Monday, February 28, 2022

Risks of empirical epistemology, the 'correspondence theory of truth'

Now that Russia has clearly attacked and invaded Ukraine, it is not only at war with Ukraine but with all democratic countries.

Will the Canadian government immediately: suspend all diplomatic ties with Russia; recall all Canadian diplomatic staff from Russia; expel all Russian diplomatic staff from Canada; seize all Russian assets in Canada; ask the World Court to indict Vladimir Putin as a war criminal and issue an arrest warrant? 

Alexander Hukowich, Cobourg

This letter to the editor appeared in The Star. We reproduce it here because, not being in the streets in Kyiv or in Moscow, we still have a vested interest in seeing this war brought to an end. We also wish to stop a pattern of lies used to justify this war and the many other savage, reprehensible and unconscionable acts both committed and omitted by putin and trump. And the instruments, methods, pathways and agencies that might bring about the immediate downfall of putin, are seemingly rare and out of reach of the political leadership of the west.

Also, Saturday, on Smerconish on CNN, a non-scientific poll of viewers in response to the question, “Should NATO go to war to defend Ukraine?” with some 38+ thousand responses, 77% answered “YES”.  I have never even thought I would have voted for war over the last eight decades. This morning, however, I sadly throw my vote in with those who contend that this aggression, this unprovoked, unjustified and illegitimate bombing of Ukraine, a country that could not be a threat to Russia or any other country, has to be stopped.

Steroid sanctions, however, represent only steroid rhetoric, not adequate threat. And steroid sanctions, linked to a ‘hands-off’ declaration by Biden that American boots will never be deployed in Ukraine, leaves the playing field open for whatever putin chooses.

It is that range of unlimited options, being left open without effective counter-forces, that risks not only the freedom of the Ukrainian people, but also the stability of European collective body politic. And an open field for a dictator drunk on power, in pursuit of faux honour of his country and the rusted legacy of his historic reputation, will wreak havoc, kill thousands, and put the threat of nuclear weapons into the world’s shared drama.

None of those prospects, all of them on the radar of all of the intelligence establishments around the globe, and also on the screens of all of the televisions and laptops and cell phones, can be considered as only bluffing. A madman whose finger is on the trigger of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, some 6500 nuclear weapons, whose ambition is devoid of a single cell of regard and respect for human life, human dignity and human rights of any who might oppose his views and his actions, and his motives, is a serious threat to the world.

Why, for example, would Russian forces even want to take control of the site of the Chernobyl nuclear melt-down, if not to have another weapon of intimidation to deploy on innocent people of norther Ukraine?

Why would Russian police be arresting up to 2000 already, of those merely carrying signs in some 50 cities across Russia, protesting a war against a people they consider friends, as well as literal family for some? Already, we are reading reports, this morning, Monday, February 28, of a Russian strike of a nuclear waste storage facility near Kyiv, as the Atomic Energy Agency awaits report or radioactive fallout.

Why would Russian agents even agree to poison Navalny, and Litvinenko in Great Britain, as incidents of intimidation using chemical weapons, ostensibly with a degree of impunity through stealth, except to assuage their fear/contempt of putin?

Why would Russian forces in Syria shift from the occasional lethal attack on individuals or small groups, to killing larger groups of innocent Syrian citizens, on behalf of the Syrian dictator, Assad, except to demonstrate both the strength and the will to do whatever they can in the blind service of two dictators?

Why would Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov succumb to the prevarications and distortions entailed in an unsustainable argument that Ukraine is run by neo-fascists and publicly endorse a bi-lateral meeting with Blinkin, except to sustain his own luxurious, narcissistic and heavily endowed position and status as Foreign Minister?

Similarly, why would all of the oligarchs who have been propped up by putin, and who have shared in the illegitimate spoils of wealth from energy sales, and then, like putin, scurried their wealth into foreign ownership of professional sports teams like professional soccer teams in Great Britain, except that they can, and they enjoy the luxury and the power that feeds their own sycophantic narcissism?

Sycophants kneeling under the fear, foot, thumb and even the gun of excommunication and potential assassination of a tyrant, make such tyrannies possible. And such sycophants, and such behaviour are not exclusive to Russia and putin. We have watched, and continue to watch in Washington, (and likely in other capitals if investigators were able to plumb the records with protection) sycophants grovelling at the foot of their chosen “leader,” the formeroccupant of the Oval Office. And such grovelling, under the guise of ‘protecting and serving the ordinary people’ serves only a single purpose: the perverted, personal narcissistic and oppressive will of that single leader. Money and political power in the hands of men like putin and trump, and perhaps other tyrants like Xi Jin Ping and Kim Jong Un, is potentially lethal for any with the strength, the courage and the conviction to oppose their iron and vindictive will. For many decades, in the west, there have been complaints about greedy and abusive corporations, tragically considered ‘humans’ under American law, (another American self-deception); today, we have to focus on individual narcissistic greed among billionaires. By the way, corporations, by definition, have neither a conscience, nor a capacity for shame.

Estimating and predicting the lengths to which unleashed individual human power, unopposed, will go, is a matter far above the pay-grade and competence of this scribe. In fact, it must become one of the active files of the national security agencies of each respective government: that those agencies undertake a complete, if secret and confidential, investigation of the methods and motives of their dictatorial and unprincipled and tragic terrorist leaders.

Whether or not both putin and trump are clinical psychopaths or sociopaths seems somewhat irrelevant and even redundant. Leave such questions for the clinically-trained, and with their help the doctoral candidates of the next century, whether they be in history, politics, national security, psychiatry or criminal anthropology. For the moment, the world needs to explore, unearth and perhaps even invent both means and methods that would put radioactive barbed wire, literally, and metaphorically around such men, and protect the world from their tyrannical, life-long, fantasy ambitions.

Those ambitions cannot be accomplished without the services of many neurotic dupes, the sycophants. And consequently, each and every public service has an obligation to recruit and to train and to support individuals who are unlikely to fall into the traps of treason, espionage, and secret seductions of the forces that would take over their lives, minds, hearts and bank accounts, to serve their nefarious needs. That will never be fully and perfectly accomplished. There will always be sinister, hidden forces that will be accessible to those highly seductive bobbles of money, glitz and power, on which these tyrants and their thug-gangs will both cling and recruit.

At the other end of this equation, the public has to be much better educated (not merely trained in skills) to be able to both spot and to expose those candidates for office who openly avow nefarious purposes and ends, and to discern the authentic candidates from the imposters. That, too, will be extremely difficult from at least two perspectives: first, in the education curricula, there must be histories and biographies of dictators, tyrants, their methods and mind-sets that set their path long before they entered the dark side.

As a society, in the west, we have an even more complex reality to digest, assimilate and then confront.  Writing on, February 23, 2022, in a piece entitled, “A history of Demonology is a History of the World,” to introduce his latest book on demonology, Ed Simon writes:

Since the Enlightenment, Western Intelligentsia have been the inheritors to a rather anemic model of knowledge known as the correspondence theory of truth, whereby the validity of a statement is ascertained simply by whether or not it matches empirical reality….A fundamentalist adherence to the correspondence theory of truth, trumpeted by logical positivists and other philosophical heretics, would consign John Keats, Joyce Kilmer and William Wordsworth into a bin marked ‘meaningless’ (even though I think we can all ascertain that there is meaning, even if it‘s the ‘slant’ truth that Emily Dickinson writes about).

Much of this space, for the last decade, has tried to expose an inordinate dependence, if not obsession, with this ‘correspondence theory of truth’ and its many applications. Empirical truth, based on observable, measureable, and ‘sensible’ evidence is admittedly a significant aspect of our experience, as well as our way of knowing. We see, or hear, taste smell or touch something, and it becomes ‘real’. However, even to adopt such a narrow fence around truth has multiple implications, which need far more intellect and space to unpack than either competence or time will permit here.

