Thursday, December 30, 2021

Crossing the threshold of paralysis in our fear of the full truth...together

 There is a scene from a recent “Chicago Med” television show in which psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Charles, played by actor Oliver Platt, ventures into the “future life” of a patient who, with a throat tumor and refusing surgery believes she might not have a future. After reflection, Dr. Charles brings a photo-shopped digital picture of the patient, some decades into the future, and asks her to picture what a potential future life might be like, if she were to have one.

An open-air book shop in a warm climate are the words that leap from her mouth, giving both the doctors and the patient the proof of how difficult it is for individuals who are depressed, anxious and frightened to envision a future as well as the “break-through” moment, in which the patient, just as the medical staff are leaving her room, calls out, “I will go ahead with the surgery!”

There might just be some link between this story and the story behind the top Netflix film globally, Don’t Look Up. The Guardian’s Donna Lu, in a piece dated, December 30, 2021, entitled, ‘It parodies our inaction’: Don’t Look Up, an allegory of the climate crisis, lauded by activists’.

Ms Lu writes: “The film, a satire in which two scientists played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence attempt to warn and indifferent world about a comet that threatens to destroy the planet, is an intentional allegory  of the climate crisis.”

Considered  “a laboured, self-conscious and unrelaxed satire” and a “toothless comedy” by film critics in the Guardian, (as quote by Ms Lu), the film has been lauded by climate activists who for far too long have been deflated and depressed by the failure of the public and governments generally to actually hear, by actually listening to the crisis faced by humanity, while they dedicated their lives to forestalling that same crisis.

Is the population of the planet, like the patient in the Chicago Med episode, caught in a similar paralysis, unable to envision a future in which there is no future? And is that paralysis blocked by the very monumental diagnosis, and the accompanying projections of more fires, deluges, tsunamis, droughts and famine with rising oceans and a pandemic of starvation and unleashed viruses? Is the apocalyptic ‘vision’ of a future that we are mentally, psychologically and emotionally both unwilling to and incapable of facing the threshold we all have to cross if we are going to come to grips with our own future?

If there is even a grain of merit in these comparative questions, then it would seem that, if we are going to begin to confront our “tumor” and our fear and our anxiety and our hopelessness and our desperation that mankind might actually face a future of desolation, destruction and death, we have to begin the process of “seeing” ourselves in a future that is not imprisoned by our own fears. Is that even feasible, given the weight of millions of people who continue to bury heads in sand, avoiding the prospect of a potential “surgery” that would, while painful and frightening, nevertheless, offer hope of a future which so far we are not seeing for a variety of reasons.

In situations with far less emotional drama and risk at stake, humans have some considerable difficulty coming to terms with those aspects of our own character/personality that seem unbecoming, unfitting, unacceptable and thereby alienating us from ourselves and, naturally, from others. Psychological “projection”* of our worst fears, is one common path to coping with those fears, putting them “outside” of our “ownership” in order to avoid having to come to terms with their import. Like our younger selves, frightened by the dark, the closed closet, the darkened cellar/attic, where ghosts and monsters may dwell, we shudder at the harm those monsters might bring to us. Only today, those darkened basements/attics are no longer a figure only of our imaginations. We have been showered with evidence, warnings, credible and authentic ‘science’ that is trying to tell us we are in serious even epic danger.

And yet, on masks, vaccines, social distancing, single use of plastics, carbon emissions, fossil fuel dependency etc. etc. etc….we (millions) resist the compelling import of the evidence we are consuming.  At the same time, another cluster of millions are totally committed to conducting the research, drawing the conclusions, teaching and preaching the message of “self-care” and “planet-care”. And the divide is allegory of the internal divide in our own mind/heart/psyche/spirit.

Seeing the allegory, accepting that it is indeed an allegory, and then moving into action to confront that core truth…those or parts of our lives of very different  colours and imports. That female patient had seeped into a swamp of fear, inaction, and essentially terminal fear, not only because she was unaware of the precise ‘condition’ or diagnosis of the lump on her neck. She had to be dragged to the hospital by a close friend, over her strenuous objections. She wore a long and full pale blue scarf around her neck that completely covered her “embarrassment” and her fear, both being incarnate in that lump. She almost, it seemed, saw herself as that lump. It dominated her life to the point where it suffocated her hope. And if and when hope is suffocated, like the frog in the boiling water, innocent and ignorant of its danger until too late, we effectively “die” to ourselves, long before our final breath.

We have all met and known those whose lives emitted a kind of death (of dreams, of hopes, of alternative existences, greener grasses some other place and time) and our experience of those men and women was of encountering a kind of ghost. It can and does happen in intimate relationships; it can and does happen in classrooms, sanctuaries, emergency rooms, operating rooms, court rooms, accounting offices, dentists’ offices…one or other of the participants has for that period of time, departed this orb, this moment, and we fail to be noticed, and more importantly we no longer exist. We call it “being somewhere else” or being “caught up in other issues” or “being overcome or overwhelmed by something bothering you” and we move past the moment. It is only if and when those moments continue to mount with the same people that we waken to our situation, and often then withdraw.

Withdrawal and avoidance are twin sisters, born of the same parents, pride and fear. And the source of our pride is internal, while the source of our fear is external. They both, however, take up residence inside our psyches. Often, this merger renders us luke-warm about who we are, what possibilities might be available, how far to extend our energies in any situation, given the limits of our trust in how committed and trustworthy others are to commit. “Walking on eggs” may be only a slight exaggeration of our situation, but we have all been there.

Our Chicago Med patient has stopped walking: she is now frozen in a self-generated, tumor-induced freezer that has cryogenically, metaphorically and psychically impaled her on the ‘horns of her own petard’ (decision). It takes Dr. Charles and his associates, to thaw that freezing temperature, to bring the patient back to a kind of reality previously out of her psychic and emotional reach.

What will it take to bring the planet and the people on the planet to thaw, if we allow that it/we could be frozen in a similar kind and depth of fear, anxiety, desperation and pride (that nothing so horrible could or would even be possible)?

In the last post in this space, we reviewed the lostness and the frozenness of how one financial observer believes that we have become impaled on an alleged lie about the potential of rising interest rates and tapered Quantitative Easing. We  know that the world is impaled in a Mexican ‘stand-off’ on the eastern border of Ukraine, on the ‘stand-off’ of a stolen election, vaccine mandates, masks, social distancing, real reductions in carbon emissions, real decisions on the rape of planetary resources (Amazon Rain Forest, for one), the stand-off in the South China Sea, on the North-South Korean 50th parallel, in Afghanistan, and who knows where this pandemic will take us.

The situations we all face are, together, considerably more complex, without a perceived single “enemy” or person or economic of scientific force, as did the apartheid tragedy in South Africa, nor are they amenable to a single stroke of the pen to ‘transform’ the situations into something we can all agree would be sustainable, fair, equitable, and visionary…it might be feasible and appropriate to suggest, respectfully, humbly and tentatively, that common to all of our existential threats is our shared space in that hospital bed with that Chicago Med patient. Our tumors protrude from all sides of our body politic. Our scarves cover over our bulging protrusions. We all resist even the suggestion that we are in need of medical attention. In fact, anyone who suggests that we might seek help is considered so flagrantly weak and anemic as to be a “loser” and thereby more easily and readily dismissed. We are embedded in our conviction that the way we have been operating for two thousand years, given a few modifications, is essentially “good” and even in some cases “so special that it has become almost sacred. We are locked into a mentality of conflict, competition and zero-sum equations on the geopolitical stage that Britain has not offered to “assist” Canada in defending her interests in the Arctic. And, the global economy is so fragile, without any corresponding collaborative, institutional agency, with muscle to protect us from ourselves.

