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Monday, May 31, 2021

Is there a choir of moderate voices in the wings waiting to sing?

 We all know that the 1987 movie, Wall Street, popularized a slogan, uttered in the movie by Michael Douglas, “Greed is good!” As Gordon Gekko, Douglas says, “The point it, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good…Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” We also are somewhat conscious of the growing disparity between the income of CEO’s and factory-floor workers, once considered normal at 30:1, now approximates 300+:1. What are the factors that have resulted in this seismic, and totally unjustifiable shift? On a superficial level, the numbers tell a story of corporate greed, unleashed partly through the complicity of a United States Congress so deeply embedded in their own dependency on the cash-surges from those corporate accounts. They also signal another seismic shift in national values away from the “public good” or the “common good” to the private “good” of a miniscule minority of mostly men who not only drank the “greed” kool-aid, but actually became intoxicated on its vapours. Disdaining phrases like the “nanny state” were bandied about in a blitz-campaign to denigrate social programs, food stamps, public schools, single-payer health care, mental health infrastructure and programs, even basic services like transit, municipal water supplies and the pipes that conveyed clean water into taxpayers’ homes. Everything about private enterprise, corporate growth, including the scorched earth policy and practice of millions of “redundancies” (newspeak for firings) was to be considered almost sacred, while all of those public services, that were designed to meet those once-considered basic needs of ordinary people, were left to rot, atrophy, erode, collapse, or merely disintegrate, literally and metaphorically.

Writing in Psychology Today March 25, 2009, Stephen Diamond, PhD, in a piece entitled, “Is Greed Ever Good? The Psychology of Selfishness” writes this:

Greed, like lust and gluttony, is traditionally considered a sin of excess. But greed tends to be applied to the acquisition of material wealth in particular. St. Thomas Aqu9nas said that greed is ‘a sin against God, jut as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemn things eternal for the sake of temporal things.’ So greed or avarice was seen by the (c)hurch as sinful  due to its overvaluation of the mundane rather than immaterial or spiritual aspects of existence….Both greed and gluttony correspond closely with what Guatama Buddha called desire: an overattachment to the material world and its pleasures which is at the root of all human suffering. Greed is about never being satisfied with what one has, always wanting and expecting more. IT is an insatiable hunger. A profound for, of gluttony. Where does greed breed? Paradoxically, greed arises from too little inner selfishness. That’s right. Greed grows from ignorance (unconsciousness) of one’s self. Addicts always want more of what gets them high, gives them pleasure, enables escape from anxiety, suffering, themselves. They greedily crave that which their substance or rituals of choice provide, be it drugs, sex, gambling, food, pornography, internet, television, fame, power, or money. We all have our personal addictions: workaholism, rationalism, shopaholism, perfectionism etc. This is our future attempt to fill a spiritual and emotional emptiness within, to gratify some long-buried need, to heal or at least numb some festering psychological wound.

Much of what Dr. Diamond writes has seeped into the collective consciousness of many people in North America, at least. However, the implications of these cognitive and emotional realizations are also invaded and countered by a persistent inner voice (born of a myriad of seeds) that keeps crying out for more of whatever we think or believe or imagine will fill up our emptiness, and in the process somehow make us “right” or “better” or “more respected” or “more important” at “at least better than those who previously judged us believed we would ever become.

The capitalist system of economy, now ubiquitously wrapped around the collective cultures of many, if not most, western nations, is a highly tuned and thereby highly effective honing and mining machine to “reap” the harvests of our individual and our shared emptinesses. In fact, we are bombarded by messages about how our lives will be “better” if only we purchase this product or service or both. And we are raising generations of young people who are unfamiliar with the facts of history that were not like this.

In his new book, Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power, Zachary Karabell,  tells a different story about how capitalism once operated in the United States. Brown Brothers Harriman has survived two centuries “without going bust, or recklessly pursuing growth, or blowing its capital in any of the speculative bubbles from steamships and railroads to real estate and bitcoin….The vital ingredient of Brown Brothers’ success…is that the firm was not acting as an agent for ‘anonymous shareholders’. It was investing its own capital, and this all but required it act with prudence….Karabell…uses Brown Brothers as a lens into the nation’s growth, and especially in the early decades, it’s an apt device….(T)here is something quietly stirring in the tale of Alexander Brown, a Belfast linen merchant who emigrated …to Baltimore in 1800, and together with his four sons became first, a major linen importer, then a dealer in cotton, coffee, copper, iron and sugar, then a financier…. Their driving ethos was as much community as profit. …Alas, no amplification is needed to elicit our interest in the understated Brown. ‘Shoemaker, stick to thy last’ (was a favorite proverb in the Brown family…(Roger Lowenstein, The Wall Street Capitalists Who Put Morals Above Money, New York Times, May 21, 2021)

These pages have been devoted to underscoring the divergence of motive of the most wealthy Americans, away from the public trust, need, common good and toward a narcissistic selfishness founded on an emptiness of self, as well as a similar divergence among the uber wealthy internationally. Karbella is not opposed to money as an instrument in the growth and development of a nation. His contention is that the deployment of other people’s money in risk-filled ventures, only to be bailed out with public money when the risk fails, is the significant difference between Brown Brothers Harriman and more contemporary capitalists.

Writing in the Financial Times, May 11, 2021, Robert Armstrong, writes:

“Brown Brothers Harriman began to fade in the 1970’s, partly  because of flagging energies but also because it remained a small, risk-averse partnership while high finance was becoming a game of speed, scale and aggression…Karabell thinks we would live in a more stable world if more companies practised this form of ‘sustainable capitalism,’ where bankers risk their own capital, not that of shareholders, and where service, not scale, is the main goal. There is surely truth in this, but it may also be that as technology and globalisation created unprecedented demands for capital at the end of the 20th century, only larger, more aggressive banks could get the job done, and the crashes of 1999 and 2008 were a cost that had to be paid. There is another possibility, too. The prudence, discretion, and moderation that defined Brown Brothers for much of its history reflected the values of the business community it served and, to an extent, of America as a whole. As those values have lost their vitality, it was inevitable that the banking industry would change. It may be, in other words, that we get the bankers we deserve.”

Let’s pause for a moment on Armstrong’s phrase, “technology and globalisation created unprecedented demand for capital…(that) only larger, more aggressive banks could get the job done”…..Is this not the requisite and inevitable lens of one who, depending on the circumstances, considers it essential that the old maxim of the “end justifies the means” is regarded as an in perpetuity clause in every business contract, as well as in the mind and heart and competence of every successful business operator.

Like a machine after its initial invention and design, by and for those who profit from it, it becomes a sacred cow that will continue to produce milk (profit) so long as the underpinning ideas that birthed it are maintained. And such maintenance can only be guaranteed by those whose personal success is married to everything necessary to keep the old cow producing milk. It is the “end” that justifies whatever means to achieve it that we are committed to questioning, and even to destroying, if that is what it takes to reverse the direction of the ‘ship of state’ that is killing the planet, that is rendering millions incapable of ever putting even a single foot on the ladder to domestic self-sufficiency, that is sentencing millions to lives of desperation, anger, bitterness, depression and perhaps even violence.