However, a ‘flat earth’ of empirical reality is far more easily consigned to epithets like “I am a bottom-line person, just the bare facts please.” Those who take such a view, while focusing on only whatever it is that they consider worthy of their attention, shut out much of the context, and the multiple linkages of multiple factors in their world view. They, and the view itself, enable a far more transactional vernacular, including expectations of the other, and also responsibilities of those who have or who seek positions of leadership and power. Manipulating the superficial, empirically evident ‘chess pieces’ of numbers, and immediate causes or co-relations, consumes the public discourse, including the journalistic projects. Even investigative journalism, which digs deeper into the range and depth of the empirical evidence, much the same way a legal case is prepared, offers a proximate truth. This kind of obsession, even if it is not a conscious obsession, but merely an involuntary fixation, provides huge openings for those engaged in political discourse to drive their own obsessive behemoth trucks through. And now we have such blatant manipulation of superficial ‘data’ that lies drown even empirical truths.

Riding the wind and the waves of correspondence theory of truth, people like putin and trump and others, have a playing field bereft of poetics, and of explanations that go beyond the literal, the numerical and the observable. Ordinary people, while perhaps not either signing on to being conscripted to this level of language, perception and thought, are nevertheless complicit in allowing its ubiquity.

There are accountants, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and digital technologists who are all fully engaged in the ‘correspondence theory of truth’. And they are all making quite comfortable livings, no doubt. Empirical truth and the data that supports the concept generates both cash and opinions that have serious impacts.

Simon continues:

That the correspondence theory of truth doesn’t even match its own exacting prescriptions  to what is legitimate or not is a bit of self-referential absurdity best passed over; concluding that as a model it’s clearly ineffectual in describing whole swaths of human experience is sufficient enough….Of the approaches that the modern person has in considering demonology, there’s obviously blunt literalism, equally blunt denialism, and then a sort of vast middle that reduces demons to ‘metaphors’ or ‘symbols.’ Concerning those who think of demons as being as ‘real’ as the dog in the yard, little can be said.  Such fundamentalism is its own capitulation to the exigencies of modernity; it’s as positivist as anyone adhering to the correspondence theory of truth, it merely chooses to ascent toward that which anyone can see is an absurdity. Those who adhere to this contention may think that they’re taking part in a venerable spiritual tradition, but they hold to the same epistemological framework as any rationalist or skeptic, they just choose to believe in something demonstrably wrong….Denialists are a different species, to harp on the nonexistence of demons is to miss that point in the same way as the literalists but toward a different direction. Smugly emphasizing that demons aren’t real seems about the same as arguing that “Truth is beauty, beauty is truth’ is an absurdity because it can’t be reduced to symbolic logic; those who expel poetry in favor of the syllogism live a shallow existence. Most obnoxious of this type are those who reject anything that to them has the taint of the spiritual, the divine, the transcendent about it, consigning millenia of human experience and expression into the trash can because it doesn’t conform to a model of truth that has only existed for a few dozen generations.”

And it is not only Simon’s dilemma in attempting to answer the question, “Do I believe in demons?" that arises. It is the foundational question of how western culture can and will be able to cope with “reality” and truth, given that we seem to vacillate between fundamentalists and denialists, not only about demons but about most of our other complex existential and shared questions. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

War is not without its historic context, nor can we escape its clutches


What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty and democracy? (Mahatma Gandi)

If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war. (Leo Tolstoy)

Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. (Martin Luther King)

In times of war, the law falls silent. (Cicero)

If we don’t end war, war will end us. (H.G. Wells)

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind. (John F. Kennedy)

Men make war to get attention. All killing is an expression of self-hate. (Alice Walker)

Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause. (Chris Hedges)

Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy. (Henry Kissinger)

There are so many people who have penned their thoughts, cogently, succinctly and penetratingly about war….and yet, war leaves us all gaping, speechless, confused, and desperate, seemingly hopeless and also angry.

Being taken for granted, ignored, silenced, patronized, condescended to, and writhing in the pain of loneliness, alienation and despair are feelings and experiences every human being knows intimately. And when a leader of a country takes it upon himself to define the emotions of his nation using those emotions, and to assume and to presume that, in order to continue to lead that country, to earn and to sustain the trust of his people, he must go to war to repair those national feelings of ‘nothingness’ and abject humiliation, he makes himself something he can never be, a legitimate symbol of and for his country. Humiliation, sadly, even tragically, can only be real for those who have succumbed to its erosion.

Russian humiliation, tragically, and even ironically, is embedded in the mask of wealth, power, opulence, tyranny and autocracy that has taken over the agent of that humiliation. And the Russian people, now in the streets in some numbers, just as any self-respecting people anywhere, know the difference between the puffery n nand the ‘huffery’ of a hollow, straw-filled man and his words, and do not want their country to be seduced by the delusion. Rounding up those who protest, just as firing missiles through the night into Kiyv, is another act of desperation. And it is always, inevitably and predictably the most desperate who have to do both: wage an unprovoked war and then imprison those who speak out against such a war.

Cornered, rabid animals in their own kind of ‘white heat’ not only are unpredictable, they are lethal. They know not what they are doing, or what they are going to do. They are like a diseased, emaciated, desperate dog that has no friends, has had no food for a prolonged period and who is ‘fighting for his life’ as only he can see the situation. While anesthetizing the four-legged kind, to put them out of their misery is a method and gift of mercy, occasionally, such animals have be silenced permanently.

Mr. Putin, while not precisely a rabid, desperate and diseased animal, is behaving in ways that bring such images to mind. And, predictably, when words and face-to-face talking are no longer tolerated, some form of violence erupts. It is, however, not the failure of language, it is the failure to recognize and to acknowledge a broader range of options than killing, pillaging, lying and robbing others of their dignity, their honour and their self-respect in order to fill the vacuum of a frozen-solid heart.

Man has always had a deep and profound need for instruments, tools and weapons that, he has argued for centuries, “protect” him and his clan from the dangers of the ‘outside’ world. And the larger the arsenal of the most lethal weapons, ironically and even pathetically, the more confident and protected and more self-assured such men seem to be. Neither Russia nor the United States has, as yet, been unshackled from such a false premise, belief and near religious dogma. The manufacture, design and refinements of hard power, as a defining trait of those seeking to be and to remain the ‘top dog’ paint a path that has been used to portray confidence and safety and security in the glib vernacular of practical sense, to borrow from Frye.
yesterday Admiral Stavridis, former supreme commander of NATO, noted on MSNBC that NATO outspends Russia, out-mans Russia, and therefore will be able to protect and defend those countries that are members of NATO, should Putin extend his military reach beyond Ukraine. We have all know, forever, that the United States has had, and continues to have the largest military arsenal in history, funded by the largest military budget in history, and filled with the most sophisticated weaponry known to man.

Putin himself, is now threatening to use weapons the world have never seen before, and whether that denotes advanced design or nuclear weapons, no one is quite sure. War, once declared, is like an oath to the man who declares it. There is absolutely nothing that such a man will not do to fulfil the demands of such an oath. It is now the defining aspect of his being for the simply reason that his whole life is now framed in that lens. Victory is his only purpose and goal. The means and the strategy and the tactics and the specific targets are just the mind-games of that absolute necessity, victory.

Anyone who torques the facts on the ground, in this case that Ukraine is a danger to Russia, as a way of contorting his own mind, and then commands his underlings to follow orders based on such torquing, is no longer in control of the balance and the cognition and the emotions of his person.  He has succumbed to the most effective and lethal seduction of all, self-seduction.