Indeed, it is and has been our universal willingness and complicity to incarnate that patient in denial and terror, preferring eloquent words greasily attired and seductively delivered by the best “message doctors” we can train and then buy, in all of our various “ideologies” and oligarchies and democracies, and dictatorships, military and civilian, that together, somewhat unconsciously and certainly also quite consciously, put us ‘behind the eight ball” in pool parlance.

Knowing full well that it will be considered specious, quixotic, dreaming and so utterly out of touch with reality to propose it, nevertheless, I would like to lay this card on the proverbial global card table:

That a process akin to, but different from, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, headed by the late Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu, convened, through the joint auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank, the WHO, the BRIC, NAT0, SEATO, including Russia, China, India, and the several nations which agree to commit to the struggle to address our penchant for burying our heads in the sand, and for distorting reality with it looks unpalatable, and to generate recommendations that would help leaders, at all levels, to wear their/our value openly, honestly, transparently and sustainably.

We need ordinary people to be a significant contributing component of that commission…leaders cannot lead without committed, courageous support.

And then Greta Sundborg’s and the many high-profile activists, in all causes, the environment, inequality, health care, human rights including gender equality, truth-telling including the hard truths, the military hard-power addiction, and the race and religious bigotry…these and more required concentrated, concerted, collaborative, and sustainable action.

And the prices we will all have to pay in order for such a commission to have any relevance and impact is that we will have to surrender whatever pride that impedes our shared willingness to participate. We are proposing a process whereby all participants are and will be considered and defined as equal, not winners or losers, but sharing in a common global reconciliation. It would attempt to explore the various methods of perceiving and evaluating our current situation. It would also attempt to bring together disparate voices, really the voices of those in power and those currently without a voice at the table.

We have been following a “war” ethic and mentality for two centuries plus. IT is conceivable that we might transform our modality to a common, shared intellectual, emotional, spiritual and legal grasp of the truth that faces every single person on the planet, albeit in varying degrees.

Can we “see” a picture of our future together, that so far has remained outside our imaginative reach?

Thanks for getting this far! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A 'cry from the wilderness' for truth-telling, mask-removal and global leadership

 Anyone who thinks that the world is “going to hell in a basket” is being well “fed” among critics, deeply embedded in their field of speciality, who pour their insights, words, and even warnings into our eyes and ears and perhaps even our minds and hearts.

Growing up on a news diet of “negatives” especially those that shock (the man bit the dog!), and then forging our way through elementary, secondary, undergrad and perhaps even postgrad classrooms and seminar rooms, we have been taught something called “critical thinking”. It is a way of deciphering the many “wheats from the chaffs” that writes, political leaders, professors, and especially clergy were dispensing.

And much of the cultural lens of that critical thinking depending on incidental reports, stories of single events, or perhaps developing stories about trends that flagged storms of the horizon (metaphorically and literally, in many fields). And the predominant fast-food-menu of that news and information diet tended to generate perceptions that wormed their way into our common and shared perceptions:

·       law enforcement here to protect and serve the community

·       schools are safe harbours concentrating on “conserving” the culture

·       “God” is holding ‘the whole world in his hands’

·       the world is a scary place, but more so for those “on the other side of the tracks, or other side of the world

·       our leaders tell the truth, while foreign leaders do not

·       doctors and dentists know all there is to know about how to help us stay healthy and heal when we need to

·       hospitals are places for babies to be born, appendices removed, gall bladders removed, and old people die

·       professions like law and medicine are primarily for upper class kids, and most of those are men

·       teaching, nursing, social work are reserved for women

·       small town retail businesses were places where you purchased what you needed from people you knew and trusted

·       radio and television were broadcast networks for entertainment and appointment viewing/listening

·       wars were fought “over there”

·       floods and large fires were infrequent and largely manageable

·       pregnant teens were sent away to have their babies

·       churches were repositories of all the “best” people in the town, where holy occasions, sermons, Sunday School lessons, choirs and pot-lucks were conducted and celebrated

A sewn patch-work quilt of concepts served as both guideposts and safety and security blankets. And, from there, we ventured “out” into the wider world. John F. Kennedy was a Hollywood-type idol who followed a venerated war veteran president, Eisenhower and those of us who were coming of age took note. (We were unaware of his pecadilloes but intensely celebrative of his “Camelot.)

There was something called the “cold war” that seemed to be some kind of epic tension involving the United States and the Soviet Union, and “God” was on the side of the U.S….The Soviets were something called “atheists”…so we were told, and so we believed.

It was a rather simple and manageable world, for the most part, after the Second World War, an experience of our parents and grandparents, but only a textbook experience for us.

As more complex injections of technology, military materiel, scientific and medical treatments and diseases and a broader and deeper familiarity with world events washed over us, we naturally attempted, however superficially and nervously, to learn about and to integrate them into our world view.

Whatever else remained outside our consciousness, we simply did not know or perhaps even care about. We were busy with those things that we had to do to complete an education, find a job, start a family and then integrate ourselves into that mesh of people and activities. We might have ‘studied’ the range of appearance/reality themes in literature, as part of our introduction into the complexity and magnetism of writers, and through them, of the world at large. For the most part however, we were simply “innocent” and “ignorant” (ignosco, I do not know) of many of the darker forces that were rumbling outside our perceptions, both personal and collective.

Today, that innocence is being shattered, more quickly and more destructively than Hillary’s glass ceiling for women. We are learning of things we would not have imagined in our first quarter century. And it is not so much that horror stories like the Holocaust were not on our radar; they certainly were. It is more likely that we did not envision such massacres, or such tragedies on such a scale were so prevalent. Perhaps that is a good thing, leaving us a slight bit freer from the burden of how to “bear” the full truth of that dark monster, as a human potential, far beyond Hitler and the Third Reich.

However “deep” and permanent was our layer of self-inflicted, welcomed and substantiated “delussions”, we maintained it somewhat consciously and even more unconsciously.

Today, the unconscious, like shame, has been shredded like the ozone, but the proliferation of pieces of information, gathered and shared by people who have a special interest in their being shared, ostensibly for the higher purpose of protecting ourselves from the dangers we are currying, in our collective detachment, blindness, or even self-preservation.

Yesterday, I read a column in The Star that hit me where I was not. expecting to be struck. I have such a little knowledge of ‘economics’ including both fiscal and monetary policy, public finance, deficits and debt, that a thimble would be barely half full of what I “know”. I do not know the writer, a Canadian businessman named Frank Giustra, listed as ‘contributing columnist’ in The Star. For those who have not read it, I will share highlights.

Guistra opens with a quote from Voltaire:

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reason for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.

