Wednesday, August 18, 2021

"Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition" (Alain de Botton)

 There is so much turbulence everywhere….and Afghanistan seems to be only the tip of the flaming iceberg….with China, Iran, and Pakistan all crawling to accept and potentially do business with the new Taliban government in Kabul

California is on fire….the prairies are so dry that farmers have lost somewhere near 75% of their expected crop….young children are dying from COVID-19 Delta Variant…booster shots are now on the horizon….Gov. Abbott of Texas, double vaccinated plus booster has contracted COVID-19….desperate people in Kabul have been running underneath and climbing onto monster military jets just to get out of their own native country…reminiscent of the people jumping to their deaths on 9/11 in New York….school mandates for masks, vaccinations, social distancing are literally all of the proverbial ‘map’ with political leaders way out of their depth on public health leadership….

Viktor Oban in Hungary hosts Tucker Carlson’s Fox TV show, in a defiant, thumb-his-nose at the United States, and an unsubtle and scary ‘endorsement of both carlson and his cult leader trump…

CDC guidelines, like the weather forecasts we used to be able to depend upon attempt valiantly to keep pace with the galloping new “science” of the pandemic….while only 16% of the world’s population has been vaccinated….if that is not a piece of information that sparks shivers down the spines of everyone reading it, I do not know what would!

The Biden administration has so miscalculated the speed at which the Taliban could and would come to control the capital of Afghanistan including the airport(s), that they have had to rush some 7000 troops back into the country, while working feverishly to wipe the “egg” off the face of the new U.S. government…Perhaps withdrawal from the twenty-year war, another American foreign policy debacle, makes eminent sense, nevertheless the execution of the extrication of American personnel and the 300,000 Afghanis who have supported the American adventure over the last two decades is proving to be lethal to some, and potentially to many…depending on both the outcomes and the availability of accurate reporting as these days and weeks and months pass.

Interest rates are starting to rise, real estate prices are starting to fall…food prices are projected to rise considerably, and public institutions are metaphorically, and thereby effectively eroding/atrophying right before our eyes.

Messages via whatever platform have so mushroomed that mail boxes are overflowing, notes are being passed over, connections that previously came with group projects are dissipating if not disappearing and being replaced (ineffectually) by technology …..employers are witnessing a tidal wave of resignations from long-established employees, many of them highly professional and highly educated, leaving both a vacuum in those workplaces, and a seismic shift in managerial job descriptions and strategies of leadership.

Conversations that previously relied on the two verbs, “ask” and “tell” are being coached into transforming in the direction of “shared learning” in the hope that relationship building can and will pick itself up off the floor of the basal transactional….(we are, after all, much more complicated and interesting that mere function, especially as the agents of another’s end results).

“Getting to know” one’s workers, volunteers, business and club associates, colleagues, has become another cliché in a long line of managerial cliches that have been trotted out by managerial guru’s in their vain attempt to shape the culture of the capitalist system.

Unfortunately, however, given that “cash is king” and that “cash talks” (in the words of a U.S.  Congresswoman) the American culture’s reliance on symbols of hard power, (the military, and the market, including the buying of political support) has hopefully passed its expiry date.

Exporting democracy, at the end of a bayonet, and at the end of a surveillance drone, while believing that such power symbols warranted geo-political respect, admiration, and even sycophancy, is a national strategy that one can only hope has finally reached its inevitable and justifiable death. The relationships between how a nation conducts its business and how it conducts its foreign policy are really not that far apart. Power, domination, testosterone, even mediated by the occasional “sensitivity and empathy” for example, for the threated women and children in Afghanistan, continues to plague the strategies and the tactics of too much of the developed world, traditionally ‘led’ or perhaps even cowered by the United States.

Business models that consider workers, at all levels, but especially at the bottom end of the “food chain” to be both expendable as if they were just another “resource” in the manufacturing process, or “revenue-generators” as opposed to “cost-generators” in the sales, distribution process that extend the product generation business, and political “business models” that rank cash as the criterion by which to judge the success of a political machine, and its “face,” have simply lost their way.

The moral way was lost decades ago; now we are proving that the efficacy of those models has also been found desperately and despicably wanting. We have become familiar with the words “safety” and “efficacy” in reference to the newly approved, (however temporarily) vaccines for COVID. Those words have an equal, if not even more relevance to the policies, practices and the culture in which we are currently expected to operate.

