant to ‘take the sins of the world onto oneself.’ Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a prior, perhaps not wat is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced—then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening…..To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God of Earth. That’s a state, and a state of mind, at the same time…Expediency is the following of impulse. It’s short-term gain. It’s narrow, and selfish. It lies to get its way. It takes nothing into account. It’s immature and irresponsible. Meaning is a measure of replacement. Meaning emerges when impulses are regulated, organized and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structures operating within that world. If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. It will make everything matter. It will make everything better. (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Living, An antidote to chaos, Random House, Canada, 2018, p. 197 and 199)

This morning, the dailies and the talk-shows in Canada and the U.S. are filled with “what went wrong” and “how can we fix this insurgency?”…all of those reports and analyses steeped in the gruesome facts of police brutality, social unrest and a “darkmotherscream”….taken from the poem, Darkmotherscream by Andrei Voznesensky, the first line of which reads:

Darkmotherscream is Siberian dance
Cry from prison or a yell for help….
                                                        and the poem concludes:
Don’t forget---Rome fell
Not having grasped the phrase: darkmotherscream*

Yesterday, CNN prepared a package of video clips depicting the multiple murders of black men and women at the hands of white police officers, from 2012 through 2020, including the current situation faced by the perpetrator(s), whether charged, sentenced, convicted, freed, or pending adjudication.

The stories simply compound each other, pointing directly to the insurmountable, undeniable evidence that nothing has changed either in the selection, training, re-training, or the application of common decency about the treatment of black Americans at the hands of white “power”. This is not to equate white police officers with “white supremacists” as that would be totally unjustified. However, white police officers have, without argument, perpetuated a cultural ethos of both overt and covert racism in their discharge of their professional duties.

And a white-dominated Congress has either fostered the silencing of the plethora of choruses, from both the white and the black communities or willfully ignored those pleas and prayers, not only on the most recent decade but for multiple decades, even centuries, previously.

Peterson reminds us it is a human trait we all carry to “rebel against our own totalitarianism, as much as that of others. I cannot merely order myself into action, and neither can you. ‘I will stop procrastinating,’ I say, but I don’t. ‘I will eat properly,’ I say, but I don’t. ‘I will end my drunken misbehaviour,’ I say, but I don’t. I cannot merely make myself over in the image constructed by my intellect (particularly if that intellect is possessed by an ideology). I have a nature, and so do you, and so do we all. We must discover that nature, and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves. (Peterson, op. cit. p. 193)

One of the questions that, one has to guess, will not occupy much space or air-time in the media is the question of each person’s own  “darkmotherscream” to which we all have to listen eventually, and how our response to that scream contributes to the alleviation of the suffering of those most obviously living under the clouds of poverty, lack of access of education, quality health care, work with dignity (a number growing by the millions daily), fair and equal justice and most recently the pandemic known as COVID-19.

And there is a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference between the ‘darkmotherscream’ of those black protesters on the streets of American and Canadian cities (as well as London and Berlin in sympathy) and what might be considered a parallel darkmotherscream from the white supremacists, the NRA, the Republican Senators so dutifully and obsequiously self-emasculated by their false and deceitful obedience and loyalty to the occupant of the Oval Office. The scream-tweets from that Oval Office, are nothing more than expediency, designed to deliver immediate gratification, irrespective of their power to inflict suffering on those who do not comply with the “great leader’s” megalomaniacal narcissism.

The imposition of enhanced, perpetuated and unrelieved suffering on others, including blacks, browns, immigrants refugees and indigenous, for the purpose of maintaining the power to appoint far-right judges, to appease foreign tyrants while abandoning historic allies, to eviscerate environmental and educational goals and policies and structures designed to alleviate human suffering, while promoting the greed and avarice of amoral capitalist “friends” is the contemporary version of evil.

It is in the making an art form of pain, (Peterson’s words) through dehumanizing fellow human beings, that is simply wrong. And the fact that literally hundreds of thousands follow blindly, contribute also blindly and fatuously, and maintain a popularity rating in opinion polls of something over 40% that, taken together, really endangers not only those people without a voice, but the whole of the nation and potentially what has been known as the “world order” all for the sake of meeting immediate, expedient, personal, sociopathic goals.

This “cathartic” uprising over the brutal, publicly recorded, and viscerally imprinted murder of George Lloyd, (notwithstanding its attempted hijacking by white supremacists, and not Antifah ‘terrorists), must not be permitted to dissolve into the archives of the national media, nor into the mists of forgetfulness of the octogenarian (both historically and archetypally) legislators in the U.S. Senate.

And while symbols, like the choice of a Vice-presidential running mate, potentially a black woman, are important, such symbols are no substitute for concerted, disciplined, pragmatic and supportive justice reform legislation, re-integration of displaced workers into a new economic landscape that includes revival of crumbling infrastructure, not to mention eroded public education, and the atrophy of liberal education at the post-secondary level.

We have all heard of the Aristotelian phrase, “horror vacui,” (nature abhors a vacuum) and whether the phrase has legitimate application in physics, or not, in the political arena, it clearly can and does have resonance. A vacuum of leadership, amid the pandemic, the ballooning debt and deficit in most western nations, the rising clouds of toxic waste into the atmosphere (limited briefly during the pandemic), the global pursuit of a universally accessible vaccine, and especially the need for a western coalition to meet the growing fractiousness of the People’s Republic of China, is extremely threatening, disorienting and potentially devastating. The dangers are not only to the atmosphere we all breathe, and the water we need to drink but also to the obvious and growing need of all nations and people for institutions, structures, treaties and accords that will provide a safe and clean internet, a peace-treaty to ward against cyber-crime and outright hostility.

Leadership, in the moment in history when cardboard cut-outs like trump have and will continue to fail, has to come from men and women like Macron, Merkel (soon to retire) Trudeau, and hopefully from Scandanavian nations like Denmark. And, from each of us, a critical look in our own mirror, and a thorough ‘dig’ of our pre-conceived and no-longer relevant and sustaining demons, bogey-men, and myths, and an authentic commitment to engage in the large, cumbersome and highly complex process of adding our personal stories, insights, visions and dreams to the “hopper” of the world’s intellectual/social/cultural/political/religious/ethical furnace.

We need the light, and the courage, and the commitment, from men (and women) of cultivated hearts to awaken to what Theodore Roethke calls “The Waking”…

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me;  so takethe lively air,
And lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking  slow
I learn by going where I have to go.#

*Quoted from, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, p. 208
#                                                                , p. 381

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