In his opening paragraph, he writes:

 It almost feels as if there is a universal collective denial of the obvious facts. And, truthfully, I believe there is something much more insidious at play, and the precarious state of the U.S. financial system is, in fact, known to those who pull or influence the levers of monetary policy….

What started out as the occasional Fed (Federal Reserve) reaction to a series of financial crises in the late 90’s, evolved into a permanent “free money” policy that ha sonly benefited Wall Street and the very wealthy. When the inevitable happened and the housing bubble burst in 2008. The Fed and the government’s misguided attempts to bail out the financial system led us into a much more dangerous place. I believe we are now at a point of no return that is unprecedented in history….

But if you listen to Fed chair Jerome Powell, along with almost any of the Wall Street talking heads, you would be led to believe that the current  $120-billion (U.S.) monthly QE (Quantitative Easing, remember the phrase from the Bernanke chairmanship of the Fed) can be tapered, and that (interest) rates can eventually be normalized. In turn, the markets trade as if these words are gospel. It’s as if everyone wishes to be blissfully ignorant of several annoying facts.

The facts, among other things, area that global debt has more than doubled since the 2008 financial crisis to $300 trillion (U.S.). Everyone is levered to the hilt; corporations, hedge funds, individuals and, most importantly governments. U.S. federal debt has tripled since 2008 and is now touching on $30 trillion. In 2020, the U.S> government spent
$371 billion on interest payments on its debt. And that’s at near zero interest rates. If the Fed allowed interest rates to rise in any8 material way, the U.S. government would either default or- more likely- enter an endless cycle of money printing. Even at current rates and with the ongoing multi-trillion dollar annual budget deficits, the die is cast. We have clearly sailed past the event horizon of an enormous black hole.

There is an aspect of the current situation that policy-makers never acknowledge. After 60 years of Fed fund rates averaging five to six percent, when the 2008 crisis hit the Fed’s monetary policy then landed us in a permanent range that hovers between zero and slightly above two percent. All attempts to raise rates above two per cent have failed, mostly due to Wall Street market tantrums. Meanwhile, inflation is hovering around sex per cent, which means that real interest rates are deep in negative territory to the tune of -4,5 per cent, if you use the 10-year treasure bonds as a measure….

Economist Mohamed A. El-Erian points to the recklessness of “Fed speak” in a too polite manner. ‘At one level, this hesitancy should not come as a huge surprise given the usual behavioural traps: in this case, they include inappropriate framing, confirmation biases, narrative inertia, and resistance to a loss of face. Yet, its persistence in the face of repeatedly contradictory data seriously increases the risk of otherwise-avoidable economic, financial, institutional and social damage.’ I (Giusra) would be less polite. These are intelligent people who know exactly what they are doing. Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen and Powell, while in power, will all do what I expected of them and, as we have witnessed, only become critics once they retire.

Giusra then quotes Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind”…human beings differentiate ourselves from other life forms by our ability to tell each other (and believe in) stories. These collective delusions-ethics, religion, rule of law, etc- enable co-operation and progress. One such collective fiction, and a particularly successful one, is money.

Giusra’s closing line:

It looks as if we are currently living in a collective delusion of money and markets, aided and abetted by a loosely aligned club of players. God help us.

We watch and listen as the CDC announces tactical moves to deal with the complicated balance between personal and social “safety” from the pandemic and the need to have health care workers, airline workers, especially, return to work after only 5 days of quarantine rather than 10. The efficacy of vaccines themselves, is under scepticism from many quarters, while the need to have the vaccines jabbed into arms around the world is our only real hope of ‘roping’ this virus into a manageable fence.

If our financial “chief executives” are over-levered, as well as our governments, (no one would protest support payments in the middle of a global pandemic) and no truth is being sounded and heard and then applied to the situation, in this “market and money” two-headed monster under which we are living, there is reason for even more critical analysis, dissemination of these scary facts, and the alleged “cover-up” to which we are all subject.

In so many crisis situations, in law enforcement, we hear the cliché, “The crime is not the real problem: it is the cover-up that is really worrisome.”

And yet if and when the “system” itself is engaged in such a massive cover-up, as Giusra seems to suggest, how are the people of the world to begin the arduous process of peeling this onion?

Rest assured, the “establishment” are not about to be the first in line, when the trumpet sounds to recruit onion peelers. Neither, unfortunately, will the establishment media, whose existence depends on the very money and markets already distorted, and whose complicity with Wall Street is permanent. Think tanks, perhaps, linked to a world-wide information campaign by agencies like the World Bank and the BRIC bank, working together, might begin that onion-peeling process.

Given the reality even non-economic and financial scholars like this scribe can see that another global crisis is facing all of us, is it now timely to ask a cluster of world leaders, from the “west” and the “east” and the “north” and the “south” to sit down and begin the long and tortuous and even dangerous process of peeling this onion, as a window into the multiply other global issues needing committed, courageous and trustworthy leadership.

Note to Angela Merkel, Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair, David Millband, Paul Martin, George W. Bush, Sergei Lavrov….the list continues…..

Are you still willing and able to serve in a new capacity to bring some “world order” and truth-telling to the fires burning in our forests and beneath the earth’s geological and mental/perceptual crust?

Monday, December 27, 2021

Happy New Year!

 If the world’s population is ever going to reconcile with itself, and move to a single tribe of diverse humans, the changes in attitude, philosophy, orientation and law will be monumental.

Even to suggest such a shared goal, on the surface, seems to most people nothing short of outrageous, quixotic, dream-like and ultimately merely fantasy. The world of fantasy, bringing together the expansive reaches of the human imagination, as do all artists every hour and every day they enter the space of their unique art, and marrying those ‘visions’ to the facts on the ground, however they might be perceived and integrated, is a bifocal process that risks epic and tragic dismissal.

It is the same kind of dismissal the young adolescent in “The Good Poet’s Society” film who wished to become an actor faced from his father, whose ambition, determination and need was that be enter a “responsible” career. And for that ‘sentence’ we all know that the father meant, “a way to make a living on a consistent, reliable, dependable and thereby honourable existence”. Incipient and aspiring artists have been suffering from such a judgemental sentence for centuries, from fathers and some mothers, who were determined to force a career of conventionality, respectability and “good pay” on their offspring.

And indeed, there is a conventional, cultural, intellectual and above all “pragmatic” and “useful” belief and practice that business, and all of the requirements and disciplines of that modus operandi, are honourable, worthwhile, necessary, and therefore right and mature for all young men and women to consider entering. Such a stereotypical social and cultural “recruitment” program is so deeply embedded in our thinking, normalizing and genuflecting, that universities can and do attract candidates to MBA programs “dressed up” in “international” costumes (I am thinking specifically “American-Canadian”), that corporations will pay at least $100,000 to have their prospective executives “branded” with that degree. Universities, themselves, while stretching beyond their ‘normal’ geographic boundaries, are marketing directly to those already established corporations and their leaders, and thereby filling ‘seats’ and depositing enrolment fees in their coffers. Making money, finding permanent professional employment, through whatever means have been established like colleges and universities, is one way to funnel recent graduates into “real jobs” that attempt to keep the unemployment numbers low, the tax revenues consistent, the crime numbers low, and the purchase of homes, cars, clothes, tech-toys, entertainment, travel, and many of the accoutrements of contemporary healthy living like golf, boating, parties, and various forms of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals rolling as if on another of the plethora of “assembly lines”. We like those assembly lines for their predictability, their statistical resource for the study of everything far beyond how much to produce, what to produce, how much to charge, and even how to predict human behaviour, especially that behaviour that will ensure the smooth running of both the production and ‘supply chain’.