PAUSE to breathe:

Dalai Lama: There is a saying in Tebetan, 'Tragedy should be itilized as a source of strength.' Nomatter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's oru real disaster.

Just a narrative example, from personal experience. Working with a practicing psychologist, an organizational consultant, and a practitioner in board strategies and organizational models, together we submitted a proposal to a struggling board of education for diagnosis, consulting, coaching and long-term support, in order to transform what was ailing the system into an effective and self-sustaining model. Our projected fee was $10K. The board chair, who actually go back to us, had a one-line reason/excuse for not engaging us. “You were far too expensive!”

We were not asked to explain, or to justify, or to demonstrate how we would engage with the board officials. We were dismissed exclusively on our “bottom line cost”.

And that kind of superficiality, based on dollars, is a demonic and pervasive form of sabotage of far too many ideas, projects, and even potential transformations that are demonstrably needed on both sides of the border.

Base pay, for those considered “essential” to the health needs of seniors, for example, has demonstrated how frugality, and profit-seeking greed, has lined the coffers of the privately operated long-term care facilities, while exposing both staff and residents to inordinate levels of the pandemic. Similarly, minimum-wage policies and practices in the service sector, have been exposed for what they are and have been, with re-opening restaurants and bars desperately searching for new hires, after the willing departure of thousands of previous workers who will no longer ‘slave’ for ‘slave’ wages.

The gas has been leaking from the shock-absorbers in our culture for a very long time, while corporate magnates turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plea’s and the cries for modest respect, and moderate “value” that have been coming from the non-unionized workers who, quite literally, have no voice in the marketplace. Similarly, there is no gas left in the shock-absorbers once considered minimal social graces like manners, respect for others, decency in debate, serious consideration of the views of another, even over a beer in a bar, without resorting to that familiar adage from Dubya on the pile of destruction following 9/11, “You are either for us or against us!”

There was and continues to be “no subtlety” in that epithet.
And Dubya himself said, “I do not do subtlety!”

Neither, it appears, does the rest of world any more, if we use social media as our research source.

I met a young man this week, in his mid-forties, who has generated a social media “community” of cheerleaders for his home town. Elegant photos, supportive insights and information hare generated considerable support. However, even he has found that there are too many who wish to “trash” his work, his site, and his valiant efforts to bring a little peace and harmony to the lives and the days of his small community. So virulent has been the “trash-talk” that he expressed concern for his own mental wellness, after struggling in vain to explain reasonable views in a reasonable manner.

Reason, respect, moderation and decency, as the gas in the shock absorbers in a faraway time and place, have evaporated like so many species of animals and plants. There is no ‘scientific’ linkage between climate and global warning to the death of those ‘species’ because, for one thing, they are not creatures on a zoologists or a botonists’s lab table, being anatomized, parsed and dissected for their terminal disease. Reason, respect, moderation, decency and mutual tolerance are creatures of a culture in which some of us were raised. Of course, they are not anatomical, or biological, nor are they able to be assigned empirical data points, like a rate of heart-beat, a rate of oxygen absorption into the blood stream, a lung capacity, nor an acid-test in the urine.

However, they are nevertheless, essential ingredients of a healthy family, a healthy community organization, a healthy town or village, an effectively functioning and visionary town council. And to be unable to use a microscope or an MRI, or a CAT-SCAN to determine how “healthy” they are in a particular social organism, renders them no less important, and no less in need of nutrition, sustenance, oxygen and vitamins in the form of repetition, gratitude, replication, endorsement and emulation.

These essential ingredients of a healthy social system, too, cannot be purchased, nor can they be manufactured in a factory. Schools can and do try to foster their inculcation; however, in a sweltering and pulsating ocean of counter-intuitive winds, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire-storms, all of them fueled by lies, hatred, bitterness, profound neuroses and even psychoses, the normally useful and necessary “tacking” is no longer enough.

Mounting a counter-storm, or even a counter-story, to the onslaught of mean-spirited and narcissistic fear, is, and will continue to be a quixotic and frustrating endeavour.