We are well past time to be aware of a glaring need to re-think, and to re-shape the way capitalism operates. And while Karbell’s book will not and cannot hold the key to the turn-around we need, it is a sophisticated wake-up call to those in the fast, and global lane, that the premises of their capitalism are, in a word, unsustainable. Who cares about their individual sustainability?

It is the long-term sustainability of corporations, as well as governments, unions, and those institutions that comprise the social and cultural fabric, not only of a community, but of a global community, that is under threat. And one of the root “frames” of this global atrophy is the halo that “fast capitalism” and narcissistic greed have attempted to install on the head of runaway capitalism.

It is a very short and easily conceivable step from runaway capitalism to runaway oligarchy. Models of, leadership, especially by those engaged in the rabid pursuit of their own personal agendas of self-aggrandizement, reinforce each other. When and where there are successful cleptocrats building lavish mansions hidden from public view (think Putin and others) and there are other more minor cleptocrats who depend on the largesse of those, like Putin, who fill their pockets, in return for absolute loyalty, silence and discretion….and the new world turns, “like the windmills of our minds”

The U.S. debt is, for the most part, held by China. China is in the process of withholding even co-operation in the pursuit of the origin of the COVID-19 virus. China is also in the process of invading the technological systems of every country willing to buy, and access to that technology is also accessible to the Chinese state and military apparatus. Fast and loose, in order to meet the demands of the new technology and the new needs for capital (hence the new way of doing banking and money generally) may well have spin-off impacts the likes of which we are completely ignorant.

And our shared blindness linked to our shared detachment from the levers of power, as well as from the vaults of cash that ‘run’ the world, at the top end, can and will only lead to a seeping into the fabric of many cultures, a sense of hopelessness, isolation, alienation and separation, that already infect millions of mostly silent and desperate people around the world.

Public displays of confidence, by those ‘paid’ to, or ‘charged with’ the responsibility to keep the powerful in power, echo the inflated public relations utterances from the depths of the Toronto Maple Leaf organization on the day when their team in about to play an elimination game against the Montreal Canadiens. “Great opportunity” to put the ghost of haunting failures to close out previous play-off campaigns is one way of inflating the moment to fit one’s desperation.

A similar inflation of rhetoric, coming from the political and the capitalist classes, cannot and will not cover over the real plight of the planet and the people who are trying to survive in circumstances they neither deserve nor can tolerate.

Are the rest of us too blind, or too detached or ??????????

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A necessary new world perspective that embraces our shared inter-dependence

 The following is from the Greenpeace email yesterday, May 26, 2021

In a historic verdict today, a Dutch court ruled with Greenpeace, and against Shell, that Shell is liable for damaging the climate. It is the first time that a major fossil fuel company has been held accountable for its contribution to climate change and ordered to reduce its carbon emissions throughout its whole supply chain.

Greenpeace brought the case against Shell, along with Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie, who started the case), ActionAid, Both ENDS, Fossielvrij NL, Jongeren Milieu Actief, the Waddenvereniging and 17,379 individual co-plaintiffs. The only reason we were able to bring this case forward against Shell? Activists and donors like you, powering our work around the globe, and giving us the strength and resources to fight and win wherever we are needed. Thank you!

This climate case has real teeth and could set a precedent in favor of people and the planet for future climate litigation. This is the first time that a court has ruled a company must specifically reduce climate changing pollution, and Shell is one of the 10 most climate polluting companies in the world. This verdict means that Shell now has to radically change course and reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% in 2030, in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

This verdict is a historic victory for the climate and everyone facing the consequences of the climate crisis — a victory that you made possible! This decision sends a clear signal to the fossil fuel industry. Shell cannot continue to violate human rights and put profit over people and the planet. Coal, oil and gas need to stay in the ground. People around the world demand climate justice

And then this, from Bloomberg News today:

Shell’s Court Rebuke Marks the Start of a New War Against Big Oil

Laura Millan Lombrana, Bloomberg News

 

The Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that Shell should slash its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. The company has only pledged to reduce emissions by 20% within the decade and reach net zero by mid-century. Shell plans to appeal the ruling. 

The outcome was a turning point for climate court cases, which boomed after 189 countries signed the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. More than half of the 1,727 cases recorded in the past 35 years started after the nations agreed to slow global warming, according to a report by the Geneva Association. Initially, many cases challenged governments’ climate plans, but litigators are increasingly targeting companies. 

Companies operating in developed economies, mainly the U.S., U.K., European Union and Australia, face the highest risk of legal action, according to a Climate Litigation Index by research firm and consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. But climate lawsuits are breaking new ground in emerging markets, with cases filed in Argentina, South Africa and India.

While the vast majority of cases have ended in favor of polluters, lawyers and activists are learning through trial and error. In a way, what's happening in the courts echoes how investors are making bets on climate technologies—many attempts will fail, but some that succeed could make a big dent in emissions.

 

Of course, the news media will continue to “frame” the issue of global warming and climate change as a conflict between those forces dedicated to the fossil fuel sector, the carbon-centric sources of energy on which much of the life on the planet is and has been sustained for decades and the forces committed to a permanent shift away from fossil fuels and a clean environment.

And while the conflict has real and authentic dimensions, it is this period of transition, in medias res, that the world has so few, if any, real structures, processes, laws, and actors to provide the requisite guardrails, lighthouses, monitoring centres, and even international judicial institutions on which to mount an effective transition.

 

As in our collective avoidance, and discomfort, even anxiety about not knowing and not being able to point to authoritarian voices, except for individuals, who have acquired and warranted the willfully surrendered collaboration, and the also willfully surrendered jurisdiction in order to institute and then develop an international “podium” in which the best available data can be trusted and archived, and then disseminated, the best research can continue to be funded and conducted, and then the most appropriate policies, practices, with both monitoring and sanctions agreed upon by all participants, without ascribing a veto power to any single nation, or even a small group of nations, (e.g. the Group of 5+1, the Group of 7, or of 20, or the 5 Veto powers in the Security Council).

 

The world cannot entertain, and certainly cannot endure, an international patchwork quilt of courts in a few countries listening to evidence brought by Greenpeace and other ‘public advocates’ against the powerful mega-corporations whose long-term survival may well be dependent on their winning interim, temporary and transitory court battles, while at the same time, continuing to pollute the shared atmosphere, land and waters of the planet. We need to look no further than the entangled United States legal system’s many arms, legs, tangents, forces, investigators, all of them operating in a political cesspool for the last four years, as they failed in their shared goal of bringing trump to heel. Such an entangled plethora of jurisdictions, political parties, media corporations, ideological positions and perceptions and ostensibly competing economies (although without a clean environment none of their prospects seem favourable) cannot be the best the world can come up with in order to confront this shared, self-imposed set of temperature-rising gradients.