Occasionally, however, given far less daily accounting, a new idea, often prompted by the same motivation that lies at the core of the capitalist, and now universal, machine, a new idea, a gadget, a process, a way to tighten, and thereby reduce the costs and elevate the profits of whatever it is we are producing finds its way into the testing process. That happens, not only in pharma, but also in new fabric, new cooking utensils, new appliances, new self-driving vehicles, and new instruments for disposing of potential bombs (robots) or for reconnaissance without danger (drones). It would be remiss to fail to note the smorgasbord of tech devices, now a “necessity” almost as necessary as the toothbrush, in the hands and lives of all human beings.

And that technology has also made its way into the diagnostics of human cancers, and treatments of many diseases and illnesses, previously outside human comprehension and understanding and treatment or prevention.

So much of that story about new ‘things’ has a beneficial component of considerable proportions. Those proportions include the excitement of the discovery, and the research that went into that discovery, and the multiple operational (mostly still human) needs of production, distribution, marketing, investment, planning and even visioning.

And here is where the ‘market system’ (irrespective of the ratio of public and private dollars that undergird it) intersects with the “artistic” potential and even dependency. It is not only the need for a human imagination to ‘conceive’ of something that can and will be marketed and sold and purchased but also the human need to preserve the opportunity to flex the imagination in ways that are likely to conflict with, to challenge, and to object to some of the precepts that comprise the foundations and the superstructure of the “market-sky-scrapers” that comprise the city-scape of our major cities.

The new technology has, for example, given rise to and considerable opportunity for millions of single entrepreneurs to conceive, and to develop creative expressions, both objects and services of various kinds, for offer to the global consumer, to enhance both the beauty and the effectiveness of our lives. Etsy, among others, has reached into millions of screens, minds and impulses resulting in a massive shift in consumer opportunity, as well as economic feasibility, where previously, few opportunities were feasible.

Imagination, creativity, ingenuity and the human will to create, fortunately, know no national, geographic, linguistic, ethnic, religious or scientific boundaries. They are universal, and they are at the heart of the pulse of each heart and mind and community. And their collective strength far outstrips the collective strength of the singular profit motive. That is not to say that the profit motive is not and cannot be integral to each “creation”….indeed, history is filled with stories about men and women whose determination to meet basic needs has resulted in new offerings, many of an artistic and creative nature.

One difference between those we have celebrated and those treated and valued differently, has been the pragmatic and immediate ‘market’ acceptance of many, and the longer term, and perhaps even less successful penetration of the public consciousness of ideas, objects, creative expressions of various kinds.

Plays that have a ‘run’ of barely a single week, for example, failing to attract ‘seat/ticket sales’ and critics’ acclaim, have faded into the mists of history. A few have been resurrected, for a different time and audience, with a new “twist” with a more successful run. Some “retreads” like the Rogers and Hammerstein productions of many of their renowned musicals have experienced multiple iterations, successes, at the professional and the amateur level of theatres in large cities and very small towns.

And here is again where an obvious intersection of a publicly approved piece of art, and the public’s willingness to underwrite the performance or the exhibition of its beauty and value take place. Museums, libraries, antique shops, science displays like the Smithsonian are repositories of many of our best “pieces of work” and their recent penetration of the digital marketplace has afforded many to benefit (read profit) from their sale.

So on some levels, western culture celebrates art and creativity in many forms and faces, while also, paradoxically, refusing to come to an acceptance of the value art and creativity play in the overall life of the community. Naturally, we accept the role of popular music in the lives of adolescents, and the role of “young literature” increasingly is celebrated by parents everywhere, as something nearly as important and the diet and health care of their children. This is a far cry from the droning, dour and puritanical directive in my family of origin: “Don’t read; do something!” OR of the assumed wisdom of the parental guidance in the words, “Just act: don’t react!” from a seasoned businessman to his son.

Indeed, it is the “bottom-line” approach, the reductionistic to a budgetary bottom line that drives much of the thinking and the processes taught and adopted by the business class. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is  another of the multiple ‘rules’ of procedure for many business operators, and politicians, and thereby implicitly of the culture generally, that is such an accepted piece of wisdom that it often precludes the very kind of “out-of-the-box” initiatives that McDonalds was once reputed to have built a “thinking-retreat-quiet-room” for executives to feel free to enter in order to “create” or “imagine” or “come up with” innovations.

In certain venues, at certain times, and depending on certain specific already “proven” individuals, we are wont to pay attention to ideas, experiments, creative expressions. But our definition of those times, places and people, while somewhat elastic, is still nevertheless highly dependent on a cultural penchant for stability, security, predictability and reliability.

Almost in a counterintuitive and culturally self-sabotaging compulsion, we restrict both the resources dedicated to generating new ideas, the recipients of those resources, the public appreciation of looking toward the future, by any one or more of several imperatives, including:

*you have not proven yourself yet

*you will never amount to anything if you pursue that career path

*you are not living in a family that is “that kind of people” (uttered by a Northern Ontario mother to her highly motivated, highly curious and highly ambitious adolescent son)

*you will never “make” it if you take that route

*you are more interested in instant fame and gratification than in a successful, reliable, dependable, mature life and relationship with a family

*you are tilting at windmills again, if you think you will make anything of yourself in __________....entertainment, design, acting, professional musicianship

*you may have graduated from university, but you do not “have a profession yet” (uttered by an obstetrician-gynecologist father, to his honours graduate in political science)

*you need to make a living, and you need to take steps that will provide some stability and security and “that” route is fraught with perilous uncertainty (almost as if many career routes are still clinging to the ephemeral myth of “joining the circus”)

*you need to remember that only a mere 1-2% of young men and women are able to cut it and find successful careers in professional sports, in national broadcasting, on Broadway, in Hollywood, even in concert halls around the world

* you must avoid putting all your eggs in one basket….so keep you options open, by studying two majors rather than a single major in undergrad school

There is an open and universal tension between a rifle shot approach to one’s choices, and a more “shot-gun” approach to those choices. And a similar tension between creative and the pragmatic. It is socially and professionally and parentally alright to select engineering (any one of its many disciplines) but far less acceptable, at least until the individual has achieved some degree of success. And then the tables do a 180 degree turn.

A brief anecdote from personal experience: A neighbour’s son had a highly artistic, creative and irrepressible flair while in high school along with a relatively strong disaffection and disdain for anything considered curriculum, formal classes, detentions and “obedience compliance” with the system. He was not in any way criminal; but more idiosyncratic, unique, training his crow to speak, building huge box-kites that really flew, and curiously drawing and painting anything and everything he saw. His father, a highly authoritarian long-time game-warden for the provincial government was contemptuous of his son’s aberrant attitudes and behaviour. When the son selected “Ontario College of Art” as his post-secondary venue for further study, his father was not merely contemptuous, but actually incredulous of the choice. After a single term at that college, with the reports of his son’s many accomplishments, he suddenly apparently had an epiphany: “Venturing over the back fence into our backyard, his father trumpeted, in a voice audible for several hundreds yards, “My son, the artist, has done very well at school!” for all within earshot. And then, meticulous and creative in his own way, proceeded immediately to produce a masterpiece “art-case” in polished oak with brass fittings, as a testament to his now “redeemed” son, the artist.