In Paradise Lost, John Milton writes these memorable words:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

The mind’s capacity to distort to such an extreme degree, is, of course, a human capacity. And for many of us, it is the moment when we come to the conclusion that ‘how’ we see things now as unlikely to change, if those conditions are unacceptable to us, that we make what we call life-decisions. Many of those decisions are based on somewhat extravagant hopes and visions of happiness and warmth; others are made on the basis of avoiding, withdrawing from situations in which we find the dynamics to be dysfunctional and not open to change.

While there is some superficial legitimacy to the argument that NATO has indeed expanded closer to the Russian border, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, two things militate against that fact as helping to neutralize its threat to Russia and to Putin. First, NATO is avowedly a defensive organization, determined to protect its members. And, whether or not one believes that argument, is an open question. All steps to develop military weapons, strategy and tactics, war games, are allegedly conducted and created as “defensive” measures, certainly not to be used in an offensive manner. So, inherent in the whole military establishment is the notion that ‘defense’ is a somewhat flimsy justification, given the archives of history are replete with stories of war.

Second, however, to the defensive argument defining NATO, is the more significant argument that undermines the motives and the urgency of the Putin war: that human beings are and will continue to be much more attracted to, motivated by and loyal to a system of governance that respects the individual, that respects the collective will of the people and that works openly and authentically to serve This other way of organizing a country and  the people within the nation is far more abstract, somewhat ethereal, somewhat ambiguous than tyranny. It is also certainly an argument and a way of life that is subject to many interpretations that demand vigorous debate, the even more assiduous gathering and curating of information, and the need for a fourth estate that serves as a bridge between the people in power and their decisions and the people in the streets and their attitudes.

The notion, however, that democracy will never be imposed at the end of a missile or a knife, remains one of the more elusive and yet cogent and compelling features of its inherent value. Persuasion, support, understanding and both empathy and compassion are just some of the instruments of political dialogue that are obviously considered unneeded and unwarranted by Putin and his ilk. And it is their total and abject rejection of those ‘soft-power’ instruments, and their clinging to hard power, including their absolute authority and control of everything within their grasp that paradoxically and tragically impales them on their own character. That observation may not be rocket-science; it is however, worthy of being tapped into the keypad on this blizzardy Friday morning at the end of February 2022.


There is something inherently despicable, abhorrent, and heinous about arresting protesters in the streets of some 50 different Russian cities yesterday, just as there is something unconscionable about firing missiles and rockets into Chernobyl’s nuclear site, including its waste storage facilities, that, if not protected, could and would spray radioactive dust far and wide these many years after the original melt-down. There is also something so tragically abhorrent about a threat to use nuclear weapons, should any western power threaten to, or actually impede the determined goals of this new Russian czar. None of these actions is tolerable to a human community of nations, nor are they commensurate with a decent, mutually collaborative world culture, in which pandemics, rising temperatures, and glaring abuse of both wealth and political power by narcissistic tyrants is a growing trendline that threatens to individually as well as taken as a gestalt the very existence of humanity itself.

Call that hyperbolic and apocalyptic if you like. It is long past time that the language of moderation, mediation, tip-toeing through the minefields of polite diplomacy, when the terrain and the political culture requires a more muscular and confident language and tone.

Exposing the oligarchs including Putin himself, by naming them and by seizing their assets and their access to their assets, as Hillary Clinton advocated publicly this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, may well be a preferred starting point. And while it may begin to take the head of the ‘snake’ off its body, such an approach will not neutralize a transactional, commercialized and greed-based-and-fed conventional modus operandi of so many in all countries where money and its pursuit and acquisition carry with it the power and influence of men and women who otherwise would converse modestly, fitting into their neighbourhoods and their office and factory associates with both ease and finesse.

Lies, the incubation of more lies, and the dissemination of those lies is literally a new industry. It is born in the hearts and minds of men and women who refuse to acknowledge their own shame, and their responsibility for generating and for spreading those lies. No politically correct, or euphemistic camouflage can or will remove this cancer from the body politic. No laws will neutralize their lethal toxicity. No law enforcement will even begin to ensnare either the lies themselves or their perpetrators in either confessions or even acknowledgements of their prevarication.

And, as the recently deceased Canadian comedian, Norm Crosby, put it in one of his gigs about Bill Cosby, “I keep hearing that Cosby’s greatest failing is his hypocrisy. But, I have to think that rape and drugging the person to be raped rank higher on the totem pole of failures…don’t they?” Diplomatic language that swims in metaphors of world order, and ideologies, and size of state economies, and numbers of incarcerations for political protest, and even numbers of COVID cases, deaths and hospitalizations, while useful for those who study such matters does not get to the point of the criminality of so much of recent political actions, attitudes, utterances and human impacts.

We have witnessed, appallingly, and disheartedly, four-plus years of criminal chicanery from the former U.S. president, from the human rights abuses in China, from the burning of the Amazon forest for private developers, from the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and from the intransigence of rich political bag-men like the Koch’s in America who pour truck-loads of cash into the coffers of coal companies, and political candidates who will dance to the strings of their puppeteer.

And there have also been nearly one million deaths from COVID in the United States, many of those deaths preventable, had there been a competent, ethical, and legitimate occupant of the Oval Office in charge, instead of a saloon huckster who cares more for his own skin and reputation and self-aggrandizement than for the lives of ordinary mortals. And yet, just as in the two impeachment trials, this man was not convicted. And the drum-beat of lies, fed by greed and hyperbolic personal insecurity, nationalistic hubris, and an exaggeration even of the Gatsby’s hollow attempt to purchase history with ill-gotten riches, marches through Kyiv and who knows where else?

One has to wonder when the penny will drop, everywhere, that rings a note that removes all doubt that we are ALL literally, metaphorically, medically, politically and militarily, environmentally IN THIS TOGETHER?

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Today we woke to a very different world from the one we left last night

 I never thought I would be watching and listening to the words from former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, this morning, saying that today is reminiscent of September 1939. Those of us born in the middle of World War II, were raised in a post-war world of relative peace, relative economic stability and growth, near-full employment, and the shuttering of the munitions factory DIL just north of our home town.

Fathers of classmates had served in the Great War that ended in 1918, and other fathers had served in WWII; some of us were spared the spectre of having a parent or grandparent serving the allied forces in both European wars. Very few conversations were heard in recollection of what those wars were like for servicemen and women. November 11, Remembrance Day, was celebrated with ceremonies at cenotaphs, the sale and wearing of the Legion poppies, and people pausing to reflect on the trauma that had plagued the world.

War, even on the Korean peninsula, was still a kind of event characterized by many in Canada as “over there” somewhere on the other side of the world. The Cuban missile crisis came, scared everyone, saw the construction of bomb shelters, and fortunately passed from the front pages, and into the history books and the doctoral theses. Later, in Viet Nam, mostly the Americans were engaged in another war on the other side of the world.

We are a generation schooled on peace treaties, memorials and history books, on the ravages of military conflict. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6, 1945, while ending WWII, nevertheless, changed the basic security of every human being on the planet. The nuclear war spectre, monitored on the nuclear clock, hovered near mid-night through the decades of our lives. Treaties have come and gone on the numbers and the relative safety and security of nuclear weapons, their storage and the competing ambitions of non-nuclear states to acquire them (think Iran, North Korea). Nations like Ukraine, formerly nuclear powers, we thought and believed, fortunately surrendered their nuclear weapons.

Today, ironically, falsely, and in an unprovoked way, Putin sent military forces, aircraft, missiles into Ukraine, on the pretext that Russia was in danger of attack by the Ukrainian military. Nothing could or would be considered even feasible, let alone even considered by the Ukrainian government. Ukrainian military capacity, economic stability and political stability is dramatically inferior especially militarily to Russia’s. It would not nothing short of foolhardy for Ukrainians to attack Russia.