Just as shaming those refusing to get vaccinated is totally ineffective, so too is shaming and blaming and shouting and screaming against those who refuse to demonstrate something close to reasonableness. As one highly engaged and even more highly intelligent woman put it to me when I was expressing angst at the culmination of so much negativity, “At this time, I believer we have to be even more courageous; we have to be determined not to permit our own drowning in these toxic waters of social media, fed by toxic public figures.”

Never have those words been more needed, regardless of the specific conditions one faces, nor in what country we face them. Whether we are trying to feed a family in a refugee camp in Jordan, or educated a young girl in Afghanistan, or evacuate thousands from the danger of the Taliban, or get vaccinations to the other 84% of the world’s population who have yet to be vaccinated, or whether we are engaged in the UN World’s Food Program, or whether we are engaged in a philanthropic in our own or a foreign land….we need people to commit, to engage, to risk and to take up the single most relevant and compelling issue we each see right before our eyes.

Half-hearted, dilettantish, semi-serious engagement is, both by definition and by operation, a failure to engage. We need to be more conscious and assertive about what we want to do, and those with whom we wish to share our commitment and we need to find those who can and will listen to our desire to serve. And those who are responsible for recruitment and engagement of volunteers need to be very specific in both the terms of the tasks needing to the carried out and the value placed on those who complete them.

There is neither time nor space for the “usual” or the “normal” detachments, the normal politenesses, or the politically correct upper-class reserve, once considered demure and sophisticated. We are, that is every single human being on the planet, is facing too many unresolved, complicated and complicating, and obviously inter-connected sizeable issues or files. We cannot depend on the political class for answers. We also cannot rely on the big money philanthropists to remediate our own angst.

We must face our angst in a way that is not hand-wringing, but rather cudgel-raising. The world needs everyone of us, and it needs us now.

Our individual, family, town, community wellbeing and even our shared survival are hanging in the balance.

Saturday, August 7, 2021


 David Wallace-Wells, of the New York Times, writes (global warming) this all-encompassing threat is now the theatre to which all our stories unfold.” (Humanity’s Greatest Existential Crisis, by William Walkley, in April 18, 2019)…Walkley again quotes Wallace-Wells from a public address, ‘We have an incredible ability to normalize a grotesque amount of suffering’ (Op. Cit.)

Naturally, such ability to normalize huge amounts of suffering lead to inaction on a number of fronts. Normalizing suffering is another way of saying, we have an ability to fail to see, or to recognize, or to fail to want to see, or to refuse to acknowledge. Ostriches, with their head in the sand, have nothing on us. Ephret Livni, writing in Quartz, in a piece entitled “Feeling anxious? It’s not just you, it’s our philosophical era of neuroexistentialism,’ January 25, 2019, says this:

It’s not easy being human. It never was, really, if William Shakespeare is to be believed. In the 16th century, the playwright noted that ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Neuroscience is increasingly confirming this view. The more scientists learn about the human brain and how it operates, the more obvious it is that being human is no big deal. We’re just animals, complex biological systems operating according to the laws of nature-from physics to biology and chemistry Many scientists, like the late Stephen Hawking, and philosophers like Duke University professor of philosophy and neurobiology Owen Flanagan and SUNY University professor of philosophy Gregg Caruso in a recent issue of The Philosophers Magazine argue that we have no soul, no fixed self, and no inherent purpose. We exist simply because we exist, tiny specks on a small planet in qn infinite universe, and not because a god made the Earth for us…..Collectively, whether we’re aware of the effects of scientific findings specifically or not, much of society is suffering a crisis of ‘neuroexistentialism,’ according to Flanagan and Caruso. ‘Today there is a third-wave existentialism, neuroexistentialism, which expresses the anxiety that, even as science yields the truth about human nature, it also disenchants, they write.

