Thursday, July 9, 2020

Stretching definitions of issues into a common humanity


Back in 1995, from Bejing we heard Hilary Clinton refer to women’s rights as ‘human rights’. Today, we read on the ReformJewish.org website, the headline,
“Racism is a health crisis.” Neither of these epithets misrepresents the fundamental principle that people and their health, and the laws under which we al live are essentially so intimately connected that we cannot deny their cross-implications.
Others have argued, again legitimately, that education is a human right, that health care is a human right, that clean air, water, land is, taken together, a human right. Access to daily adequate nutrition is a human right. Freedom from unwarranted targeting, arrest, and incarceration is a human right. Freedom of speech is a human right, as is the right to unimpeded access to live out a religious discipline. Access to work with dignity, is another human right.

Some countries, like Canada, have enshrined a “Charter of Rights” into our constitution, as recently as 1981. The collision of conflicting “rights” has prompted legal challenges to the Charter, given, for example, the competing rights of a landlord and a tenant in the landlord’s premises. In the former NAFTA, as in other previous trade accords, the right of a signatory country to sue another signatory in the event that a corporation in the former country demonstrates trade practices (i.e. price and wage subsidies) that are deemed to be a contravention of the laws and practices of the latter country. (The USMCA has, fortunately not included that clause.)

Pursued through legal, judicial channels, rights of whatever domain pertain to individuals or groups of humans. And these ‘rights’ are both defined and applied in cultures of their origin, while only occasionally, across national borders. Is the commitment of a specific crime in one country, for example, considered a crime in the country now being asked to extradite a individual to the applicant nation? So, while we have a practical language, street vernacular, that uses the words “human rights” and, on occasion, in order to underline the depth of urgency, a racial crisis is dubbed a health crisis, (amid a global pandemic) we are all left to live in the vortex of swirling notions on linguisitic continua, (implying also both legal and cultural norms), as well as the full range of urgency from mild to emergent.

In these spaces we have argued, seemingly interminably, for men around the world to open minds and hearts and spirits to the notion of androgyny, specifically our own unconscious ‘anima.’ And there are growing signs that men are becoming more aware and more importantly comfortable with our own sensitivities, compassion, empathy, and even our tears, and the permission to shed them. Such a  perspective has the potential to enrich the lives not only of each man but of each person in that man’s circle, including especially his family, including both sons and daughters. The mere tossing of that pebble into the common pond of human existence will ripple for centuries.

And here we go again, to stretch the elasticity of what comprises a human rights issue, or a health crisis, into a perspective that embraces not only the narrow ranges of a bell curve of normal human discourse and the parameters of public issues, into a shape shifting embrace of debunking myths that have held us in “check” for eons.
Example, we have already noted the Christian church’s historic cornerstone of the evil inherent in all human beings, linked to a forgiveness, by grace, through a death and resurrection of a Saviour. The ‘street’ version of that highly nuanced notion is that evil is predominant in human societies, and requires control, reconnaissance, individual and cultural ‘protections’ and the inculturation of the young into a kind of wariness and anxiety about ‘the other’. “Don’t talk to strangers” is one of the aphorisms along with ‘say your prayers,” and “Santa has been making a list of who’s naught and nice”…just to keep everyone on their moral and ethical toes.

Yesterday, the prison system in Norway featured a very different set of premises than those deployed in many western, ‘civilized’ and ‘developed’ nations. Rates of incarceration, sentence parameters, prison conditions and expectations, relations between ‘officers’ and ‘clients’ differ dramatically from many western jurisdictions.

Underlying some of those differences is the spectre that many people who “offend” are in such deep pain already, that mere separation from their rest of their lives is punishment enough, and does not need testosterone injections of political, racial, or military bullying to reform. It even appeared reasonable to suggest that world leaders, especially those whose contempt for human life seems exaggerated, neurotic and unnecessary, might visit and listen to the Norway judicial system’s authors and leaders, as a way of shifting their hard-power addictions (including subterfuge, secrecy, lies and the impunity of punitive scourges of whatever demented nature they employ, to a more modest, moderate, effective and humane foundational cornerstone for their respective jurisdictions.

Given that the populace of ordinary people does not have access to the legal systems in their towns, and the labourers do not have the resources to change the way leaders dominate, except by amassing in numbers in shouts and cries of angst, anger, oppression and even desperation, perhaps the concept of how extremes of thought, language, ideology, including abstract concepts like evil and time, life and death concurrently play out together, simultaneously, everywhere.

Not only are humans part of nature, we are all intimately engaged with the first moment of human history (including the discoveries of pre-history, archeology, anthropology, as we are also intimately connected to what human cultures have termed ‘the end times,’ or ‘eternity’ or, from an even darker perspective ‘the apocalypse,’ and ‘the judgement.’ For many in western Christian regions, human seems book-ended by an “original sin” and a “final judgement” when every detail of our lives will be disclosed to an omnipotent, omniscient, and obviously stern judge and judgement. Not accidentally or incidentally, it is worth noting that many live their lives in a state of more anxiety than might be justified, without the “fear” of God (the Greek word really translated as “awe”). States of the ambitious pursuit of perfection, including a prevalent reduction of whatever one does to its minimalist dimension, (in order to maintain complete control), and/or the resistance to expectations one deems inordinate, while representing guide-rails for the young to help them learn the middle of the road, tend to generate excessive examples of self-sabotage. It is many of these self-sabotages that then become either or both legal infractions and judgements, or health crises. Tying each moment to eternity, at least as an exercise in metaphoric imagination and envisioning, after having shed the collar of original sin, again imaginatively and metaphorically, could open clearings in a dense dark forest of prevailing, cultural and 'religious' darkness into a very different mental, imaginative and spiritual rocky cliff. In that 'space,' overlooking a panorama of nature,  one can see the gift of being an integral, necessary and creative component of a thriving, pulsing, vibrant and inspiring universe. And that just could be a stimulus to a conversation with both the self and the Great Spirit that sparks new possibilities.  