 

Although we live in a world where a court decision in the Netherlands can and will be beamed a across the globe instantly in real time, and we can digitally link the “dots” the connect the forces working valiantly to bring about a survivable planetary environment, we do not live in a world in which even a general agreement on the facts of any case is available, let alone the openness to confront what are inescapable and intractable collations of evidence that we are continuing to strangle ourselves and all living organisms at a rate that, if not slowed or stopped, will only put us all on those proverbial ventilators. Obviously, there are not and will not be enough ventilators for the 8-9 billion people on the planet, and, once again, those wealthiest among us will have assured access to whatever ameliorating processes and devices might extend their lives, if it should come to that.

 

Establishing the base line of equal and shared value for every human individual on the planet, as well as for every living organism on land and in the seas, to have free access to clean air, clean water, and uncontaminated land seems a minimum expectation for those in decision-making positions to both advocate and to adhere to, in the face of what will be excruciatingly well-funded forces of opposition. If we are to be serious about sustaining life on the planet for ourselves, and our children and grand-children (in perpetuity), then we have to start to perceive our own individual perspectives differently.

 

We can no longer justify a position of isolation, a position that says or thinks,

“Whatever happens on the other side of the world (e.g. The West Bank, or Yemen, or Lebanon, or Somalia, or Nigeria) has no bearing on my life. I just want to hunker down in my own little bunker, and let the rest of the world go to hell in a handbasket.”

We can no longer justify a personal ideology that excludes the millions of starving, diseased, and desperately migrating refugees from all sorts of lethal forces from our mental and emotional landscape. They live on the planet just as we do; they need the same amounts of water, air, food and rest that the rest of us need. They also deserve to be included in the evolving universal picture of how the world survives and grows, at the beginning of this new pilgrimage out of the slavery of parochialism, narcissism, ignorance, avoidance, denial and insouciance that threatens to impale us on our own petard.

We can no longer justify a position of superiority, in the so-called developed world, hoarding vaccines, therapeutics, equipment, oxygen, and eventually clean water from those who are battling the pandemic (currently) and/or whatever comes next.

We can no longer pay homage to the corporate greed that has ensnared public policy in too many quarters for too many decades, blowing the smoke of illusion, delusion, and dissembling, as Senator Romney did yesterday, in his utterance that all money made by the corporations go to “people”. He, of all people, a millionaire at least, knows better than to make such a statement. And yet, he us currently regarded as one of the more moderate of the Republican Senators, in that he has not drunk the trump kool-aid.

We can no longer tolerate a joint VETO from China and Russia, when it comes to Syrian president Assad’s crimes against humanity.

We can no longer tolerate a United States’ veto, again at the Security Council, to investigate war crimes against Israel.

We must not tolerate a mushy, mealy-mouthed communique from the climate conference in Glasgow later this year, that has no muscle of enforcement, for those countries/leaders who seek to hide from their responsibilities to the rest of the world.

In fact, no leader of any nation should be able to be elected with having to face probing questions about how he/she will commit to the future life of the planet, before their electors cast their votes. And as citizens, not merely of our town or village, of our city or province, or even of the nation of our birth, but now and increasingly of the WORLD, we have both a right and a duty to become acquainted with, familiar with, and engaged in the processes that will attempt to “govern” the next decades, should we all make it through them.

 

Each of us has a mind, a heart, a spirit and a voice. Each of us also has a moral and ethical “code” perhaps not written down anywhere, but nevertheless deeply buried in our consciousness and our sub-conscious, from which to draw both our motivation to learn, and to discuss, and to throw off the mantle of indifference. It will take ALL of us, in our own individual way to bring the “power” of the world’s decision-making forces and people, to heel to the needs and the will of the billions of ordinary men and women and children in every country…. Russia, Belarus, Myanmar, Somalia, Nigeria, China, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Syria and even Saudi Arabia.

 

None of us can be exempted from the urgent cause of saving ourselves from ourselves. If the pandemic can teach us anything, it is that there is no single individual who can count on escaping the ravages of COVID-19 and because an “all hand on deck:” approach is required now, it can be preparation for a new world vision and aspiration for a full and healthy life for all, now and in the future.

 

Who can look in the mirror and say “No thanks to this shared mandate, shared threat and also shared opportunity?”

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Death...the most mysterious, mystifying and arresting moment of our life

 Our puppy, Tasha, picked up a dead bird this morning, and contrary to her usual compliance when her adults attempt to remove those unwanted, undesirable, and potentially risky things from her mouth, this time she was much more adamant, her jaw tightly clamped shut. Domesticated she may be becoming; however, we can never let go of the notion that she is a part of nature’s animals…..as are we!

There is something both welcome and a little disturbing in our discovery. Her basic instincts are intact; and so, apparently, are ours to find dead creatures a little off-putting. It is the way we respond to death that continues to fascinate, to puzzle, to generate anxiety, confusion, ambiguity and a fair bit of avoidance, if not outright denial.

And then, we find on this same morning, an obituary of a treasured colleague, a retired high school Phys Ed teacher, and consummate basketball coach. Roy suffered from cancer, and finally succumbed to its ravages. His wife was a classmate while an undergraduate at Western, so long ago that the names of the shared professors have faded into dust.

There is a universal funereal drum beat throughout the last two years, with millions having to face the death of one or more of their loved ones too often to COVID, while the drum beat of all of the other lethal illnesses continues, far from the headlines and the television and the internet. We can, after all, tolerate only so much grief in a prolonged period. And the grief of my classmate this morning at the loss of her beloved Roy intermingles involuntarily, imperceptibly, and universally with the wave of grief in so many locations (from 2014 through 2020-Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Ukraine, Somalia, Pakistan, South Sudan,  Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon,  Myanmar).

Juxtaposing those international deaths, mostly from armed conflict astride the death of a former endeared colleague, however, is an act none of us performs, or even considers, in the moments of our grief. Our grief is legitimately, authentically, and even naturally, one of life’s most profound emotional experiences. We read books about the subject; we attend support groups to share it; we privately weep in our most private, and possibly secret, places; we (some of us) pray about ‘meeting again’ in an afterlife; some of us commit to sharing hours, even days in the company of grieving families, as part of our spiritual journey; others of us spend protracted period of time in hospital and hospice rooms with our palliative friends and family members, in the hope and belief that our support will somehow offer a quiet, peaceful, gentle, and honourable passing. There is also little doubt that our presence in those rooms where the dying are ending their lives changes us in ways sometimes too mysterious for us to grasp.

Of course, we will miss those whose lives have intersected with our own. Of course, we will commiserate with those near and dear to us who suffer their unique loss(es). Some of us will pay respects by visiting funeral homes, others by offering flowers or memorial gifts to the charity of the deceased’s choice. Still others will plant a tree, a more recent act of commemoration, linked in part to the restoring of the life of the planet.

Nevertheless, there is a language and social vacuum in our lay-person approach to families in grief, especially those whose lives have touched ours briefly, or from a distance. There is a ‘guardedness’ about our sensibility and our sensitivity when in the presence of death. There is a quiet mask to our confused uncertainty about our own having to face this inevitable, unmistakable, unavoidable and ultimate truth: our own mortality.