Both Shakespeare and the contemporary neurobiologists/philosophers, independently ‘frame’ the human condition as ‘signifying nothing’ and yet, centuries of different perspectives have attempted to elevate the human being (and thereby the human condition) to a higher plane. Phrases like “more perfect union” and “equal justice for all” and the sacred right to vote, and the elevation of democracy to an ideal, in addition to a political theory and praxis. If we are caught between the seemingly polar opposites of “our better angels” and insignificance, and we tend to be sliding toward a heavily weighted scale in favour of the latter, there seem to be several spin-offs that just might be emerging.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s epithet, “You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts” seems to have eroded, if not evaporated from the public square. Millions are simply replacing a body of agreed facts with their own opinions that supplant the need for, and the dependence on any body of agreed facts. Consequently, for many, there simply IS no climate change or global warming; science and scientists, too, have been trashed (on the virus, vaccines, therapeutics, and preventives). Political ambition on steroids renders, or attempts to render, individuals immune to empirical evidence. If we are all sitting on a precipice about to fall into the ocean of nothingness, then, it seems that one last gasp of “whatever” (narcissism, fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, selfishness and even a resorting to the law of the jungle) have become the new norm. Seeking to appear powerful, irrespective of holding any principles, or even an ideology, for the sake of the “hunt” for the kill, in a zero-sum political equivalent to the Roman coliseum’s kill or be killed, seems to give proof of our basest animal instincts. That process also repudiates, not merely ignores, any ‘higher’ moral ambition to collaborate, to compromise and to seek a higher ground of what some would call responsibility.

Greece, Turkey, California, British Columbia….they are all being consumed by fire as I write this. Friends in Vernon B.C. when asked what they need most, reply simply and poignantly and even hopelessly, “a rain dance!” Species of both flora and fauna are disappearing hourly; the oceans are filling up with garbage, as are the landfills, as the air becomes increasingly dangerous to breathe. Hundreds of thousands of people in all countries, have died because they “couldn’t breath’ as the final life-destroying symptom of COVID-19. Millions either defiantly and categorically refuse to be vaccinated, opening the door for the DELTA variant, and the potential of even more dangerous variants, as the spread of the virus spikes even in what were conventionally considered ‘developed’ nations like the United States.

Power differentials, superior/inferior, are a form of plague, imposed primarily by those who hold power. Income spreads, food scarcities, drug-overdose deaths, mass shootings, hate crimes, and even road carnage are all rising in frequency and severity. “What’s in it for me?” has replaced the former maxim of the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good!” Literalism, and the reductionisms that flow therefrom, takes all metaphoric mountains and their streams and flattens them into arid flatlands. Bottom lines, expressed in an erosion of volunteerism, in another demise of community, not to mention the emptying of many sanctuaries, mosques and synagogues, teach our kids that two thousand years of enlightenment are replaceable by neuroexistentialism.

If we are to burn (or even worse to permit the burning of) all our perceptions and values of a potential of living together and replace them with the law of the jungle, we are falling into the literal snare of meaninglessness, purposelessness and a literal, individual fight for survival at its most base level. Phrases like “Our brother’s keeper” and ‘empathy, compassion, and sharing’ blow across the plains of our consciousness like tumbleweed drying out even further the fertility of the soil of our imaginations, not to mention our sources of food. The indigenous concept of a partnership with mother earth, a respect for and an honouring of the fruits of food, shelter and clothing, through a time perspective of something approaching and evocative of timelessness, is both ignored and dismissed as somehow merely appropriate for “those” others.

Of course, there are a plethora of programs, government-based, philanthropic-engendered, outreaches on behalf of attempting to support struggling survivors of the many ‘plagues’ like famine, war, hopelessness, and voicelessness….as if to assuage our anxiety and psychic pain of indifference….unless and until some single image jolts us into a ‘new’ consciousness of seeming to care.

We champion billionaires, as models of success for our children to emulate. We pour billions into weapons, into intelligence and national security, into espionage, and into competing with others whose leaders and people are not “as good” as we are.,…when we all know that such a claim is pure propaganda. And those billionaires wield direct and indirect political and cultural influence far beyond their intellect, far beyond their compassion, and far beyond their imaginations.

In the midst of this burning landscape, suffocating oceans and lakes and rivers, and armies of families attempting the ultimate walk to freedom, while there are tiny ripples of sound and rhythm of hope and empathy and compassion, the overriding cacophony of selfishness drowns out those melodies and harmonies.