That story, like the millions like it, serves as an archetype, a model and a metaphor for the point I am trying to make. Only today, several decades later, the world has changed. Communities, small and medium-size cities have all come to realize that their arts community is a potential and reliable and dependable and necessary source of renewal. Crafters, artists, actors, musicians, designers and their various traditional venues, support systems and boards of directors, (for those working in groups as non-profits) have risen remarkably to a very different and much more visionary place of prominence and value that at any time in the last century.

And it is not an accident. Labour out-sourcing, corporate greed seeking to cut costs and inflate profits, new technologies, transitional and thereby fluctuating and unstable community economies impacting families, schools, hospitals, and even the traditional retail markets within those towns and cities have birthed both a profound anxiety about how to “recover” and a volcanic opportunity for those willing and able to “see” that opportunity and then to “take” it.

This space, now having been filled nearly 3000 times over the past decade-plus, would not have been available, when I was in the prime of my career. Although I was afforded many opportunities to “speak and to write” about public affairs, for many years, mostly in a small city, and for mere pennies (not a complaint merely a fact, given that I would have done it for nothing because I “loved” every minute of it!), a platform for words, from 1960-2000 of a newspaper, a magazine, a radio station, or a television station was required.

The public had grown accustomed to such public utterances. And there were certain criteria that attempted to govern those publications and broadcasts. That apprenticeship has not been wasted, in millions of lives. And just yesterday, the words on these pages were being read in multiple countries, as, I hope and trust, these words will be read later today and in the days ahead.

I am profoundly grateful for each of the readers who have found these pages. I am also indebted to each of them whose page reads I follow daily, in an attempt to ascertain where these scribblings are finding a welcome, or even becoming something of an irritant.

I have chosen to submit these words without the underwriting of any sponsor, believing that independence and integrity and authenticity and freedom are more likely, for me and for the readers, without such attachments. As I survey the web, however, I am increasingly conscious that even the most worthy sites have advertising, sponsorship and even memberships of some supportive kind. That is another decision and topic for another space and time.

In the meantime, I want to wish each and every reader, in whatever country, and bearing whatever faith and political ideology, the best of health in 2022, the opportunity to contribute to the welter of both information and imagination on which the world depends, and the chance to grow into the most creative, imaginative and courageous individual you can. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Continuing to beat the drum for a united human race...unquixotically!

Reconciling the notion that humans are all metaphors, all of equal and significant value, with the notion that we are also infused with a divine spark….

Perhaps we might begin to envision our selves, our identity, our place in the universe as a member of a single tribe, not of disparate tribes, not of conflicting ideologies, not of separate and competing races, not of different nations and nationalities, not of disparate educations or incomes, or access to health care and opportunities for work with dignity. Perhaps, now that real time makes everyone potentially able to witness and thereby experience events, both disasters like fires and floods and pandemics and stories including detailed data about all of them, together as a single human tribe, we might begin to consider the ways by which each representative of “the other” might contribute to the health and wellbeing of the whole.

This common humanity notion, as an identifying and humbling and uplifting perspective would immediately re-configure how we ‘see’ each other, regardless of our respective histories and conflicts and wars and threats from the past. Just yesterday we read a news story that reported the suspension of a town councillor for 90 days without pay from the town council, on a decision from the integrity commissioner of the town, for having bullied citizens against taking COVID-19 vaccines. This morning we read of a story in the Financial Post written by Diane Francis, advocating the concept of requiring those who refuse to be vaccinated to pay for their own health care, in Canada, where national health care is a long-established law and tradition.

Every day, we are learning about the specific decisions being taken around the world on how to manage the pandemic, and potentially all leaders in all nations are learning and benefiting from the best practices regardless of the geographic or religious, or linguistic or cultural source of those practices. Similarly, we are able to access stories, for example, in The New Humanitarian, about human tragedies, terror, starvation, homelessness, refugee migration and destitution around the world. Also just yesterday, on local television, we saw the arrival of mini-homes for the homeless in what is called an Olympic Park, with interior washrooms and kitchen facilities, new homes for physically disadvantaged homeless in Kingston Ontario. The story included the announcement of a specific strategy to incorporate social and health service professionals to visit new residents of the new community, with a view to re-integrating them back into a society that has for too long excluded, or at least turned a blind eye and ear to their plight.

Such stories are not exclusive to Eastern Ontario. Other urban centres at least in Canada, are “stepping up to the plate” to address what has already become, and will inevitably grow, a common shared human story, far beyond statistics.

Those pictures, if they were to be shared around the world, (as they undoubtedly have already been), offer hope not only to the homeless in Eastern Ontario, but also to other towns and cities trying to offer hope. We can only hope that this is not a “good-feeling” Christmas story, prompted by the spirit of the birth of Jesus in Christianity. Compassion for “our brother” is not exclusive to Christianity, nor to any of the major world religions. Indeed, it is our human capacity not only to envision such real-world compassion and empathy, but also to bring programs into reality to take responsible action on our better instincts and angels.

Of course, as part of a world human tribe, we also read yesterday that $100 Billion was siphoned off from the pandemic relief program in the United States by illicit fraudsters who applied, even though they were not eligible, and thereby deprived those in real need of those funds. “Speed over efficiency” was the explanation from government sources, when asked about how such a sizeable fraud might have been committed, with the lax complicity of official Washington. Names were not checked, addresses were not checked and background checks were not performed to ascertain eligibility of recipients. Similarly, of the millions of vaccines promised by nations committed to COVAX, the regime to collect and distribute vaccines equitably around the globe, barely half have been delivered. And we all know that without all people on the planet being vaccinated, no one is safe from contracting it and the longer it continues to plague us (individually and collectively) the greater the opportunity it has to mutate and continue to evade vaccines and therapeutics.

Every single person alive has been awake to the legendary global reputation of the United States of America as the “beacon on the hill” where hard work and diligence will bring great financial rewards and recognition, and the freedom to live as one chooses. That story, embedded both in the mind and heart of all Americans, has been spread overtly and covertly for more than a century, intricately enmeshed in the American psyche, emblazoned on the shoulders of men and women in the American military, encapsuled in the limousines and suits of diplomats and corporate elite and “sold” to whatever needy or innocent or greedy of unsuspecting ‘buyer’ wherever American prowess was implanted, or attempted to be inculcated.

That story, however, is suffering from a severe erosion both at home and abroad, leaving considerable room for others (think China India, Brazil, Russia at least) to leap into the vacuum left by the U.S. No one celebrates the “bloom-fading” from the American rose; however, the global population can see both the American beneficence and the American greed on full display everywhere. And, while opportunists naturally take advantage of their American “example” and role modelling, others are more able to see how to push back against the most militarily powerful nation in history. Putin is engaged in that process today, and the world is watching. His moderate tone and words of hope for a resolution are a benign glimmer of light on a potentially ominous border between Ukraine and Russia. NATO’s next moves, while still unknown to the world, remain a constant reminder of how profoundly inter-connected the world and its people have become.