In the Donbas and Luhansk, on the eastern border of Ukraine with Russia, where Russian-natives live, and where Russian is spoken on the street, there have been tensions between Russian-inspired separatists seeking unity with Russia and the Ukrainian military. No doubt these tensions were continually fostered and nurtured by the Kremlin since 2014, since Russia took over Crimea also in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine has written into its constitution a determination to join NATO, at some time in the future. Thus far, she had not fulfilled the expectations of NATO membership, although Putin claims Russia is ‘threatened’ by the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine. In the last two or three decades, NATO has indeed fostered and acquired new members in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are also relatively recent NATO members.

So much has changed not only from 2014 until today, but especially, since 1989-90 and the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia’s governance has been taken over by Putin’s oligarchic cleptocracy; social media as flushed disinformation into the public dialogue and thereby enabled propaganda machines in all countries. The rising consciousness of both a global pandemic and the spectre of rising global temperatures from the continual toxic emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, and a political information war funded by corporate interests embedded in the fossil fuel sector.

Russia, itself, relies on the production of fossil fuels, as its primary source of revenue. And, as part of its initiative to neutralize Germany and other European nations in the event of initiating a military move, Russia has begun to construct Nord Stream 2, a pipeline under the Baltic Sea, to convey oil and gas from Russia to Germany and other European states. So, disinformation through cybercrime and dependence on fossil fuel are two of the non-missile or bomb-like weapons that Russia has developed. Putin is also thumping his national chest about new weapon development the likes of which the west has not witnesses.

NATO members, as well as non-NATO nations like Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, have tried to pull together in a common, committed and concerted agency opposed to the territorial expansion of Russia, a ‘united front’ of commitment to extreme sanctions on banks and oligarchs, as a way to deter Putin from his obsessive purpose.

Whether or not that purpose includes the full take-over of Ukraine, by Putin, is becoming less and less in doubt hour by hour. A hollowed-out Ukraine, one of the highly probably outcomes of this latest tragic attack. Millions are already in their vehicles attempting to escape to Poland from Ukrainian cities. In Moscow, with 3 million Ukrainians living in Russia, there are no more ‘dollars’ as there has been a ‘run’ at the banks with people attempting to dump rubles in favour of dollars.

Reports of Russian forces attacking nuclear waste storage sheds in Chernobyl demonstrate a complete disregard for human life, given that if successful, nuclear dust will spread near and far in that area immediately north of Ukraine in Belarus. However, a Russian puppet, Lukashenka, holds power propped up by Putin, in spite of the rebellion in the streets of Minsk last summer, demanding his overthrow, a new election and a new democratically-elected government. Leader of the opposition in Belarus left her homeland fearing for her life, at the hands of the Belarus dictator.

It is almost impossible to keep up the reports of military conflict, announcements of sanctions, curtailment of Russian banking options, and more threats from the Kremlin depicting both danger for more countries than Ukraine, and also proving beyond a shadow of a doubt, the mental, emotional and even political melt-down of the Russian tyhrant.

The deplorable fact that trump and his acolytes, in both the Republican party and on Fox, echo support for Putin is another of the seismic shifts in the health of the body politic of the United States of America. Naturally, given the penetrating intelligence of the Russian oligarch, Putin is intimately acquainted with American chaos, disunity, racial animus and economic insecurity, especially in the middle of a pandemic. He is also intimately aware that his own standing in Russia itself is  under a considerable cloud of public distrust. Alexi Navalny lies in serious ill health, in a Russian prison. Poisonings of Russian emigres in Great Britain have resulted in both death (assassination) as well as perpetual sickness. Journalists, under Putin, have the respect one might afford a python in the kitchen, such is the fear and the unmitigated contempt for truth, transparency, accountability, and the names and faces of those everywhere who stand for such values, and who fight to sustain those values.

This conflict is not, and never will be, contained within the borders of Ukraine, not even within the confines of Europe itself. The whole world is facing the spectre of a conflict with weapons never before deployed, under technologies never before imagined, and certainly not reined in by law and or self-regulation. Hackers acting on behalf of Putin and the Russian government, are among the most loyal of Putin’s forces, and their stealth and infiltration into all cyber systems threaten all systems of energy production and distribution everywhere, in Europe and North America.

The position of all countries in the world on this invasion of Ukraine by Russia remains significant, and none more than whether or not China utters words of support, condemnation or neutrality in the light of developments.

The markets, of course, are dropping in both performance and in confidence in the near future, given their heralded disdain for uncertainty. Prices of all commodities, including gas, oil, food, and necessary supplies are already rising, and will spike even further as a consequence of this unprovoked military aggression.

We are and will continue to experience not only those rising prices of commodities we all need; we are and will continue to experience increased anxiety, tension, apprehension and scepticism not only about the full impact of these events but also of the vibrations and imitations and echoes that will continue to redound around the planet.

Dictators everywhere will be emboldened by Putin’s intemperate, unconscionable  unjustified, senseless, illegal war. Even many Russians themselves, are angry by these actions of their leader. Whether the  “squeeze” that the west exerts on oligarchs and cleptocrats in Russia, on their stashed cash in foreign bank accounts, is enough of a tourniquet to stop  the blood and the pulse of the Russian bear, and bring him/it to its knees, is an open question.

Many of us who are watching are filled with scepticism that the west, especially those barons enmeshed in the financial networks inhabited by Russian oligarchs, and their politicians, have the guts, the commitment and the foresight to recognize that stashed cash, in the cause of sinister, inhuman and inhumane power brokers, could prove to be an existential threat to what we have considered “world order” for more than half a century.

Restraining a madman from pulling the trigger on nuclear weapons, too, is an obvious risk that every single person has to bear in mind, including those leaders western capitals, in the UN, in NATO and around the world.

Today we all woke up to a very different, far less safe and secure world than the world we lived in when we went to bed last night. Putin and his means and methods, exclusively and intemperately and unconscionably thrown around with impunity seem, at this moment, more than  the west can wrestle to the ground. Can he commit self-sabotage and bring himself the oblivion he so richly deserves?

We can only hope and pray.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Can we listen to Niebuhr's urging us out of our tribal limits?

The chief source of man’s inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men. (Reinhold Niebuhr)

If only we were able and willing to consider the “tribe” to be the totality of humanity, rather than the club, whether that club is the athletic team, the servic
e club, the faith community, the linguistic/ethnic lineage, or the nation…especially the nation.

 We celebrate the tribal circles of influence in which we have “power” perhaps because we need to both demonstrate and to prove our worth that we are engaged. We, and others in the circle can and do ‘see’ the impact of our presence, thereby providing immediate feed-back, of our existence. To consider the whole of humanity as our ‘tribe’, however, is to carry the real risk of not being seen, heard, known and appreciated. Steeped in the requirements of being measured, including the need to “measure” ourselves in terms of the benchmarks of cultural norms, we rely on symbols of “success” from the very beginning. Starting with the family, the neighbourhood, school, church, theatre, restaurants, and local teams, we “belong” as part of our “socializing” almost as if the pack mentality provided not only protection but also identity.

Of course, these facilities, and social structures provide ‘nesting’ for children and their parents for basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and mentoring. Finding our way in the world, has to begin with challenges and opportunities that ‘fit’ our awareness, our age and maturity, and our capacity to deal with them without being overwhelmed. Roles, responsibilities and opportunities to learn about self and others, and the complexities of the multiple interactions, comprise our “schooling” for life. The narrative themes, events, conflicts, acceptances and both successes and failures form a maze of software programs laid over the hard wiring of our genetic identity and lineage. And attending to hourly, daily, weekly chores and timetables, activities and expectations of the adults in the room, we engage in those moments, many of which have been pre-planned by those closest to us at birth.