Part of our shared distancing solicitude, however, can be linked to the centuries of religious teaching, whereby death has been considered the gateway either to an eternal life of streets paved in gold in heaven, or a fiery pit in hell for those whose lives ‘warrant’ such a sentence to eternity, or for those less venal, a place in somewhere called purgatory, where those still needing purification to enter heaven’s glory are assigned.

And, as there is no human path to convincing evidence of the existence or non-existence of any of these ‘places’ there is also no way to escape their emotional, spiritual, psychological and even physical impact on our lives. At the intersection of religious faith, imagination, belief and temporality, we stop breathing. At that intersection, people of all faiths attempt to link the event and the person to the eternal, to eternity, to the deity and to immortality. We share a common heritage in our desire for, our imaginative attempts to render, and our shaping of our lives to enter some form of eternal ‘afterlife’ of reward….or not.

The concept of a ‘judgement’ at the end of human life is one that continues to pervade much of western consciousness. And it is this over-hanging cloud that also continues to pervade our collective consciousness about both how we live our life and how and where we might spend eternity.

Tidal waves of ink, and acres of parchment/paper/walls of tombs have been dedicated to the exploration of what it means to die. At the core of these deliberations, regardless of the faith community in which they have been pursued lies the basic concept that humans are somehow tarnished, not-good, evil, and in Christian terms, ‘have come short of the glory of God’….as if that were ever in contention.

In my own experience, I found a discussion about the possibility that Hitler might have found a place in heaven, a discussion among first-year seminary candidates, exhilarating, somewhat frustrating and unforgettable. In our spiritual journey, various faiths have declared steps to exorcise demons, to confess our sins, and/or to grow and develop from the pain of those sins. (Recall Martin Buber’s consideration of sin to be the yeast on which humans thrived and developed.)

We have all heard those funeral homilies in which the statement ‘this person will be living in heavenly eternity as the side of God’….as attempted consolation for those grieving the loss. Personally, when conducting such funeral liturgies, I have never offered such a vision or statement, given that my theology places much less emphasis (almost none) on a day of judgement that any deity worthy of the name would perpetrate. Following that, it seems doubtful that any of us is capable of or justified in assessing the spiritual worth of any individual including ourselves. In the words of the vernacular, “that’s a job far above my pay grade’.

However, it is the intersection of the depth of pain, loss, suffering with the imagination of those writers in our holy books that we are left to contemplate. Poetic images, whether of beauty or disaster (think Dante’s Inferno) have impelled much art, even more prayer, even more liturgy, and even more imposition of the judgement of humans upon other humans in the name of ‘God’…whatever God was being postulated.

Deferring from judgement when in the process of grieving the loss of another, friend or foe, might be a process that could/would?  alleviate some of the deep grief and loss and ensuing depression that often follow the loss of a loved one. Nevertheless, this grief and the pain it brings is also an authentic component of human existence, and need not be relegated to a mental illness, as some in the psychiatric community have deemed it to be.

Humans, at least in North America, tend to take great notice of a new baby, a new life, the promise of whatever visions of achievement, success, respect and dignity that tend to exceed those already attained by most parents. We pay intense attention to those first few months of the child’s growth and development. In many cases, a similar pattern accompanies the last few months of our lives, especially if a serious illness has already foreshadowed life’s end. Perhaps, in our imaginations and in our spirits, we still see the beginning and the ending of life as somehow sacred, whereas, at least from the surface appearances, we consider many of the intervening months and years to be ones of struggle, conflict, turbulence, and discomfort. The Victorians were renowned for their pessimism, and it was Thomas Hardy who wrote in “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” ‘happinesss is a brief relief in the general drama of pain’.

We have, collectively, done much to remove many of the pain stimuli in our fixation on both drugs and technology to make human existence “easier’ and more ‘comfortable’ and more gentile and more sophisticated.

In spite of all of our efforts in this direction, of alleviating pain (physical and emotional) there does seem to be considerable evidence that perhaps many of our discoveries, designs, formulae and devices have left many boiling cauldrons of really serious and debilitating disease.

I would modestly wish that some of those intense initiatives at the beginning and at the end of human lives could be stretched into the middle years when most of us really need some different kinds of support, and yet, many are left to struggle and to wander and to flounder in isolation, alienation, solitude and the inevitable desperation.

My friend Roy undoubtedly did not suffer from a dearth of support, given his loving family. Likely his last weeks and months were as comfortable as was humanly and lovingly feasible. And for that, we are thankful as we also all hope to be afforded a similar support network. The significant developments in palliative care have enhanced the lives and time of those in the last stages of life, and for that our culture can be grateful and humbled. Those who work in this field, unheralded, making very few public utterances, themselves intimately familiar with the variety of the exigencies that face life’s termination, offer a service that is greatly needed, not only for those suffering, but also for those families trying to contend with the inevitable. Palliative care needs and deserves public support, in and through the provision of resources physical, emotional psychological and spiritual.

Whatever might be our personal theological orientation to an afterlife, we nevertheless cannot escape the overwhelming and immense complexity, profundity and mystery of our own leaving ‘this orb’. And, without indulging in monumental self-pity, nor deferring to cold and icy stoicism, we reflect on the lives of men like Roy, whose faces, smiles, words, jests, and wit graced a portion of our path, and in the process, come to an appreciation of other lives who, in their own way, also graced our path in ways for which we never expressed thanks. Perhaps we never even considered their impact on our lives, until after they have departed.

That is a sad loss, to which these words and these pages are pledged to resist.

It is not only people like Oprah who inspire a spirit of gratitude for our opportunities, and our blessings. And no matter whatever the names, we all have a list of those for whom we are grateful, and our tragedy is that we never told them how much they meant, while they were with us.

A forty-year-old husband, upon learning of the death of his thirty-eight-year-old wife to breast cancer, came to me on the top floor of the Centennary Hospital in Scarborough, in the summer of 1988, nearly in tears, to face the fact that he had not told his beloved wife “good-bye”. Imagine the pain he will and has suffered in the intervening years!

Thanks for being who you were and still are, Roy!

Friday, May 21, 2021

Americans peering down the telescope backwards?

 It is not only the “rugged individualism” that plagues the U.S.; it is also the bi-polar view the nation seems fixated on about the nature of the individual: some kind of hero, or some other kind of lout…..there is no room either for ambiguity or development…

Notice the preponderance of criminal charges, court cases, incarcerations, many of them for miniscule/innocuous/unharmful acts, and many of even those acts can be traced back to the underlying volcanic social and cultural insouciance that plagues the nation. Poverty, depression, early school drop out, unemployment, or employment in such demeaning jobs with minimal, literally starvation wages. And, to the outside world, it would appear that the primary streaming of many of the mostly male ‘undecided’s’ about what it is they would like to do with their lives, is focused on recruitment by and for the various arms of the military and/or the National Guard. Trumpeting those “scholarship recipients, especially the one’s accepted by the ‘first-rate’ universities, or the athletic achievements of a small number of late adolescents, while also coming the streets looking for, again, mostly men whose vehicles might be missing a tail-light, or a licence sticker, we see and hear an American culture that does not seem to tolerate ambiguity, certainly not the kind of ambiguity that accompanies millions of young people in their pursuit of whatever aspiration might have caught their attention.