Another symptom perhaps of this neuroexistentialism is the rising tolerance and even championing of parochialism, nationalism, community resistance to change in favour of ‘preserving’ the past through the monuments of figures and patterns long ago irrelevant to the contemporary consciousness. Some might argue that as men (males) see their/our dominance in all aspects of human existence wane, long after its expiry date, there is a frightened gasp to demonstrate alpha power, defiance of reason and empathy, rejection of facts and responsibility, escape from all forms of shame and guilt, and a Dionysian pursuit of both personal power and a kind of ‘freedom’ that tolerates no limits. The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which sometimes used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques  (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state. (Wikipedia)

There has for centuries been a tension between a view of the epicurean* and the stoic# as to the “better” approach to human existence. If the definition and meaning and implications of the word “nature” are being re-evaluated today, then it would follow that many of the assumptions of religion, thought, human potential, expectations and the relationship between the empirical and the imagination require a new look. For some, that frontier abounds with opportunity, challenge, creativity, promise and hope; for others it signals doom, dystopia, apocalypse and devastation. Just as the extremes of any continuum have traditionally attracted a minority, so too do the extremes of individual beliefs and perceptions require and warrant a leaven of salt, a kind of preservative/conservative/detachment that disentangles the absolutes from their capacity to sabotage.

Scepticism not only permits ambiguity; it requires it. And the sceptic, it seems is not longer an accepted member of the totalitarian right-wing cults that are popping up in many places. Belonging to a cult, or a terrorist organization, or even a apocalyptic belief system, taken literally, opens one to the mind-control of personality….especially charismatic personalities. And such personalities have been thrust into the limelight, in a vain attempt to provide ‘role models’ for youth being parented and educated in a culture of classical conditioning. It is not a surprise, really, that the former president of the U.S. came out of the jungle of real estate developers who broke many planning and standards expectations in the pursuit of sheer profit….given that sheer profit has replace much of the more sustaining appetites that help society to function effectively. Manipulating the message and the delivery systems, it seems, one can attract millions to one’s person/cause, in the mistaken perception and belief that  “I alone can fix it!”

Susceptibility to lies, big and small, continues to plague much of the populace and the discourse in the  United States, and those fires of deceptive propaganda help to fuel the negligence on global warming and climate change. Carl Bernstein  calls trump a ‘war criminal’ for his part in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives could and should have been preserved, but for trump’s criminal negligence.

However, once Bernstein’s call went out, silence has, like a dark and still night, enshrouded the quote. It has slipped below the public consciousness in the U.S. for the simple reason that Americans are among the best at ‘sucking-it-up” in order to demonstrate a unique capacity to “normalize a grotesque amount of suffering”. Ironically, this capacity is not the hallmark of a strong and health nation, no matter the latest figures of job creation and DOW data.

Individuals like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, both highly developed and talented performers in their respective events (gymnastics and tennis respectively) may ultimately bring the edifice of “sucking-it-up” down in a heap of long-repressed tears, as if the “Berlin wall” of the denial of human emotions finally gave way to a much more integral and pervasive truth: we are not “things” to be molded and programmed and performing for a gold medal. We are far more complex, vulnerable, interesting, and also empathic than too many have wanted us to be for far too long.

The moment our puppy recognizes that she has inflicted even a second of discomfort, in her play with her family, she is immediately able to withdraw, and then to administer comfort, compassion, and empathy, through her multiple displays of body language. This too is part of nature, whether or not it is implicated in our neuroexistentialism. And her demonstration of her ‘connection’ in language beyond words, is a sign of hope for our relationship with her, and a model of hope for the world.

Whether or not that model conforms to purposelessness and meaninglessness, I do not know. For me, it is more than enough to want to engage and to sustain the relationship with her. And that, too, is worth the doing.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A "new" approach to recruiting, nurturing and sustaining volunteers