We initiate, through both birthdays and religious rituals, and we instruct in both formals and informal situations, in the hope and determination to prepare young children and adolescents for their adult lives. And, in the course of all of those ‘preparations’ we might, depending on our own childhood, and whether or not we  seek to endorse and to replicate some of its events and attributes, offer opportunities for children to engage with a wider world. Rotary exchange students, are not only an example of enriched opportunities for young people from around the world to visit and to experience the customs and the condiments, the spices and the scenery of new places. They also enrich the fabric and the culture of the host clubs, communities and families who integrate those young people. Such opportunities are far too rare, although both travel and costs of such projects have made the model more accessible. National programs like the former Peace Corps of the United States also birthed a generation of young adults whose consciousness was profoundly shaped by their experiences ‘abroad’. Today, universities have been developing and enriching programs of international study, as a way to expand the horizons of their graduates as well as to enhance the network of persons with both a knowledge of how other people of different places, languages and customs live, but also a deeper appreciation of both their own range of opportunities and a connection to a concept, now with names and faces, with tactile and visceral memories, that stretches their perceptions, their circle both literally and metaphorically.

Of course, all of these opportunities are available only to a very small slice of any population, mainly to those whose own wealth and education and community associations make the opportunities known and accessible to aspiring young people. Increasingly, philanthropic cells have been developing in various locations where needs have been identified that cry out to those able to offer help. And the opportunities to support those non-profits have increased exponentially over the last few decades. Once again, however, both the activists and their respective target populations, while growing long-term and often deep relationships, have to experience the kind of social and fiscal and psychological dependence the risks of which have to be mediated. Just as the original ‘missionaries’ who brought their messages of both faith and “civilizing-the-savages” (often as a single unified over-powering indoctrination based on a conviction that those missionaries are/were doing God’s will and work!) faced unconscious and highly traumatic bias and prejudices, so to there is an inevitable element of the parent-child nexus in many of these projects, even with their intended benefits.

The culture of family, school, community and all of the warm fuzzies about those features of everyone’s life is supported by some very powerful forces: advertising, consuming, competing, the church, and all of the ‘team’ and platoon/battalion/regiment connections that serve the military and the quasi-military institutions, corporations and political parties. We literally sanctify many of those “warm fuzzies” to a degree that inevitably seeds and nurtures attitudes of disrespect and perhaps even contempt. “If all of those families are living the good life,’ the self-talk goes, ‘then why is this family not doing something akin to that’? Feelings of unworthiness, perhaps spawned in the childhood of parents who may have endured toxic environments, or excessive ambitions of parents who are determined to have their children “succeed” or perhaps a strong ambition for success within parents themselves, resulting in extended absences, both physically and emotionally….these are some of the seeds of family dysfunction. Care-givers, inevitably emerge as expressions of kindness, sympathy and sometimes empathy for those in duress. And, similarly to the elevation of the warm fuzzies of family life, our culture also holds up the care-givers as models of the Good Samaritan, that entrenched biblical verse that champions the rescuer.

So, in many instances, the ‘rescuer’ from all sorts of pain has become a model of both integrity and honour, even spiritual humility. And we have extended the applications of that model to how we “perceive” and “conceptualize” many of our social problems. Leading the way on the rescuer is the church, the incubator of some healthy and collaborative approaches, as well as seeding other attitudes and approaches that are self-sabotaging, both for the church and its adherents. The cliché that captures the essence of this ‘holy’ attitude goes something like, “Everything is going to be alright and you are going to get better and beat this disease!” These words, uttered in the best of intentions, are not only self-serving of the speaker; they are also condescending and patronizing to the patient, given their unreliability and their denial of the evidence.

Of course, miracles do happen, and yet, to couch pastoral visits in false hope is a denial of truth and reality beyond tolerance. Prayers, active listening and sheer attentive and even silent presence are far more appropriate in those situations. And yet, the rescuer archetype, while necessary in dire emergencies, fires, droughts, floods and hurricanes, and even in the emergency rooms of our hospitals and clinics, is not a model for health relationships, at any level. Nevertheless, having not either taught or learned the superior value and worth of truth, including sometimes uncomfortable truths of having been hurt even if and when the hurt was not intended, we are swimming in waters that endorse, inculcate and elevate the concept of the rescuer as hero. We then place pedagogues in classrooms where the discernment between the need for compassion and empathy up against the need for discipline and control is essential.

For a majority raised in such a culture, there is a divide between the way men and women approach the moment of encountering pain in another, especially one who is close both in the family and in the circle. While men are taciturn and somewhat uncomfortable generally, and tend to adopt a “is there anything I can do to help”? approach, while remaining quite silent and perhaps a little confused, women, on the other hand, being hard-wired for motherhood, are extremely comfortable, cozy supportive generally, with expressions of support and empathy, without consciously thinking or strategizing about it. Spontaneous overt support from the females is both a sustaining antidote for the plethora of pains we see around us as well as an unspoken aspect of identity, often linked to “goodness” and altruism and a better society.

On the other hand, excessive empathy, if such a notion is even admissible in today’s culture, to some, seems to elevate all pain to a psychic condition requiring psychiatric ‘treatment’. Grief of a family member, following the death of one of that family, has recently been included as a clinical condition. For some, including this scribe, that is a reach too far. Not only have we all participated in the sacralizing of the “warm, loyal, supportive and happy family” while we witness its erosion and decay all around us, we have also elevated the psychologizing of human lives and their medical and medicinal treatments into a kind of professional and politically correct ritual. Many domestic partners, for example, are quite comfortable “sending” one partner into therapy, while the other remains immune to any need or desire for therapy, when, in fact, the issues among and between them are to some degree shared, and contributed to by both. Males, almost without exception are those “sent” into therapy, by their female partners, and whether or not they comply or resist becomes another issue in the partnership.

So, the sacralizing of the nuclear family, and its endorsement by the ecclesial community, including and emphasized by the ecclesial authority, is a pattern around which, or even in which, many children are raised. This model, naturally, spreads throughout the rest of the culture, in both positive and negative footprints. Those whose early experiences were less than sanguine will carry a certain kind of memory “card” while those with “happy childhoods” will bring a different kind of memory ‘card’ into their adult lives. Issues of authority, integrity, fear, unworthiness, self-acceptance/rejection, social affinity/alienation, courage and optimism/pessimism….these and others will all find a way to play out, triggered in part by the kind of social and political and cultural crock-pot in which one lives and works.

Habits, too, for example of how to deal with conflict, the range of what becomes essential for anyone to include in that repertoire, or what is excluded, denied, avoided…these are also matters that find their early seeds in youth.  A slogan graphic hanging on a kitchen wall that reads: “All of the hopes of all of the tomorrow’s are planted in the seeds of today” expresses this adequately. The insertion: “all of the weeds of tomorrow are also planted in the seeds of today” is rarely committed to a similar graphic.

Nevertheless, most of us perceive, perhaps even believe, that “our” way of doing things, in our family and home community/church/school/workplace, is, at first the only way we know, and then, for some, the ‘best’ way for reasons that remain somewhat puzzling. Old habits, burned into the unconscious, form a tapestry of weaving that hangs on our psychic and emotional wall, as well perhaps as our family room wall. Sometimes instead of a tapestry, those habits become a concrete boot encasing both feet, enabling a perception of both authority and righteousness. And, along with such habits, incarnated by faces and names that meant something to each of us, we bring those ‘tribal’ features into the rest of our lives.

The question of how others, in different times, places, ethnicities, religions, languages, laws, diets, and innate talents and inherent institutions pass through a similar apprenticeship, however, is for many, outside their comfort zone. Even if and when people not originally “from” here arrive, those ‘inside’ the tribe very often view them with suspicion, especially if the preservation of the rituals, habits, traditions and expectations of the tribe are sacrosanct. “How we do things here” is a kind of moat, a linguistic and cultural moat, that declares to any from “away” (to borrow from the Newfoundlanders) that, in order to fit in here, and to be accepted, there are specific proving-ground steps over which one has to demonstrate a mastery, before one will be welcomed, embraced and permitted to participate. Often, too those ‘steps’ are not articulated because to do so would mean that the ‘closed’ shop of ‘natives’ would have to be considered a “gate-keeping’ function openly, honestly and transparently.