It is not only through the tax code that Americans champion the top 1% of the culture in wealth and income. That 1%, in all fields, captures the attention, and the support and the guidance and the trophies, naturally creating the occasions for the philanthropists to make public presentations. So, it is not only in and through the political culture that the top 1% feeds on, nurtures and sustains and enhances itself.  The gild of the rose of individualism peels off quite quickly in the American towns and cities, if, for whatever cluster of reasons/causes/failures/omissions/commissions thousands of young people fall through the cracks of both the education and the social service systems. Given the rising tide of public adulation for the “private sector” and the accompanying tide of disdain for the “public sector” American schools have been Balkanized into classrooms of disrepair, and ivy-clad estates for the very rich. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, too, the meteoric rise of on-line educational software and the ‘pedagogy’ to support it, has cast another shadow over the need of the public education system to attract students in numbers that can and will warrant adequate funding. (Of course, the Republicans in the Senate will not be able to ‘see’ school enhancement, broadband universality, and social services as an integral part of an “infrastructure” program proposed by the White House. Defining everything that they must consider through the back end of a telescope, Republicans mistakenly think/believe(?) that they are maintaining tighter control over the matters of state, especially when compared with those “socialist” hordes in the Democratic Party, who see government as the solution for all social ills.

Individualism, then, as perceived, and then prescribed by the individual: for those seeking a smaller government, only those individuals who make a “contribution” to the party coffers, and the candidates who jump to the strings of their masters, those with fat wallets, investment portfolios, and ‘connections’ warrant serious consideration, when designing legislation, when designing political campaigns, when designing speeches, town-halls, and when paving the streets leading to electoral success for those who have already drunk the kool-aid.

Social services, including mental health services, of course, would, from the back end of a telescope appear to be another crutch to support those too weak to look after themselves. Social workers must deal only with those “less desireables” in the community, those who live ‘on the other side of the tracks from the ‘real, mostly white, mostly rich, and mostly highly educated, important people. Consequently, public funds to offer counsel, guidance, nutrition counsel, parenting courses, literacy programs, library-research coaching….all of those social elements that have been neglected by those very legislators who, for decades at least, have controlled state houses, governors’ mansions, and even the Congress, must take a back seat to those “profoundly needed” Pentagon and Homeland Security Budgets that “protect the nation from “foreigners”….

Ironically, the evidence is both clear and mounting that there are dangers from within, many of them individuals whose backgrounds were/are empty of the kind of “socializing” that many adoptive parents of puppies consider essential. Schools are designed and operated for far more legitimate reasons that exam grades, and the college admission test success, and then admission to the “school of your dreams”….Schools are an integral component of every community, where the kids of all the parents spend more time each day than they do with any other adult in their live, including their mother and father, or step-parent, or foster parent or grand parent. Anyone who thinks or believes that the only way to measure teacher effectiveness is to examine critically their students’ achievement results on standardized tests, has been living under a rock for at least half of their lives. The enthusiasm for learning, for asking questions, for digging in strange places for answers to strange questions, the kind of questions that come to the minds of students of all I.Q.’s, and not just to the top 1%, these are the ingredients that conceive of the learning “bug” and then gestate that learning “bug” into a full-blown, fully engaged, fully contributing, and fully rejoicing in their personal, their family and the community life.

Public schools, especially, are those places, incubators, green-houses of those “learning bugs” that fly about and land on those students’ hearts that have already been opened, like new Spring soil ready for seeding. And the process of that preparation, regardless of the agent, is essential for the “bug” to find a welcome brain-moss in which to develop. It is true both anecdotally, and demographically, that public schools draw kids from all social, economic, cultural, ethnic backgrounds, thereby “fertilizing” the garden in that green-house with elements glaringly excluded from the private school. And the national need to restore both public confidence and student and parent attraction to the public school system is one of the first and most necessary steps in any “build-back-better” funding legislation.

Ancillary in structure, but certainly not incidental in significance, are the kids’ need for supporting adults, not only volunteer athletic, dramatic, entrepreneurial, coaches. They need surrogate parents, (can you see those Republican Senators howling in derision?) in order to get a grasp of the breadth, the depth, the complexity, the range of opportunity, and the complexity of the world into which they are heading. Most parents have lived, attended their own school(s), colleges, universities, in far less complex times: not only was there no internet, no facebook, no twitter, no cyber-bullying, no menu of mind-altering substances, both legal and illicit, and no ambiguity about what jobs were going to be there after graduation. That stream alone, is so rapidly shifting that even those whose job it is to study and to counsel have trouble keeping up. Imagine the conundrum most parents face, and the vacuum of mature counsel that has to exist, given the social and cultural derision paid to such support services for those kids are still in school. Never mind the dearth of support services for those kids whose lives have shown signs of slipping away into the ether of the night, or the ethos of the gang, or the cinesphere of the fantasy life….prevention seems to be a concept considered anathema, certainly alien, to the American social culture.

The nation would, it appears to this outsider, (who has already brought down the wrath of insulted Americans being “lectured” by a measely Canadian!) prefer the highly heroic and highly sensationalized “crisis management interventions” when kids have overdosed, when other kids have suicided, when other kids have lost hope, when other kids have dropped out of school….and of course, the “costs” of rehabilitation when compared with the initial costs of prevention are, quite naturally and yet deniably, much higher. The problem with “prevention” however, is that, from a political point of view, it is not sexy; it does not garner the kind of headlines, dramatic television and movie scripts, the kind of budgetary arguments from blind and narrow-minded (remember that back end of the telescope) politicians who need public drama, and their purported efforts to rescue the ‘ship’ in order to cover themselves in public acclaim, or better yet, adulation.

Individuals, those seeking office, however, are not the reason for the political system. After all, they are only the temporary actors who sit in chairs long ago built and positioned in the belief that those coming after to sit in them will have their eyes, hearts, minds and spirits focused on the public good, including the obvious public needs.

Only the most narcissistic, opportunistic and deceptive candidates for political office would put their own needs and interests ahead of the glaring needs of their constituents, their towns and cities, their states, and their nation. The ‘servant’ model of leadership, far more than a memo, really a compendium of common sense, has seemed to have by-passed many of those currently occupying seats in state legislatures (where voting repression, restriction, especially of minorities is the current fixation) and in the Congress itself.

“Servant” is another model of “an individual” I hasten to remind those Americans who consider themselves leaders. And Leadership is a word that, historically has provided platinum examples of good servant stewardship from those in public office, visible to those younger generations aspiring to take their rightful place in those official chairs. The public good, obviously, is at the heart of the argument that public officials hold themselves accountable, focused on looking through the telescope on the bow of the ship of state, with a purpose to take in the clear picture of the evidence that is framed by the lens, to report that evidence, to digest the meaning of that evidence, and to take steps to insure that on their watch that ship does not run aground, does not get stuck in a canal of their own making, does not run out of the oil, gas, electricity and nuclear power that generates everything that moves on that ship.