Similarly, with the Iran Nuclear Pact, and the disastrous American withdrawal under trump, we have all experienced steep rises in energy prices, as we also have given the stealth of the pandemic. In that vein too, we have all witnessed, and many have directly experienced the plague of those who refuse vaccinations, protest health care workers, doctors and health care workers around the globe. Just in Canada, consider by both natives and outsiders to be a relatively peaceful and somewhat polite tribe of people, in the last month, incidents of threats to health care workers have risen 59%, leaving many in the field to consider or even to act upon urges to withdraw from the profession…just when that profession is an integral component of our shared survival.

The forces and the winds, and the fires and the floods, the tornadoes and the hurricanes, the desperation and poverty, the hopelessness, as well as the lawlessness, lies and deceptions we all know are universal. And it demands a universal collaborative, co-ordinated, sustained and muscular response to address the dangerous threats from all of these forces. The forces themselves know no favourites, no winners or losers, no rich or poor, no educated or non-education, no Christian or Muslim or Jew, no Arab or Asian, and no western or eastern culture. And, although it may seem ironic and paradoxical, perhaps even those horrible forces might be what it takes to being us all to a new consciousness, a shared consciousness, and a shared and deliberately responsible strategy to address those forces.

The forces themselves, cannot and will not be defined by a criminal code. Nor will they bend to the will of any legislature, or law or medical treatment plan. They cannot be excised by surgery, or assassination, or nuclear bombs, or cybercrimes, or space invasions. And they most certainly will not be complicit to pouring trillions of cash at them.

We have a moment to come to “jesus” as some Americans would say. In that moment we have to realize and accept that our defences are swiss cheese in the face of the global threats. We have to realize and accept that we cannot buy our way out of this vortex. We have to come to grips with the reality that our knowledge and our best minds do not have, and are unlikely to have, a silver bullet to counter these forces, although serious and laudable steps will bite small pieces off their face. We have to come face to face with the notion that our nationality, our religion, our race and ethnicity, our wealth or poverty, our education or its lack, our political status or none, are all individually and collectively inadequate for the moment and for the foreseeable future.

Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a Village to Raise a Child” has global implications, and those implications are not ethereal, ephemeral , or inescapable. And the village is and cannot be reduced to a single town, or a single neighbourhood or a single province/state or a single nation. We are all engaged, whether we acknowledge it or not, in a process of educating, role modelling, inspiring/destroying the millions of children around the planet. And our individual and our collective actions will spell and define the nature of the kind of air, water, land, and institutional supports those children will inherit.

And if we are unable to take that responsibility seriously for our own generation, then surely we can begin to consider the option, still available yet vanishing by the minute, to grab the apple, that proverbial metaphor of taking responsibility for the next several decades. We can all make the kind of contacts with our leaders that will prompt their own shift in priorities, with a view to reducing the incidence of bullying whether in a schoolyard on in a town council, whether in a diplomatic negotiation or on a frozen battlefield in Ukraine, whether on the streets of Hong Kong, or in the Amazon Forest, and whether on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Athabasca tar sands, to bring about decisions that respect the humans in  their respective circles, not only for today, to avert what might be an immediate spark of ignition of something no one wants, but also for a much longer term.

More and more families are considering gifts in kind, to charities of choice, including environmental protection agencies and philanthropics, United Nations UNICEF/UNHCR, SOS Childrens’ Agencies,  World Vision, Amnesty International, OXFAM…and the list stretches for miles. And this individual and collective cluster of initiatives will not only have immediate material benefits for those who needs are in the focused lens of their respective help agency, but they will also have the longer term impact of modeling new ways of thinking about how we each spend our limited cash.

We are not merely consumers, nor political pawns in the chess games of the powerful. We are not either ignorant or insensitive to the global situation and the needs of human beings everywhere. And we can no longer use the perverted excuse “out of sight, out of mind” as our way of justifying our detachment and our insouciance to the plight of the world.

Compassion, while embodied in a new LEGO set for a child, and while that set might expand his or her imagination, will not feed a dying child in Africa, nor rescue a refugee in Lebanon. Nor will it scrub the smoke stacks of the developed worlds’ industrial manufacturing plants. We are, and we all know it, consuming to excess, eating to excess, drinking and medicating to excess, and our excesses are no longer slowly but rather rapidly suffocating the planet’s capacity to breath, to access fresh water and to engender a new spirit and attitude that is based more on how we can be part of the solution than an intimate and long-lasting participant in the problems.

We are not unconscious of our determined complicity in our own demise. We cannot be blind to how we share responsibility for the rape of the Rain Forest, for the extinction of species, for the suffocating pollution of the oceans and rivers and lakes. And we are not crippled without options to make new and different and LIFE-SAVING decisions in our personal lives, and then in exerting pressure on our leaders to shift them in the direction of the survival of the planet and its people everywhere.

Bullying in the playground is not any different or reprehensible than it is in the board room, on the union shop floor, in the United Nations, The WHO, or on the Eastern Border of Ukraine, nor in the legislature of Hong Kong. Bullying is still bullying and stamping it out demands a change in all of our attitudes and approaches. ‘

It was Martin Luther King who reminded us that our most serious threats are not coming from “bad people” but from the silent complicity of good people.

In his letter from the Birmingham jail cell, King wrote:

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” (Leonard Pitts Jr. January 20, 2019) 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Reflections on the Eve of Christmas Eve, 2021


They constantly try to escape

From the darkness outside and within

By dreaming of systems so perfect

That no one will need to be good.

But the man that is will shadow

The man that pretends to be.    (T.S. Eliot, The Rock)


Being and pretending oscillate like an perpetual pendulum inside the soul of each of us, as well as in the external universe. And the lens that perceives this oscillation is also an oscillation between the intrinsic and extrinsic lens of our paradoxical existence as both subject and object. Our “what” and our “who” and our “where” and our “when” are both dispassionately parsed and also glued in a gestalt of both reality and dream. Not incidentally, our “why” is also “siamesed” into that gestalt.

And therein lies both our tragedy and our hope, also intimately enmeshed in ways that millions of lives have terminated on the determination to disentangle that knot.

Heroes, both quixotic and authentic, fling themselves on the ‘brink’ to save the world. Men especially have been doing that for millennia. Women, too, in different ways, have ignited fires of promise and hope, rescue and life-saving danger, believing in any collage of deities, ethical codes, visionary utopias, and ‘pre-ordained destinies’ that drove them into the fray.

Saving the world, that apocalyptic vision of personal and global salvation, has hung like a cumulus cloud over history forever. It inspires many, and destroys many. Our individual orientation to the apocalypse, among other features of metahistory, is part of our individual and our collective psychic, spiritual, intellectual and imaginative DNA. It is not only a conviction in something called a rapture that signifies our shared utopian destiny; we have each been impregnated with a psychic and a spiritual and a biological and an imaginative ‘gene’ that, whether empirically proven by science or not, shines like a ‘north star’ in the galaxy potentially of both our consciousness and our unconscious. Is the source of that ‘gene’ (obviously a metaphor) some deity, nature itself, our wildest and highest imagination, our ancestors, the drawings on cave a pyramid walls, the most intimate relationship to all living things, plants, animals, water, air that all seem to have both purpose and meaning….who is willing to say?