And no institution “does” gate-keeping half as religiously as the churches. Not only are those people preserving their ‘community’ but they are also preserving (at least in their own mind) the will and wishes and aspirations of their God, as they perceive them to be. And that form of religiosity, underscored as a requisite of discipleship to a deity, comprises much of the tribe’s identity and expectations.

For a non-indigenous person, for example, to attend a sweat lodge among indigenous people, is a step many non-indigenous have not taken, and have not even considered. Mu guess is that such an experience would go a long way to melting some of the ice that encases race relations in Canada.

Similarly, if all service clubs, and all religious parishes and all schools were to include in their activities, the opportunities both to communicate with those in “foreign” lands, and then to exchange time spent with each other, to learn both the similarities and differences of two ways of living and being….and if all professional schools were to include in their curricula the opportunity to study in other lands, and to read the best thinkers from other times and places, (not only the Greek philosophers, or the French pedagogues, or the Swiss or Austrian doctors, or the African explorers, or the American capitalists)….so that, in addition to the skills and the formal training of each ‘school’ graduates would become open to, familiar with, and comfortable with the “other” as they are incarnated in real people, in real places, in real time, in the lifetime of those young adults.

Our co-existence, indeed our survival, may well depend on our shift from a local, regional, provincial or national 'tribe' perspective and attitude to a perspective, atttidude and acknolwdgement of  our shared international, global, and mutually inter-dependent tribe. Pandemics, carbon dioxide and methane, as well as fresh, clean drinking water are needed in equal proportion, and requirement, and are a mutually shared right for all of us. While there are some advantages to provincialism and parochialism, there are serious limitations to its exclusivity.

Of course, I am dreaming in technicolour! Guilty as charged! 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Why can't NATO prepare and announce a pathway for membership for Ukraine now?

 The glory, honour, dignity and respect of and for Russia, at home and on the world stage cannot and will not be resurrected on the back of a tyrannical, megalomaniacal, psychotic and hollow president who deliberately kills opponents and bullies his neighbours.

No matter how many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, and Russians are killed in no matter how many battles in military, cyber and stealth engagements, Russia will have to endure the castigation of the world, (save and except China) for what is apparently about to take place in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Not only is the paradox screaming; so is the incontrovertible evidence that the “west” including NATO really has no perceived, prepared or ready spine to get into a third world war. Nor should it. The world, and that means every single citizen inhabiting the planet, and all of our children and grandchildren now alive and prospectively born into the last half of this century and beyond, cannot either comprehend nor tolerate nor absorb the ravages of another war. Any sentient human being, regardless of where s/he lives, or where s/he was educated, trained, or professionally accredited, knows cognitively, affectively, ethically, morally and spiritually that the spectre of violence that we are anticipating is and will be, throughout history, considered another epic page in the litany of “man’s inhumanity to man”….and furthermore no sentient human being, regardless of the office he or she holds on the world stage, can or will be able to sleep nights, if this slaughter takes place.

At the same time, all of this “talk” about serious and dramatic sanctions, the likes of which the world has not seen, is little more than a puff of smoke in the eyes and the mind of Putin - public relations bafflegab, certainly not serious diplomacy. The strutting and the huffing and the puffing of Putin is analogous to the “three little pigs story, of the wolf blowing the houses made of thatch and sticks, but not of bricks. In this case, the ‘west’ including NATO seems analogous to the first two houses, made of thatch and of sticks respectively. The spectre of a brick house, however, is clearly not visible or even contemplated by the ‘wolf’ Putin.

What would a brick house, in Ukraine, actually look like?

Perhaps it would entail, not the announcement of sanctions, or even a portion of the planned sanctions. In spite of the facts that, according to the letter of the conditions, or the hoops, through which Ukraine must pass, in order to be admitted to NATO, those steps have not been completed, nevertheless, a timetable with specific conditions to be met, to pave the way for Ukraine’s admission to NATO now, would demonstrate, not only to Ukraine, but also to the world and especially to Putin, that his huffing and his puffing and his threats to blow their house down, are in vain. And Putin’s threatening to take it over, and make Ukraine another puppet in the Russian orbit is nothing less than blowing their house down. Bullies, insurrectionists, and anarchists, all three groups of which Putin is an honourary member, seek and find a crevice of apparent weakness, (thatch, sticks, in the fable) through which to “blow” their over-weening bombastic power. They tell lies that distort and pervert truth and reality, in order to bolster their distorted and perverted conception of the world, in order to justify their attitudes, beliefs and actions. And of course, they all know where their like and their ‘kin’ are hiding. And in hiding they conjure spectres, or perhaps fantasies, that are designed to bring them even more power and influence than they already have and are already mis-managing.

The wolf has no legitimate arguments to justify his need to blow their houses down, except his own in ordinate emptiness and need for control. And, neither does Putin have any legitimate arguments to justify his apparent obsession to bring Ukraine ‘back’ into the Russian orbit, except the hollow dream of glory.

The question of the intersection of Russian glory and honour with life on the ground has already been  rusted, hollowed out and defamed by the very actions of the Putin regime. And more territory, along with lists of individuals (including LGBTQ) opposed to the Russian take-over of Ukraine to be murdered or sentenced to camps, will not revive whatever glory Russia and the Soviet Union ever had. The argument that autocracies, (and even that is a euphemism for tyranny) can adapt more quickly, and make more decisive actions without the impediment of public debate, transparency and accountability hardly holds water. It is specious at best and irreconcilable with the preservation of and the protection of human rights. Autocracies, dictatorships are defined by the adulation of a single usually a male, and characterized by multiple actions designed to preserve that individual in power. It is the astonishing to note the arrogance and hubris to which many such autocrats cling that as trump himself so brazenly declared, “I alone can fix it!” referring to his perception of the ‘carnage’ that was the  America he inherited upon his election in 2016.

Condoleza Rice, former Secretary of State, and Russian scholar, now executive director of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, prior to his being tabbed by Yeltsin to become leader of Russia, described her first meeting with Putin, noting that he stood by himself in a corner, exhibiting a shy demeanour which only modified later into confidence and the megalomaniacal, as she put it in an interview with Fareed Zakaria yesterday on CNN’s GPS. The United States has been horrifically tutored in the ways and means of the megalomaniacal from 2016 through 2022 and beyond by a former occupant of their Oval Office. It is not transference to “envision” Putin and trump in the same mental, operational and megalomaniacal frame. The comparison is warranted, although both parties will protest its application to their leadership.

Dancing to the Kremlin’s demands, however, by western leaders, only exacerbates the situation in favour of the Kremlin and Putin’s overweening ambition and political and historic and legacy-building ego. Honourable, perhaps morally and ethically warranted and justified, but nevertheless, hollow, empty and ineffectual in the end.

Tyrants understand only one thing: not threats, and not vague promises, and not public relations poses, but the power of action.

And in this case, the power of action is not contained, defined or exemplified by the words and scuttling of these western leaders who diminish their stature, and their capacity to ‘bell this cat’ (if you will pardon the mixed metaphor) by failing to take action.

Zelensky pleads for the announcement of immediate sanctions on Russia and Putin and his coterie of oligarchs. He has even, in a recent visit to the Oval Office, raised the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Blinken pushes back saying that to announce sanctions now leaves the west and NATO without anything left in their quiver upon the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.  Reports (New York Times) indicate that Ukrainian leaders believe they have achieved the level of democracy and human rights that would qualify their nation for NATO membership. Only in the mid-nineties, Biden himself, then Vice-president of the U.S. argued for the admission to NATO of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to “mark the beginning of another 50 years of peace” for Europe. Now, conversely, Biden uses statements like, “we do not think in cold war terms today” a statement that seems worthy of contesting given the conditions Putin is imposing on western world leaders and the people in their domains.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, argues that the issue is not even on the table, except for Putin having put it there, and therefore no one should be discussing it as a relevant issue in the current public debate. However, one of the specific arrows in the at-least “imagined “quiver” of the west and the European Union, although specifically opposed by Germany and France, (and NATO membership require a 30-vote member consent) is the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine.