At each end of the continuum proscribed by the Christian tradition is a form of scarcity, writ SCARCITY, especially in comparison with an effable deity. We are not enough, could be inscribed on the bulletin boards of classrooms and in workplaces, certainly in hospitals, and prisons. And the conventions that embolden such a wide-spread attitude are present, (without being recorded by name) in each cabinet meeting, each corporate board meeting, each diocesan convention and in far too many seminaries and academes. It is not merely by the specific content of their deliberations that these conversations are limited, but by the range of those conversations.

It is not only the absolute need to identify “systemic abuse" (racism, greed, opportunism, ageism, sexism, inordinate control needs/neuroses) but the range of thought, and the strategies that are inhibit so much of our private thought and public discourse. We limit ourselves by notions of scarcity of money, of imagination, of creativity and of possibility, not only because we are convinced that we have to be “responsible” and that means ‘sticking to budget’ and being “realistic”…Yet, our lens for the interior assessment of such parameters is so reductive, based on our determination to “fit” into the expectations, and by our fixation on precedent.

Precedent has, of course, provided us with previous learnings that show us how “not” to do something. Nevertheless, even with all of those cautions, we often forget that “that was then and this is now” …the epithet that attempts to release all discussion from having to conform with the past merely to honour it and its heroes. It is cliché to note that in every birth there is a corresponding death, and vice versa. It is also a continuity to which few refer/defer, given our preoccupation with all things “life-giving,” in the most literal sense of those words. In every beginning lie the seeds of each ending; and similarly, in each and every pandemic, in which millions die, there are millions of greenings that are erupting, without a library of precedents (in their specific discipline), and without a truckload of incentives.

We are learning of the limitations, both of the ways our societies and cultures have been blind to the notions of what is possible, what is conceivable, what is and has been permitted, given that we are all living in conditions that threaten the very foundations of our economic principles (many more are now advocating for a guaranteed annual income, for example, as well as for social workers and mental health workers to accompany calls for help). The parameters of the phone number 911, for example, are based on the need for “fire, ambulance, or police”…and the  operators are trained to ask which option is required in each call. Conceivably, those parameters will expand to include a more nuanced characterization of the situation of the alarm, with a corresponding outcome of fewer lives being injured or lost.

Accountants, and lawyers, while necessary, are not the most imaginative “experts” to generate either policy options or even perspectives for a government mandate. Public discourse, including the dominance of conflict required and even manipulated in order to generate headlines for news outlets, is another of the limiting and thereby defining cultural expectations. So long as a fight is going on, even if the two sides are shouting about irrelevancies, redundancies, petty differences, our culture runs a serious risk of considering the ‘heat’ more significant that the darkness (as opposed to light) the debate is generating. To consider most of the contemporary political debates substantive, is, in a word, laughable.

We are reduced to a daily menu of minutiae, crumbs on a menu of only fast food, at a time when only the richest and most expansive, creative, courageous and challenging of ideas, and the people to espouse and advocate for those ideas is required.
We have to begin to see the ‘universe in a grain of sand’ (Blake) or the reality that each moment in time is indeed connected to both the beginning of time and the eternity (Jurgen Moltmann), in order to fully appreciate the significance and the humility that must attend each of our decisions. Following in the moccasins of our indigenous brothers, we have to begin to see ourselves as empowered stewards of the land, the water, the air and the creatures of the planet, both in the wild and in our streets and neighbourhoods. And we have to resist the vacillation that has accompanied so many pendulum swings from one ideology to it opposite, from one economic system based solely on profit (unfettered capitalism) to one that excludes all foreign people (nationalism), and from one differentiated approach to the protection of the environment (thereby preserving political turf, domain and tenure) to a less “effective” approach. We have to come to a shared, voluntary and embracing vision that if one of our brothers or sisters is left in the ditch of our insouciance, we are all shamed by the dereliction, not merely of our duty, but of our denial of our highest aspirations, including our better angels.

Hope is that concept so abstract and so illusive as to be embraced by all political, economic and religious entities. And like the appropriating of their definition of a deity by all enemies in all wars, having been appropriated for all causes, both honourable and dishonourable, hope has fallen into the trash can of our disavowal. We have lost the potential of hope to inspire, not only because our leaders have so tarnished its potentially platinum sheen, but because we have slid, together and almost unconsciously, into a slough of literalisms, diagnoses, instant and completely successful remedies, along with a growing dynamic of trashing our competitors.

The potential of the political aphorism, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is not adequate to restore a faith in and a pursuit of a unity of purpose, as well as of method to confront, together, the convergence of the many forces that are facing us, from behind our masks, and under the prospect of both testing and quarantining, into the full breathing and dancing on the beaches of our best, shared and interdependent hopes and dreams.

Let’s all try to shift beyond the clichés of our faith, of our economic system, and of our inherent comportment with conformity and tolerance of  minimal expectations linked to maximal anxieties.

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