Clearly, not only given the names and the pitiful legacies of the current crop of politicians in Washington, but also given both the size and the complexity of the issues that face those men and women, as well as the men and women in leadership around the world, (who just might be casting a doubting glance in the direction of the “beacon on the hill” of American Reaganesque history), neither the people of the U.S. nor the rest of us, in every other country on the planet, need, yes really do need, for the leadership of the United States to offer a menu of legitimate options on the environment, on digital and cyber security and control, on economic balance and equity, on pandemic preparedness and management, on worker protections and conditions of work with dignity and respect in all nations, as well as on empowering the international community with reformed agencies free of the emasculation indigenous to the United Nations and its Security Council.

While the United States is quick to decry what they consider the deplorable “human rights” conditions in many places around the world, it might be well advised to consider its own blatant negligence, not necessarily under some human rights code, but certainly under the rubric of common sense human relationships, through public schools, public services, public attitudes to those who continue to fall through the cracks in an increasingly combative and brutally competitive world. If the U.S. were to take a mere 1% of the budget allocated to the Pentagon and the bastion of the national security edifice and move it toward the provision of needed social and human and educational and health services, it might be amazed at the result in enhancement in “national security” considering the broadest and deepest meaning of those words.

Let’s speculate that the United States is, in a word, incapable of extending its national vision to the degree that its sacred goal of national security can be and will be enhanced and secured through paying attention to the legitimate needs of the least well-off Americans at home.

A beacon on a hill whose light has ‘run out of gas’

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Is America hoisted on its own petard?

Although I have written about the need for all Americans to come to the aid of their imperiled nation, especially in a time when one of the two political parties has been suckered into total emasculation by the former president, and in the process exploded the concept of truth and a body of agreed facts upon which public debate can be based, there are deeper underlying and still pulsating cacophonies in the American culture that make such “aid” by moderates of both parties as well as those who consider themselves ‘independent’.

What are those pulsating cacophonies that refuse to permit anyone or any group to hit “mute”?

Born in a revolution, nurtured on a manifest destiny mythology that pitted rough-hewn individuals against both nature in the form of taming the land, the beasts and those forces that sought peace and order and social stability, American is a place where the gun, the anti-hero, the outcast, the rebel, the robber, the scoundrel and the most devious are, paradoxically, honoured, at the expense of the ‘establishment’. This is not only a contemporary theme. It is a fundamental tenet in the American psyche. Given the avowedly unconscious national unctuous dedication (deification?) to the dark side of the “law and order” archetype, and the many entertainment agencies dedicated to the proliferation and propagation of the theme, even though whether or not the “good guy” wins at the conclusion of the half-hour or series of dramas pitting uniformed, armed and highly skilled and even more highly intelligent officers, there is an insatiable appetite for violence, as well as for illicit sexuality, and also for the perversion of the legal pathways through which money ought to travel.

Ironically, however, given the “American” outlaw archetype as proverbial anti-hero, the American government(s) ship boat-loads of public cash in the direction of those forces designed to surveillance, detection, charging and convicting those who cross that publicly declared line of either civil or criminal evil. The American fetish about security, both personal and national, is a black hole which both sucks the political culture into its vacuum, and provides those tidal waves of cash, profit and political leverage that attend sustain and inflate the insurance, the pharmaceutical, the weapons, and the military and the quasi-military agencies that abound across the land. Under the deceptive guise of “the protection of individual freedom” and the “right to individual choice” two phrases that comprise the cornerstone of the capitalist economy, government openly or secretly injects billions (through the manipulation of the populace, whose innocence and ignorance are the trusted Achilles’-heels of the voters) into those sectors, and their political districts represented by the most shrewd politicians Earmarks, and various other now deeply entrenched expectations like the expansion of military bases, the refurbishment of military equipment, the research and design of the next generation of military, pharma while limiting the need for clinical trials of new and potentially dangerous compounds, and also private protective insurances, all of which sectors, in an obvious and seemingly tolerable incestuous symbiosis that has taken hold of the political and economic systems in the country.

Muscle, deviousness, chicanery, resourcefulness, fearlessness, the capacity to “dance to one’s own drum”…..these are all innate traits of the wild west, where a mere veneer of modest, decency, dialogue, compromise, collaboration are all obviously second, third or fourth behind the ‘gun’ the ‘greeting from the elbow’ (not the hand), the deep-seated contempt for the rich (coal-driven power-station workers have killed themselves in the vortex of that hatred of the California rich), deep tolerance of alcohol, the adulation of the ‘trophy wife’, contempt for those ‘tree-huggers’ who champion environmental protections, and proud trumpeting of anything and everything associated with the ‘wild west’.

One observer, commenting on the 2016 election of trump, noted that both coasts (liberal) had forgotten all of the people living in the “middle of the country”….ordinary people, farmers, industrial worker, miners, mechanics, and labourers. While the observation has some validity, it misses the depth of the divide. Those clinging to the past, the traditional working with the hands, mostly white, the capacity to grow food for one’s own family, regular church attendance on Sundays, regardless of the ethic and/or moral values practices between services, and the denigration of the velocity and the depth of change founded on the discovery of science, technology, chemistry (except those directed to enhanced animal health and crop development) look to the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts where glass towers, and executive mansions, cars, wardrobes, and wealth have coagulated into a cancerous tumour of power.

Lost in the superficial analysis about the coasts versus the hinterland, too, is the sizeable demographic of black and Latino populations in the large cities on both coasts. The long-ago forgotten and neglected indigenous peoples on the plains have been alienated from the power structure for centuries. However, deeply embedded in the core of how America works is a bi-poplar view of the human individual: capable of great evil, and/or unworthy unless rich and acclaimed by the majority.

How then, under such dark and troubling clouds of cultural perception, signatory to what can only be described by this outsider, as a permanent divide, analogous to but far deeper and wider than the Continental Divide that separates the middle of the country from the far west coast, can the cultural divide be bridged? Having designed and built multiple bridges of iron and steel, to cross canyons, rivers, gorges, and through the creativity and ingenuity of their engineers, Americans are in danger of a national perception, conviction, belief and cornerstone, that by and through the human efforts of design and build, the deepest divides can be neutralized. Human effort, ingenuity, creativity, all of it based on hope and courage of conviction, even rebellious and at first Quixotic visioning, lie at the heart of the American psyche.

However, the human divide between races, between have’s and have-not’s, between religions, between educated and under-educated, between employed and un-and-under-employed, between those attuned to the future and those fixated on the past….these are all replicas of the original power differential between the American colonies and the British imperial government. It was violent rebellion that broke those original deadening ties to the monarchy, and yet, history has shown that American politicians are deeply imbued and steeped in a lust for personal power that merely infects those who are elected (regardless of the manipulation, the propaganda, the lying and the purchasing of the voter with his/her own money). It is and can be summarized that the gulf that ensnares the American culture is the gulf between those whose need for, dependence on, and even addiction to the acquisition of wealth for its own sake, and those who regard wealth as a means to leaven the inequities, to raise all boats, (as JFK used to say), to spread access to opportunity and not merely to ‘paint over’ the disparities and the decrepities of ramshackle neighbourhood in hundreds of cities, (although the beautify Cleveland project begins to restore some community pride through creative graffiti on barren city walls).