All signs seem to point to the public figures in the debate declaring that Putin, rather than driving NATO members apart, has brought them together. If that is true, and if Germany is really going to accede to the closing of Nordstream 2, the natural gas pipeline from Russia, that could provide heat and energy directly to Germany in the event of an attack on Ukraine, then it would seem to be an appropriate occasion for NATO to consider actively the issues around Ukraine’s potential membership, to set out a deliberate, public, transparent and thereby challenging path, both for Ukraine and for Putin, and in the process force Putin to face the prospect of a united, fortified and willing force before he makes a final decision to invade Ukraine.

Of course, such a decision by current NATO members would be highly risky, and highly provocative. And yet, is not the spectre of Putin’s nearly 200,000 fighters, along with fighter jets, missiles and cyber-threats a highly risky prospect. And this prospect inflicted on the world by Putin, is not going to impact only the nation and the people of Ukraine; it will impact the whole world, because, along with the carnage and the loss of lives and the trauma that will be inflicted, this predictable invasion will again demonstrate that the west really has no answer for such a dictator.

And it is the failure to confront dictatorship when they threaten, not merely illegally and illegitimately, but factually, the right to decide their future of a self-respecting, independent people. Having surrendered their nuclear arsenal in the 1990’s, as part of their move to independence, at the time being guaranteed safety and security by Russia, Ukraine now sees that the Russian commitment was nothing more than hot air. And for that failure, according to their Foreign Minister, appearing on 60 Minutes last night, Ukraine holds the U.S. and the west “partially responsible”. Even that aspect of the situation is getting far less attention than the headline-grabbing shuttle diplomacy between Macron and Putin and between  Blinken and Lavrov. It would seem that, at least in the western media, that aspect  warrants no attention.

From the broader and more penetrating perspective, however, (a perspective not exactly appealing to American media) it would seem that we need to hear those less known and less publicized features of the context, in order to better understand the complexity of the situation.

We are all, today, and for the foreseeable future, Ukrainians, not Americans, and not Canadians, not Germans or Russians. And for the time being, we all have to be pulling oars in the same boat as Zelensky, and that includes the active participation of all NATO members, not necessarily in a narrowly-defined military aspect, by putting boots on the ground in Ukraine, but by moving their policies and their

timelines and their conditions out into the open for all to see.

Russia not only has no ‘right’ to invade; it must have no “option” to invade Ukraine.

And in order to remove that option NATO members will have to adopt a broader perspective than the legal, literal, compliance perspective that currently clouds, or perhaps even blinds their vision of the whole situation.

The United Nations, another product of the last war in Europe, also has a role to play here, in pressuring NATO members to come to a conscious awareness that a war in Europe is an event the world cannot contemplate let alone tolerate. And, if we are to move to a global theatre in which collaboration, negotiation and compromise are to rule, with concomitant muscle, the west and the democracies will have to find the spine that, for example, many of the liberal organization like the Democratic Party in the U.S. seem to have lost.

Leadership, in today’s world, where facts are drowned in conspiracies, and where raw power trumps reasoned debate, and where military and cyber subterfuge trumps transparency and accountability, and where dictators throw weight around too often with impunity, and with the endorsement of specific cult-addicted media (think FOX in the U.S.), requires a far more disciplined, courageous and creative response. As Zelensky himself told the Munich Conference, the systems designed to ensure peace and security of world order after the last war in Europe are no longer adequate. They are not holding, and this moment in history demands their re-invention.

And a first step in that direction would be to design, and to acquire a unanimous vote from all 30 NATO members, to publish a pathway to membership for Ukraine.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Internal Conflict --a necessary, natural and life-giving diet

conflict...a necessary diet

What if all of the "shit" that each of us has gone through was necessary and inevitable and also life-giving?

And what if the primary question for each of us is not just to diagnose the anatomy of each conflicted chapter and then contextualize it as the patterns appear but to "learn" from and to "grow" from the emotional and psychic "welts" that remain?
That may sound simplistically cliche.

And yet....

The basic notions that life was never ever going to be easy, that nature is full of "snakes in the grass" and that in whatever situation we enter there is always and inevitably and even predictably going to be any number and kind of "head winds" that we are going to confront seems so obvious and yet poses such a riddle and profound ennui for many.

The riddle might be contained in the Pauline insight:  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7: 15-16) And, what if, rather than reduce my ‘conflicted self to sin and evil, as carnal and lustful, perhaps the conflict is inherent, natural and even ethically necessary and ultimately good, as opposed to evil?

 What if, WE are the conflict that we bring into each encounter.

And that kernel is the one we seem most blind to realize, to accept and to reconcile.

Conflicted inherently, we both project the tentacles of tension into the environment and also evoke the conflicts and tensions within each of the others present.
Much of this reciprocal projection takes place under the radar of the unconscious. Consequently, rarely if ever does the resulting collision, really collusion, become the acceptable agenda for open discussion and relationship-building.
Instead, there are some well-established protocols, politically correct, and non-invasive "dance-steps" that appear. Intuitive signals put up our defences, point us to detach, or even to withdraw if, after minimal or even moderate attempts to
moderate the rumblings in the gut, we come to "believe" that compatibility or professional reconciliation is either impossible or not worth fighting for.
Of course, our needs and circumstances will extend the time and the energy we put into achieving some kind of tolerable co-existence.

All of this sketch grows out of the "greenhouse" of our childhood where the levels of conflict, while ubiquitous, vary in details and psychic impact in each situation and with each individual.

The "weight" of the burden of our early life shifts depending on our new relationships, both with others and the new insights we learn about how we were a part of the incubator of our family of origin. Self-consciousness, not narcissism, is not a finite destination but rather a life-long pilgrimage. Being true to oneself, also is not an itinerary or a program; nor is it a medical diagnosis or prescription. Wqe work assiduously to "find" paths and places, classrooms and courses, careers and clusters of associates, both as enactments of our social 'hard wiring' and our continual need to learn and grow and develop, congruent with the calendar and our courage and cosmic connection.

Questions of skills and talents, supported or restrained by coaches and teachers (and possibly parents), and books, lectures, homilies, mentors and even heroes, like intersecting movies are forming within our senses and our cognition and our emotional and psychic life, and transforming our "conception" of our place, meaning and purpose.

Sometimes (often?) reaching beyond minimalism, and the motive to “fit” into the expectations of others, we discover our limits, our failures and our finitude in the belief that we can and will only discover who we really are by bumping up against those walls of a situation demanding competencies and strengths we did not  know we even had. Whether those limits and failures are defined as "sins" and/or new insights or some combination of both comes out of our personal, family and culture's inculcation and our integration of those impulses.

Any image of a deity, including relevant texts, shamans, elders and dogmas, evolves from the impact of both the energies we encounter and our filtering of those energies,  an interactive river of both consciousness and unconsciousness.
Our choices, decisions, acts and avoidances in dynamic relationship with the acts, decisions avoidances of others in our circles comprise more of the same cataract of consciousness and its unconsciousness.

Attempting to "snap-shot" any moment, or having to "pause" to absorb the impact of trauma tends to offer a glimpse of the anatomy of who we are, or seem. Pauses and reflections also have the potential to connect us to the pain and abuse in  other moments in other lives and places in some imperfect comparison.

Personal identities, and the manner and mask we "present" to the world depend on many variables including the conflicting motives of self-protection and magnanimity that swirl within, again, as always, in various degrees depending on our perceptions and attitudes of the moment and our place in it.