We all seek and desire, to varying degrees, a healthy existence including some realization of an essential meaning and purpose, juxtaposed with a profound consciousness that the world is uninhabitable. We live poised, too often like an ant eterized for anatomical discovery, between our highest and most loving dreams and visions and our deepest and most heinous fears. Historic references to heaven and hell attempt to capture that polarity.

Whether either or both exist, depending on the meaning and application of how existence is determined, seems mute, given that they are each deeply embedded in the mind, heart, spirit, body and culture of humanity. And if heaven and hell can be metaphors, then it follows that each of us can also be metaphors…at least from some 50,000-foot eye-in-the-sky.

And if we are metaphors having and still seeking our identities, including our purposes, our choices, our relationships, our courses of study, our careers, and our choices of breakfast cereal, and all others too embody a metaphor, then how we perceive and respond to our identity in relation to those others who, themselves, are engaged in precisely the same process of discovery of self, others and the world, including that “cloud” of the apocalyptic “end goal” of the universe.

The synapses that flow between the DNA molecule above and the apocalyptic cloud, whether instrumentally perceived, measured and documented or not, exemplify the vibrations in the multiple tensions in which we each live, in our personal lives and in our shared collective lives. And those synapses, too, like the tides, rise and fall, flow in and out both of our consciousness and our imagination, including our art and our dreams. Whether we call that energy, in the synapses, the energy of the universe, the energy of atoms colliding with each other, the will of individuals and/or the will and love of God, it seems to have the capacity to continue to reverberate, with or without our conscious or unconscious leveraging it.

Using the human anatomy as a metaphor for our place in the universe, anthropomorphizing the universe, just as we have for centuries anthropomorphized God, risks relegation to intellectual purgatory by those who prefer a different objective correlative. The pattern seems, at least on the surface, inescapable, given our human fixation on our own existence and identity. There is a poetic/metaphysical aspect to the metaphor, too, however, given that synapses themselves, as well as colliding atoms, are discoveries of the neuroscience and physics respectively. It is very difficult either to ignore or to resist deployment of such metaphors in the first quarter of the twenty first century. We are swimming in a large pool of scientific method and discovery.

The religious, spiritual and theological vocabulary, attitudes, processes, methods and ethos have largely been shoved aside by the tidal wave of empiricism, extrinsic analysis, and objective relegation of the subjective and the universal to a second tier of both awareness and knowledge, as well as perception and attitude. Transactional pursuits of individual ambitions, demonstrating success, whether through highly ethical and moral means, or through less honourable means, does tend to reduce our relationship to the eternal, and infinite, the imaginative, the archetypal, the poetic and the divine to a quite genuflection, by an athlete prior to a game, or after a score, to a cliché expression of ‘thoughts and prayers’ for those in mourning, to the ritualistic attendance on Christmas Eve Mass/Eucharist, weddings, baptisms, bar and bat-mitzvahs and to the occasional act of generosity  and kindness to a neighbour, especially in crisis.

In reality, while there is no real or even ultimately imagined separation between our daily acts from our deepest religious and spiritual convictions and aspirations, we do tend to create mental, emotional and especially cultural “files” to separate them. We even write and then enforce laws that declare a deliberate separation between church and state, as our way of preventing the state from intervening in our spiritual/religious lives. The precariousness of such laws, however, on the ground, ‘where the rubber meets the road,’ is clear to all who see it.

Indeed, it is our deep and apparently firmly grounded proclivity to separate, divide, parse, analyse and dissect everything, and then to compare everything, including our unique and individual value as human beings, that is perhaps one of the more tenuous straws to which we cling, that, finally and hopefully, is, like the plastic single-use straw, going the way of the dodo bird.

Can we let go of that plastic, man-made, device that has served a purpose, in bringing us a little closer to a deeper consciousness of the veins of a leaf or a butterfly’s wings, and to the genetic composition of various cancer tumors, and revert to a more environmentally friendly, sustainable, and more honest ‘straw’ not only for our soft drinks but also for our cultural, religious, political, and spiritual not merely survival but conceivable and credible co-existence, in a spirit of collaboration and collegiality.

“Pie-in-the-sky” you are saying to anyone listening! Another quixotic dreamer spouting fantasies of utopia.

Not so fast, please!

No one will posit that collectively, as well as individually, humans face some seemingly intractable and potentially existentially threatening forces….a pandemic, a global climate change, a prognosis of further pillage of the planets resources, a widening gulf between have’s and have-not’s, a deepening divide between opportunities and aspirations open to men as opposed to women, a festering tribal terrorist attitude inside and outside most nations’ borders, a nuclear arsenal and the aspiration to deploy it from some, a white-water river of terror and lies including character assassinations on social media as well as too many tabloid models….etc. …etc….

And while these forces are enmeshed, to the point of exacerbating each other without equal and opposite forces to opposed any one of them, we continue headlong down our ‘historic’ and cultural and intellectual and objective and divisive models and approaches and processes as if we were engaged in a compulsive ‘reverse look’ down the telescope/periscope….having eliminated the benefits of their expansive, extensive, and projective vision either to the outer ocean or the sea below by our compulsive fixation with the microscope. Of course, that is a reductionistic analysis of what we are doing. Yet there is some kernel of truth within it.

We have devolved both through multiple successes, as well as a degree of complicity in celebrating those successes, enhanced by a capitalistic and individualistic ethic that celebrates individual achievement and success, into a western culture that sees only about one foot in front of our noses. We are shocked by our encounter with COVID-19, when we have publicly disclosed evidence of its ultimate and inevitable descent upon the planet. And we also had mountains of evidence that we ourselves, (human beings, corporations, governments, and nations) were either silently or overtly or both, conspiring to rape forests, dump sewers and tailings into rivers, streams and oceans, ecologically and willfully destroying millions of species of both plant and animal life, and playing a desperate, and again heroic, game of catch-up, both in preventive activities and policies, and more importantly in a tectonic attitude and belief shift that, without its replacing our current models of “fighting the last war” and “deploying the last reconnaissance devices” and analysing the latest laboratory findings as our preferred path to a most inconvenient truth, and not only a single truth, but a r collection of similar truths…

That we prefer doing things the old and established way

That we “know” more about the past than we do about the future, therefore it is more ‘substantial’ and credible and trustworthy than the future

That our survival and success thus far has relied upon a competitive and nationalistic and religiously independent model of existence that valued “our” reality above the realities of all others, especially of different races, religions, cultures and histories.

That a developed world has the ‘right’ to dictate the terms of our shared future together, while the undeveloped world has to be satisfied with the crumbs of our patronizing beneficence.

That our selfish disregard of those whose lives have been deprived of a full education, and a full access to quality health care, and an extensive and intensive exposure to a specific religious dogma and praxis renders them in need of our mode of rescue and salvation…in order to permit them entry into “our” civilization

That our exclusive and idolatrous concept of wealth and power, no matter the specific symbol, is a license for our own demise and potentially the demise of the planet.