volunteering challenged

How often have we heard the cry, "No one wants to volunteer anymore?"
The line comes from those already engaged in some form of a church, a service club or perhaps a youth athletic activity.
If the economic impact of volunteering in a community were totalled in dollars, we all would be aghast in incredulity.
According to, in 2017, Canadians contributed 2 billion volunteer hours to the national economy, estimated to be a total value of $55 billion.
Of course, periodically, a news story will pop up when a special volunteer is recognized by a municipality, a service club or a sports league.
The second line in that opening cry sounds like this: "Everyone wants to know ' what's in it for me'?"
And while there is legitimacy to the question given how busy parents are in raising their children, coping with their jobs and often taking care of elder family members, it is the implicit meaning/ definition of the "what's in it" phrase.
Objectivity, literalism and the several reductions of human life into transactional functions have tended to   compress the "connotative" meaning of value into the literal/decorative definition.
Dollars, and new lines on a resum are the two most treasured "values" for activity that stretches many outside the frame of domestic/professional obligations. Of course, those two "ROI" for the time and energy needed are implicit in any volunteering engagement.
However, and this will stretch the self-concept of many organizations..."added value" to any human being's life cannot be contained or measured by those two measures.
Too many volunteer organizations have, consciously or not, adopted something very close to a corporate structure and operating manner. There is an objective purpose/task that drives the organization as in a corporate mission statement. There is usually a hierarchy of roles/leaders and "doers" whether paid or not, to carry out those tasks. And volunteers expect to fill a specific role as assigned and designed by the organization.
Inevitably, the planning and design have been done by those in executive positions and consequently volunteers too often carry out the "job descriptions" as defined with the cliche proviso, "Feel free to do the task however you like!"
Some volunteers will be quite happy in such circumstances. Others, however, will wonder if their interests, talents and especially their expertise/experience are either wanted or needed. They will often find their time and energy "assigned" by leaders in  what has been sarcastically dubbed "voluntold" ....and both time and convention restrict fuller conversations about a better fit.
The issue of inviting, orienting, and integrating potential volunteers, while complex and demanding, is nevertheless, a process that is too often overlooked, or rationalized as "the exclusive task of the newcomer".
It is not an accident that a very high percentage of executive hires fail in the first 90 days of their new hiring. And it is also not an accident that volunteers resist "joining" what in too many situations are "closed clubs" of veterans, past presidents, and a set of "club" perceptions/myths/relationships and attitudes.
The division of people into "seasoned/veteran/reliable/fitting-in" and "rookie" is only one of the demographic controls that come with each organization. There is no paper trail of such a divide; it is merely a "given" whether spoken or not. Another "given" is the relationship between and even within local organizations....under various descriptors: leaders/workers; white collar/blue collar; affluent/poor; educated/non-educated; male/female...
There are likely other dividing lines whether openly acknowledged or not.
Human identity is not, however, a matter for others to assign or even to determine. And the process of "getting to know" others is a highly complex as well as rewarding enterprise for each of us.
Each of us seeks to be known and appreciated at home, at work, and in any other activity we might pursue. Being known and appreciated, however, does not happen when only the individual recruit shoulders the responsibility. All organizations, and especially volunteer-based ones, have an even greater need to take responsibility for learning "who" they recruit/invite/admit and for supporting their integration into the larger group. And such integration reaches far beyond the assignment and acceptance of a leadership role, or a nice story about a birth, a marriage or an anniversary.
Those implicit barriers if division, as an operating principle, have to come down one "brick" at a time.
Veterans are not and do not warrant elevation in social status or in the potential of their contribution , especially in an organization
that depends on new ideas, suggestions, recommendations and processes for its very survival.
At the same time, length of service cannot and must not be the highest value of any individual...nor a guiding principle of a healthy group.
Leaders do not automatically warrant obsequiousness from rookies, nor should they expect it. By the same token, rookies, while not needing to force their ideas or their presumption, can take the metaphoric hand of a true mentor (another of the many potential growth curves for veterans and rookies without epaulets) and learn the best features of their new group.
The issue of relationship-building, sustaining, nurturing and honouring, while functionally- based in the corporate world, can and should rise to the primary purpose and goal of any volunteer association.
This will come as a shock and an irrelevancy to far too many men. Women already know and accept and embody the shift.
The transformation will take time and patience...and will grow or not depending on whether volunteering again becomes attractive to the generations between 35 and 60. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Democracy is like "imported casava" rots quickly!

 While western countries struggle with incentives to convince, bribe, nudge, cajole, shame, or even  threaten those opposed to both wearing a mask and even more intensely to getting a vaccine to combat COVID-19, there are different variations of the same theme playing out in international politics.

Autocracies, even those with a veneer of free enterprise, are in the ascendency, and liberal democracies are receding, both in numbers and in influence. Power, as voraciously and  gluttonously seized by the ‘right’, threatens to obviate, if not actually obliterate, moderation, common sense, respect and value for the common good. An obvious and even glaring example of this stranglehold on thwarting the popular will is and has been staring us in the face in Washington.