Extrinsic human agency, through those street artists’ brushes, and palates, and protracted periods of disciplined hours, while laudable, in the effort to rebuild this broken nation, will never take the place of a shared vision of all of the opportunities, resources, peoples and potential contributions to the nation’s well-being. Intrinsic, history-based, hope-inspired, truth-led, and creativity spawned attitudes that recognize the darkness that casts long and deep shadows over the whole nation, not only over its capital, or its many sparkling cities will begin to enable all Americans to see a common past, some of it worthy of retention and celebration, some deep and shared common lies, denial, avoidances, and inescapable hubris that like negative ions embedded in those clouds, continue to infest the cultural and political space with diseased attitudes, impure air and too much toxic national gas to permit deep breathing.

There is a process inherent to the full development of each of us humans, regardless of our ethnicity, religion, economic, academic, professional or political status: that process is internal reflection, time out to think and to remember, and to embrace those horrid feelings of loss, defeat, abuse (both suffered and imparted), and to open oneself to a full airing of those dark clouds, in the safety of trusted company.

Of course, such a process on a national level in the United States in not merely inconceivable. It is actually considered verboten, dangerous, illicit and counter-intuitive and counter-productive. Having asked church congregations to engage in a process as benign as “recovering their own time line” as a window on their past good and bad times, and met also incontrovertible resistance, I am fully aware of how difficult is the process of reflection, review, and the requisite opening up of deeply buried national (congregational, familial) pain.

As a beginning to the resistance, just look at the national resistance to any credible, sustainable, universal, and universally accepted and accessed, system of mental health in the United States. The national consciousness that police and law enforcement are not only ill-equipped, but actually negatively-trained even to enter a situation in which mental health issues are at play, is only surfacing over the last year or so. And the binary de-fund versus steroid-fund law enforcement debate, illustrates how mired in a futile, superficial, reductionistic and thereby ultimately frustrating and likely to incite even further divisions, public discussion is the nation, including the media, the political class, the activists, and both victims and victimizers in the system.

How does the nation build those channels of authentic relationships between those of different views, vastly different social and political status and class, different geography and regional culture, and move out of the rawhide culture of individualism, (based on and perpetuating division) parochialism, (another iteration of individualism), class superiority/inferiority (another iteration of individualism), ethnic superiority/inferiority (another face of individualism), pro/anti restrictive gun legislation (another protection of the frontier of individualism), free/hate speech (another deeply seeded vestige of raw and rugged individualism), and national/international politics (another attempt to preserve and sustain that old rugged cross of individualism on which the nation itself will hang itself).

American stands, in archetypal and Christian terms, on the hill to Golgotha, burdened by the weight of its own Cross of unbearable consciousness, ill-gotten mythology of idolized heroes and anti-heroes (another bi-polarity) while, waiting at the top of this hill, is the super-ego Magistrate, another of the essential American archetypes, ready, willing and eager to assign a death warrant to the unsustainable myth of American “exceptionalism” a form of national egoism that, in both a personal and private life, or a corporation, or a university, or an ecclesial entity, is unsupportable, given the natural limits of human agency.

That old film, based on the Congress of Nuremberg in 1933, entitled The Triumph of the Will, bears a title which is running very close to being applicable to the American political and social culture.

The world still needs the American altruism, the American generosity, compassion and collaboration. We do not need the only feature of the current menu: inexhaustible division, interminable disputes over what is true and verifiable, the despicable cult-and-adolescent addiction and infatuation with a single man’s vacuous narcissism, and the moderation of a decent, politically truncated, if not completely eunuched, president and a populous dangerous poised on internal revolt, almost in a desperate effort to prove it is still capable of national rebellion and the “questionable” freedom that they believe will ensue.

How misguided! How tragic! How pitiable! And How epic! Hoisted on their own petard! 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Time for ordinary Americans to come to the aid of their imperiled, yet proud, nation

 There is a flurry of conversation, opining, and general hubbub going on around the simple fact that Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney attributes the January 6 insurrection to Donald trump, and that Joe Biden legitimately won the November election.  Today, the Republican caucus will vote to turf Ms Cheney from her leadership position in her party in the House of Representatives.

Talk about the sound and fury signifying very little!

What if, not only is Ms Cheney on terra firma in her convictions, that hers is a shared truth with those who still believe in facts, shared and demonstrably proven facts, but that those other leaders in the Republican party who insist on clinging to their cult-hero, despite the facts, despite the racism, sexism, and what can also be described as a form of anarchy, in and through his deliberate contempt for the professionals in the civil service, in the military, in the intelligence community, in the national health fraternity, and in and through his deliberate co-dependence and sycophancy with dictators, autocrats and Machiavellian master politicians, are also deliberately and conscientiously and willfully fomenting the breakdown of civil society.

To talk about the erosion of the American democracy, while accurate in a superficial way, is to ignore the far greater danger of the deliberate destruction of the institutions of government, as well as the blowing up of the perceived facts and truths that have formed the foundation of that society and culture for two hundred-plus years. The 74+ millions of voters who committed their vote to trump are far more lethal, dangerous, unprincipled and cancerous than to pose a mere threat to the democracy. And not to talk about how and why those 74+ million have committed themselves to a single person, and to the obviously simplistic, reductionistic, authoritarian and criminal thoughts and behaviours of that one man, is to walk blindly into the dark night that those 74 million people aspire to create.

Not only is the former president obviously complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, through his deliberate and willful negligence in his non-addressing the pandemic, he is also not merely complicit but actually fully responsible for the appointment of individuals to high office who had already demonstrated total submission to his will, but who also had previously expressed their intention to undermine the very offices and institute ions to which they were appointed. Think Post Office, Public Education, Environment, CDC, National Institutes of Health, Social Security, HUD…even the Supreme Court and the lower courts have been abducted from their constitutional foundations, to be filled with presidential puppets, without regard to political ideology, national history and tradition, legal precedents and public trust…and all this while blatantly pandering to the incestuous, narcissistic money-changers who rule the American economy and increasingly the political system, through the blind, na├»ve and willful complicity of the Republican/trump political edifice.

American trust has been shattered in every world capital worth befriending. American blatant weaponizing not only the very words of the political discourse, but also through gross arms sales, the capitals and governments of any willing buyers, while demonstrating not merely a selfish, narcissistic sycophancy to both North Korea and Russia, through their dangerous czars. The world environment has been placed in jeopardy; the WHO has been emasculated; NATO has suffered considerable damage to its reputation, as has the United Nations, where both China and Russia consistently veto any attempt to take Syrian president Assad to the International Criminal Court, for war crimes against humanity, as he should long ago have been sequestered.