That our “scientific, objective, empirical and transactional’ equations, while useful, are not a substitute for our more complex and honourable and even unique subjectivity/wholeness/and imperfection….that is exposed and deeply experienced in our most dark nights.

Our hope these days, in the longer term, is that these days of darkness, reflection, and urgent crisis and pain can and will offer an opportunity, not only during this holy season, but for the longer tern (perhaps another century or two at least) that brings a degree of welcome and receptivity to what we all know is the profound limits of our understanding of ourselves, of our universe, and most importantly of our potential.

We are not limited by our capacity to acquire things, gifts, presents, and the gold frankinsense and myrrh or Bethlehem…nor by our capacity to offer them even to our chosen deity. We are much more than ‘givers or takers’…than ‘winners or losers’…than powerful and impoverished…than rich or poor….than white or black…than male or female…then failures or successes….than western or eastern,…than Asian or European…

It is not only the United States of America that warrants our celebration!

It is the unity and the hope and the promise and the collective and individual aspirations of the highest dreams of our imaginations and our shared hearts to which we aspire….just as those who have gone before us have done….

And the blinders that befuddled them which we may have tried to remove, continue to haunt us in this holy season of 2021…fear, hubris, tribalism and a perception of our own profound and tragic scarcity…when we live in the most educated, the most spiritual, the most empathic and the most optimistic of historic times……

Can we really connect to that higher shared and loving (in the most profound ways) reality?

Pretending who we are will never outpace being who we are….

Eliot’s insight echoes in each Christmas hymn! Can we hear it in our gut?

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Ethical reflections

In 2009, in a conversation with a university ethicist, I noted that researchers at Cambridge University were reported to have undertaken research to ascertain a correlation between testosterone and the collapse of the economy in 2008.
The research was based on the premise that credit defaults and the bundling of undervalued mortgages and selling them to unsuspecting buyers stemmed at least in part from a surge of testosterone among the math brainiacs behind the scheme.
A disdainful laugh and a dismissive brush-off of intellectual contempt accompanied by the words," I don't think so!" greeted my comment. And the conversation was terminated.

Clearly ethicists do not concern themselves with gender politics as the subject is "outside" their purview.

Prior to this abortive chat, in another conversation with a highly respected legal mind, deeply experienced in national politics, I inquired if the political science department at the university would be interested in discussing the role of masculinity in the public debate of national issues.
Again, with a benign and kindly smile, he asserted, "I seriously doubt that they would have any interest in that topic."

More recently, in a chat with a Dean of a graduate school of education, I inquired into the possibility of studying the work of James Hillman, archetypal psychologist, through a lens of curriculum development for Canadian secondary education. Silence and an off-hand comparison to Jordan Peterson were the respectful and professional responses.

These anecdotal notes are not intended to disparate any of the three individuals on the other side of each conversation.

Only a few weeks ago, I listened to a dental professional describe the caution from her teen daughter's English instructor, as pedagogical direction for an essay that was intended to focus on the role and depictions of women in the works of Margaret Laurence and Emily Bronte.
"Be careful not to indulge in any references to the culture in your paper," was the kernel of the teaching.
Although I merely raised my eyebrows,   privately I wondered how such a directive was either feasible or intellectually honest.

Just this week, I read the comments of a former student upon his retirement from a career as a mathematics instructor at a university.
A brilliant mind, with a passion and talent for piano composition and performance, this scholar also has a website of his brilliant art.
His driving question, "Can mathematics ever develop an appreciation for and a relationship to art?" lingers after decades of his research, thought and praxis.

Are these examples indicative of a degree of perfectionism and purity of different but similar attempts to preserve and protect the academic disciplines to which their respective doctoral graduates have committed?

Specialization, in the pursuit of COVID-19 cells, spikes and mutations, for example, depends directly on specific tests and protocols performed under highly strict and hygienic discipline and conditions in labs by schooled  and supervised scientists.

The questions about any potential correlations between and among disciplines, while partially embraced by and reducible to multivariate analyses, nevertheless remain "outside" the academic main stream.

Upon seeking direction from a second acting Dean of education about a potential opportunity to focus on Hillman as the lens for a critical examination of secondary school curriculum for male students, I received a polite email directing my inquiry to a different professor who deals with gender studies from a feminist perspective.
You will not be surprised to learn I did not follow up.

Here is the nexus of the concern.

If scholars of gender are focused primarily, if not exclusively, on one gender (either make or female) then the wider culture risks the impacts of disseminated and somewhat unbalanced research and the implications in the classroom and beyond.

Another conversation with a superintendent of education in an urban area when I asked about the existence or plan for curriculum that addressed male students replied curtly and dismissively, "We just need to get more computers and programs into the male students' school experience!"

Academic boundaries and professional reductionisms do not appear to be dissimilar. Indeed, the culture's dependence on funding and then deploying siloes of information mined in siloes of academic research risk a permanent dependence on the kind of "experts" whose personal and professional biases "infuse" each and every interaction including those designed and intended to be ethical and comprehensive and balanced.

"Rifle shots" of evidence, symptoms, even lists of contextual support are the stuff of medical, legal, financial and accounts of public issues and affairs.
There is a belief that such specificity signifies competence, professionalism, and expertise. And to some degree. it does.

However, to build first a curriculum and then an institutional foundation on such pillars as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a means to accomplish the goal of raising the number of female enrollees in those fields (dominated by males) as well as incubating new potential workers in a tech culture brings significant risks.

One risk is contained in our dependence on numbers/graphs/equations/calculi/algorithms as means to solutions of problems. Our analysis, diagnosis, prognosis and prescriptions are founded too much on such numbers and calculations.

Archetypes, metaphors, poetry, stages, and their respective connotative and denotative meanings too often are relegated to "emotions" and to the "artsy-fartsy" irrelevancies (another prominent vestige of hypermasculinity).
Just this week, in a conversation with an aspiring business consultant, I was trying to advocate for his adoption of values and mission statements in order to more precisely identify the primary purpose and benefit if his consults to his clients.
A graduate of a reputable business school, he acknowledged he had received no instruction or even orientation to the abstractions of vision, mission and identity. Those were not reducible to a formula.

Trying to "carve" his "artist/poet/painter" from the granite of his professional and disciplined busyness, however, may prove to be a reach too far.
Phrases like "connecting the dots" in a rational, calculated and cognitive process still resists the imagination that not only seeks but actually depends on the "free-reign" of the wholeness of the landscape of all factors, including the intellectual, the emotional, the psychic, and the spiritual.

Our wholeness and our humanity come with us, and with all others into all situations. And we are not and will never be reducible to "digits" or "precipitates" or even "algorithms". Our complexity is not reducible to our biology, nor to our intelligence or emotional quotient. It is our imagination that brings all the factors together...and even if that "composite" picture seems unruly (who can deny it is?) if is precisely that "unruliness" that epitomizes the unruliness and the unpredictability and the irregularities that we embody and that nature reflects.

Compressing our reality to formulae, dogma, containment and order for whatever motives remains ultimately and definitively hubristic and unholy.
I remain committed to bringing Hillman's perspective to whatever tables I encounter...even if that perspective finds few if any listeners/readers among the curious.