Determined to render Obama a one-term president, (McConnell), and now equally obstinate in his, and his party’s blocking any and all even moderate proposals from the Biden administration, (while the press drowns in the minutiae of whether or not Manchin and/or Sinema, Senators from West Virginia and Arizona respectively, will bend and permit a carved out abandonment of the filibuster rule in order to protect voting rights, we are watching the demise of compromise, collaboration, and bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress. Not only is there a chasm dividing moderates from the left wing of the Democratic party, and another dividing the Republicans from the Democrats of all stripes, there is also another divide inside the Republican party. One large segment continues to believe, and to campaign to extend its penetration of the political culture, that the 2020 election was “stolen” from trump. While Republicans continue to leave the party, like rats abandoning their sinking ship, there is still a dangerous political tornado swirling around the American republic whose winds are strong enough to provoke continual references to Franklin’s epithet in answer to the question “What kind of government have you given us?”…

Franklin is reported to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it!”

There is such a wave of proposed, and in some cases passed legislation, in state legislatures, to repress the vote of minority voters; legislation designed to preclude the Republicans from losing elections for the foreseeable future, given the dramatically changing demographics-the rise in immigrant numbers of minority voters. White, antediluvian males, the dominant segment of the Republican Party, who have held power for too long already, are in imminent danger of losing their grip, and for a potentially protracted length of time. The likelihood of the Senate passing legislation that would thwart these state laws, seems to rise and fall, like the sun peeking in and out of dark grey storm clouds.

Naturally, in the U.S., if the Republicans are able to repress the vote, (based on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent), they are also determined to thwart legislation that would/could/must address the glaring threat of global warming and climate change. Republicans, in general, (there are a few exceptions!), care far less about clean air, water and environmental protections than they do the gluttonous tax cut they gave to their wealthy friends and funding sources, under trump. Regulation, too, of those polluting industries, and their executives who comprise much of the membership lists of the Republican Party, and write cheques in inordinate amounts, (without public disclosure) is another aspect of Republican orthodoxy, including all attempts to “grow” government, as they consider it the ‘enemy of the people.’

That phrase was also used by trump to describe the media industry in the U.S. in his unbridled and largely successful coup of its impact, through the elevation of networks like Fox, as his personal PR firm, the saturation of twitter and facebook, from which he is still, too late, banned, and his uncontrolled, and potentially uncontrollable lying propaganda machine that literally and proudly, even unabashedly, trumpets lies, designed, formed and delivered to feather his personal political legacy, and that of his cronies.

Fomenting racism, (the China-flu), Mexican rapists, banning Muslims, incarcerating children after separating them from their parents on the border with Mexico, flirting with autocrats/dictators, calling global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese…these are just some of the specific misrepresentations still haunting the American political scene, and even the Congress, as it attempts to root out the back story to the insurrection on January 6th.

So significant is the damage done by the former president, especially in the negligent and incompetent and deliberately misleading manner in which he addressed the pandemic that Carl Bernstein, he of Woodward and Bernstein fame from Watergate, dubbed trump a “war criminal” against the people of the United States.

While I totally concur with Bernstein’s assessment, it is more than a little ironic that the United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, fearing that their own military personnel might be subjected to its processes. There is, it seems from afar, almost no likelihood that “war criminal” is a label that can or will be assigned to the former president, no matter how long he lives.

However, it is because of his mercurial (as in slippery) nature, sliding, evading, slipping past, paying off, and denying, while hiring sycophantic (some now disbarred) legal teams, that the former president still moves about freely any where in the world. And, in his persona, the human vacuum  that sucks the air from any and every room it enters, he has emboldened other autocrats, dictators, and aspiring imitators, thereby effectively polluting the political conversation with both lies and negligence around the globe.

And then there is the pervasive problem, also enacted inside the U.S. Congress, that liberals (both those wearing a small “l” and those with a large “L”) perceive, consider, evaluate and perform their political roles very differently than those on the ‘right’. As many ex-Republicans like Nicolle Wallace, have reminded us, for Republicans their political fights are “war,” while  Democrats bring a machete to a gun fight. There is little to no likelihood of the latter winning such an engagement.