The banning of the former president by twitter and facebook, while useful, perhaps even necessary, is, however, analogous to a band-aid for a scratch, when the American essense is under direct, insidious, persistent and somewhat inconspicuous, secret and deliberate initiatives to blow it up. Let’s never forget that it was Steve Bannon himself, who trumpeted to the world that trump was a transformational president, determined to tear down the established order in the United States. It is not a reach too far to suggest that his forces would also consider destabilizing the world order that it has taken three quarters of a century to birth and sustain, in order presumably so that another dictator, in the form of the trump presidency could be put in place. The Donald himself blatantly suggested that a life-time presidency, as the Chinese leader has arranged for himself, was worthy of consideration in America.

And those 74+ millions who have fallen head-over-heels in infatuation with this one man, are so desperate, despicable and determined in their commitment to what can only be deemed a sociopathic endeavour to destroy, demolish, eradicate and to elevate their hero to rule. There are so many different strands to the insurrection’s demographic: white supremacy, Christian evangelical fundamentalism, male psychosis and its concomitant the bully, ‘real women’ as the counterpart to the alpha male, un-and under-educated and un-and-under-employed men and women whose last quarter century has experienced a decimating form of rejection, denial and carelessness, in favour of those making geo-political, and geo-economic decisions, with their tax write-offs for out-sourcing millions of jobs and the manufacturing infrastructure that supported them.

There is a defiant and demonic literalism, infantilism, a desperate search for and need for a rescuing hero, among not only the insurrectionists, but a vast majority of the 74 millions and the combination of these factors continues to render a real possibility that the former president will attempt to and potentially could re-take power in 2024. These people are not reachable through logic, through empirical facts, through a reasoned and comprehensive analysis of the dangerous waywardness of their blind enthusiasm, even frenzy, that they were “cheated” in and through the “cheating” that was meted out in the voting in November 2020. They are not amenable to either facts or compromise; they are not the best of what America has raised, but they are among the weakest, the least self-sufficient, the least cognizant and the most needy of the nation.

If and when one perceives his/her life as an empty bucket, empty of work, income, healthy relationships, perhaps education, perhaps even achievements of which one is proud, empty of tenderness, love, compassion and even empty of a truth that is worth believing in, especially empty of hope, empty of dreams, empty of trust in what the ‘system’ (the establishment, the power elite, the ‘Harvard-Yale’ cabal) has done “TO” you, you are inevitably angry, sad, depressed, alienated, and somewhat desperate. If also, your world view is empty of traditions and symbols that have long ago lost their relevance (a dominantly white population, a dominantly white picket-fence-two-parent-husband-working-mother-homemaking, two .5 kids, also white and sporting trophies of various kinds and sources), you are more than sceptical; you have become cynical and even perhaps nihilistic, especially toward the future of your family and your community.  Then if your bucket (world view) seems to be filling up with unwanted, unwelcome, desperate refugees, immigrants, members of a religion the violent wing of which actually flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, only to be filled to overflowing with the onset of a global pandemic (and a chief executive who pounds his self-flatulated chest about ‘it’s nothing and will go away like a miracle, left unstated, “which I will perform”) you by now have lost touch with both reality and any lingering vestige of hope from traditional sources.

Only God and trump will save you from your existential threat. (Never mind that trump has, himself along with his acolytes, prophesied carnage in the Inaugural Address, ‘nothing to lose’ to the black community so why not vote for me, debased environmental science, exited the Paris Accord, exited the Iran Nuclear Accord while threatening to “bomb Iran” and in the process painted a somewhat vague yet distinguishable portrait of an Armageddon, thereby only exacerbating your own sense of hopelessness, futility, and the requisite fears that necessarily come along with such a vision. The paradox of trump’s attempting to be both miracle-worker and devil incarnate, by now has been lost from your picture of the world and your place in it, if for no other reason that your former 20/20 vision (literal) has been so eclipsed by your state that has replaced one reality with “alternative facts” and the accompanying choir-masters.

And let’s not be so reductionistic here as to relieve the establishment, the Harvard-Yale crew, the wealthiest one percent, the Republican Party, and those former and current iterations of the Democratic Party over the last three decades who have ‘slip-slided-along’ with the elite  though the acquisition of wealth, power, academic and/or athletic stardom (think big government is dead, three strikes you’re out, privatizing of the prison system. The triumph of intellectual superiority and the conviction that one’s thoughts are absolutely pure, purely ethical, absolutely necessary and walled off from all hints of compromise is no less venal than the triumph of the personal will of a single man or woman.

The difference lies at the core of the moment: democracies have to be fully engaged in the debate, discussion, research, education, and propagation of ideas whether those ideas be in the economic realm, the political, the scientific, the algorithmic, the investment, the foreign policy, or even the individual rights and freedoms….and must never succumb to the highly seductive glitter and glitz of one man’s seemingly iron will, even if that iron will appears to be dedicated to overturning what you believe to be a corrupt system.

Dichotomizing, black-white, either-or, Manichean reductionisms that infest each and every news story, from all outlets, (presumably based on another outdated myth: that readers and listening audience have about a grade six intellectual capacity and thus the media have to simplify things into two neat and opposing compartments, while at the same time, attaching a personal face, reputation, history, character and perceived public value to each of those faces, just to keep everything within the grasp of a ‘dumb-and-dumber’ public. The implicit insults redound, and are now redounding in cacophonous clamour of national self-sabotage.

No issue is as simple or as easily and readily resolved as the media, and the political class would like to have us believe. No person is as heroic or as venal, so long as we have a political culture that respects an evolutionary movement toward what Americans love to say is a movement of history ‘toward a more perfect union’ as the media’s insatiable appetite for sensational pieces of gossip would like to convey.

Even trump, somewhere deep beneath a heinous, seriously depraved, wounded and isolated jelly-core, is more than what he is determined to project as an iron will. Believing that his iron will is the only way he can tolerate his own person, however, is a fact of history that he has to resolve. Such a resolution cannot and must not be, or become the responsibility of a generally and historically generous, kind, welcoming, tolerant and self-critically examining nature and culture.

It is entirely up to the American nation, including both political parties, to excise the person, the history, the influence, the sycophants and the residue of this deeply failed experiment in nihilism, incarnated by a single man in an self-atrophying circle of other desperate mostly men, who have sunk below the worst nightmares of their parents’ worst fears.

Liz Cheney, having raised a whopping $1.5 million in the last quarter, for her denial, not only of the big lie, (another of the big reductionisms in headline form) but also of her steadfast advocacy for the truth, science, the public good, the need for debate not based exclusively on personal ad hominum attacks, but rather on the merits of ideas.

This space is never kind to the right wing, ideologically. However, this space sees the dangers of the American existential threat in terms that go far beyond whether the democracy survives.

Only something as pivotal and the driving out of the money changers from the temple, and nothing short of such a revolution, can and will come close to rescuing America from its potentially tragic fall, one that could eclipse all of the Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, military, political and personal that clutter our libraries and now the Cloud.

Seeking their own place in history, America risks achieving such a place of idol only as graven image hollow and empty, at its own demise.