Some of the more radical Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appear to have learned the lesson of the need to enter the political debate with a full-throated, and gun-loaded preparation, Democrats for the most part continue to take a position that can be depicted as moderate, seeking compromise, willing to bend to reasonable suggestions and even to learn from their opponents. Almost in a reverential attempt to restore both decorum and decency, respect and reason to the debate, Democrats risk losing the political fight, including especially the votes needed for passage, not because their ideas are wrong-headed, not because they are opposed by the vast majority of the American electorate, and not because the nation cannot afford, or does not need most of their proposals.  They risk losing, both their votes and thereby their principles, and potentially risking losing the already flagging trust of the American people, just as they did over reigning in gun rights after the slaughter at Sandy Hook elementary school, and after other mass shootings.

This model, of right-wing demagoguery, right-wing subversion of the will of the people, personal political attacks verging on destroying the reputation of their political enemies, deafness to the protests against the abuses of power and acute attention to punishing their political enemies, controlling and manipulating the flow of “information” for their own purposes, whether paid for by the state, or operated by the sycophantic private sector (Fox, OAN, etc.) is another of the illusive, almost imperceptible smoke screens, like the smoke in the doorways of the night streets of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, that is slithering over the planet, in and out of the corridors of power, throughout the military minds and generals whose need for absolute control eclipses even the recognition of a public good, or any legitimate public need.

Meanwhile, those conflicts that seem to know no end, and that continue to enable weak and dangerous men to hold power, supported by their opportunistic and autocratic allies, and that continue to bleed refugees, immigrants, across borders, seas, rivers, mountains and desserts, with no end in sight, continue to provide a kind of “cover” to the nefarious deeds, policies, abuses of human rights, perpetration of lies and deceptions, as well as outright distortions of the motives and actions of their “perceived” competitors, (read perceived enemies).

And the ordinary people in all countries, now consuming in-time details of acts of violence, political corruption, human rights abuses, and the absolute denial of those abuses of power by those committed those “criminal” acts, are left powerless to combat the tidal wave of injustices.

Nudging those resistant to vaccines against COVID, as recommended by some, as opposed to incentives, may have some impact. And yet, as Fareed Zakaria noted earlier today, that might have strategy appropriate to curtail the cigarette industry, today, the world does not have a similar time frame to confront the ravages of COVID. Nor do we have the same protracted, and private/personal time, to confront and to neutralize the deadly virus of political criminality.

In another life, in another small town, in America, where the drug trade was rampant, the police were busy attending to the petty stuff, dubbed by one town resident, “The ‘mickey-mouse’ stuff, “because they are incapable and powerless to deal with the big and dangerous stuff.”

There is a potential risk that the world is so busy drowning in the minutiae of the political process, the personal conflicts, the personal ambitions and neuroses of the weakest of male leaders, the fixation of the mega-media barons on both ratings and revenues, that the only winners that can count on coming out of this period of history are those so dedicated and committed, obsessively no doubt, to the pursuit of the almighty dollar, that “idol” to which all autocrats bow so subserviently and reverentially. If the world comes to believe, whether through seduction by propaganda, or through their/our own gullibility to the bobbles and the shiny objects spread around by the dictators, or through the inescapable desperation of seeking a morsel of food, a tiny piece of sheep metal for a roof, a piece of wood for a fire to stay warm and possible to boil water for a cup of tea, that the lies and the deceptions of the oligarchs, the dictators, the autocrats and the Republican Party in the U.S. following the trump debacle, then the institutions of the world that were designed to counter such dangers will prove both emasculated and totally inept to the challenge.

And the pandemic (COVID) will look, in retrospect, like a case of the common cold, from the perspective of the dominance of the autocrats, the dictators, the terrorists, and the thugs, more and more of whom are seeking and winning power in too many capitals. And clean air and water will be not only the envy but the privilege of a very few, not to mention the access to healthy nutritious food, excellent educational opportunities, and of course, access to the instruments of power, when the vote has been declared “a pollutant”…by those in charge.]

A dystopia far more disconcerting than the Handmaid’s Tale!

The father of William, in the movie “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, when faced with the hard-heartedness of the “state” in the drought in Malawi, commented, “Democracy is like imported casava*; it rots quickly!”

Without all of us paying close attention to the sounds and the rhythms, the words and the graffiti, as well as the bullets and the bombs, the viruses and the intemperate ambitions of weak and dangerous men, our democratic “casava” will also “rot”.  

*cassava:  a root vegetable, similar in shape to sweet potatoes, native to South America, one of the most drought-tolerant crops, made into cake in some parts of the world.