The dynamism of our personal and private selves, itself a swirling whirlpool of recurring eddies, is engaged in a parallel gestalt of eddies and whirlpools outside of us in concentric circles that both encircle us and impose constrictions for us to challenge. This reciprocal process makes for a release of some many different energies, opinions, emotions, ideologies, faith threads, fiscal, physical and spiritual probes and responses.

And all if these impulses throb within our mind, body, relationships and imaginations, again replicating some of the more complex inter-and inner-relationships in nature.

Relationships and perceptions and attitudes to God, to authority, to our responsibilities to ourselves our community and the universe are all developing and expressing themselves, and through expressions, we "see" who we are and others also believe they "see" us. And of course, they “evaluate” what they believe to be the “truth” of who we are, just as we “evaluate” and assess the ‘truth’ of who they are, including whether or not their mask is pretense, defence, secure, authentic or whatever.

In fact, however, the public/private aspects of our "performance" just like the public/private aspects of everyone else are both presented and grasped only minimally, partially and through a fog generated by all.

Ironically, believing we must be "data-driven, basing our interpretations on empirical evidence, we fail to acknowledge how little we "see" or "know" or "understand" and continually make observations, build attitudes and join causes that themselves are little more than apparitions. Our consent to join those mirages, however, remain integral to our perceptions of who we are/must be/are expected to be and do not warrant dismissal from others unless the experiences threaten or abuse us.

All of our attempts to seek, to find and to impose order on any situation are implicitly incomplete, based on limited and obscure data and perceptions and therefore tenuous and imperfect and flawed.

Our protest to the contrary, that we are dealing with absolute truth, is fraught with fear and levels of hubris and assertiveness and even aggression that are likely unwarranted from any objective perspective.

It matters not the source of absolutes given that all declarations of “absolute” truth are, by definition, human, conflicted, partial, imperfect and tenuous.
We have, however, been "schooled" in the empirical, measureable and dependable data of our senses, repeatable and predictable under the rubrics of theory. And that ‘schooling’ is, by definition, only a partial and incomplete and foggy notion of the whole of reality, and the depth of truth.

And, at the same time as we underdo the discipline of our schooling, coaching, mentoring and evaluations, we risk losing, or at least forgetting, avoiding, resisting and defying our counter-vailing truth:

that we (and they) do not know the whole or the incontrovertible fullness of the truth.

There is, however,  nothing wrong with "not knowing"! The danger and threat arises when we deny/defy/avoid/fail to acknowledge that we do not know.

Incompleteness, uncertainty, ambiguity, confusion and humility, rather than being weaknesses, are essential truths and thereby strengths.

Our refusal to acknowledge the resource, not only the ethics and morality, of our uncertainty and tentative quality of all of our knowledge threatens to hoist us in our own petard.

Messers Putin, Xi Jin Ping, Biden, Macron, Johnson, Zalensky.... are you reading?

My own internal tensions and blindnesses, too late in many cases, have shaped much of my story. Reconciling with the story and the pain I have caused, and have been subjected to, are and remain life-enhancing experiences, although not always, or even often, pleasureable or certainly without deep pain and shame.

Nor is that reconciliation and learning and acknowledging, like sweet deserts, the first choice when envisioning a schedule for a day or week.

Encompassing discomfort and unrest and the uncertainty of the conflict of always wondering about our own authenticity, however, deepens our connection with the universal, human truth/reality of critical self-examination and the tensions of conflict inside and surrounding each of us.....and that river continues to flow inside and outside interminably.

And Thankfully! 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

We all share the same cauldron inescapably


We can all see and feel and viscerally experience storm clouds on the horizon.

Nevertheless, those storm clouds are somewhat darker and more ominous that many in positions of power and responsibility would, perhaps could, have anticipated. The capacity to anticipate and prepare for what’s coming, within the institutional structures, the governments, the civil services, and the so-called “above-ground” culture is, or maybe already has been, outstripped by the digital revolution. Using the United States as one model, it seems that the arms and legs of governance, the Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court, and the battalions of civic bodies, are all in a frantic state attempting to keep their “hands” on the tiller of what has been considered public order for centuries while the winds threaten to capsize the ship of state.

The pandemic is mutating and spreading faster than our “sensors” can detect, collect samples, examine those samples in certified labs, and then disseminate the appropriate information, including health care guidelines for schools, businesses, and governments to manage the level of threat. This dynamic is rolling out across the globe, within various governmental structures, ideologies, economies and national security establishments. Ironically, while we are being bombarded by 24-7-365 news and public information, in real time, on devices we carry in our hands and often have plugged into our ears, the originators of much of that information are struggling to gather, filter and spread the amount, and the severity of the information to a multitude of audiences.

A pandemic, a recession, an income-poverty gap, a suffocating planet, a revolution in technology as well as a heightened consciousness of the abuses of power and the spiking of violence at the street level, the hate crime index, the drug dealing index, the cyber-criminal index, and even the corporate ethical responsibility index….these are all being conflated in very different ways depending on the people doing the curating, the location of their work and the potential impact on  their friends and enemies. We may have democratized access to information and the capacity to enter into the “public square” through twitter, Instagram etc. At the same time, we have literally and metaphorically blocked many of the previously dependable channels for the flow of both information, goods and geopolitical ambitions and plans. Our individual capacity to digest information is on overload, as the rush of details swamps our filtering processes.

Consumer consumption, (that’s what consumers do!) is higher than ever, while manufacturing of many of those consumer goods has been “out-sourced” by producers bent on achieving maximum profit at minimum cost. So instead of the Dickensian sweat shops, in the west, we have exported those deplorable working conditions to nations prepared to permit such abuse, in the name of corporate and investor profit. Instead of a world order that emerged following the second world war, we have the rise of previously “quiet” nations like Russia and China and India and Brazil all of which appear to be on a “fast-track” to achieving a new degree of status and stature depending on the specifically selected levers and theatres each has chosen to engage. Distribution and shipping, the supply chain, coping as we all are with pandemic incursions into existing labour and also into potential new hires, complicate and frustrate consumers. Expectations, on the street and family level, have been disappointed.

Prices for food, gas, pharmaceuticals, and all platforms for entertainment are rocketing through the what was considered tolerable. This morning in Canada, I paid $1.58 for a litre of gas….multiply that by 4 in order to approximate a gallon ($6.32 Canadian) and there is literally no single person or family not being heavily impacted by these prices. Public reports of price spikes on food, housing, transportation and normal living expenses abound,

The mandates for masks and vaccines,  absolutely necessary public health preventatives, have been unevenly tolerated for months, along with the public policy encouragements/urgings/mandates for vaccines….and the nerves of the people of the world are fraying.

Signs of this fraying are on the streets in Ottawa, in the streets of Kyiv, on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, and spreading to other locations in acts of defiance, anger, revenge and rebellion that are not so pale imitations of the January 6th 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Signs of the fraying… and we all have to take ownership of this fraying, we are all frazzled, anxious, a little frightened, and more than a little unnerved….are everywhere.

Drivers passing on double lines, and on hills and on curves, impatience with government leaders even in places, like Canada, where protests have historically been peaceful (is that another gift of the indigenous people of our country?) and then there is the ‘other side’ whereby the clerks in the supermarkets take extra time and pay extra attention to “how are you today?” questions, underlining the shirts that ask customers to “be kind” and “be patient”…

Just the existence of such shirts is a tell-tale sign as to where and how we are living….and as one cashier put it last week, “When someone asks, ‘What’s new?’ I want to ask them what rock they just came out from under.” For her the only ‘new thing’ is a proverbial “same-old” pandemic and rising prices, and more pandemic and more rising prices…with no voice or agency to make a difference in either, in the big picture.

“In the big picture,” where the “big” decisions are taken, (like mandates and vaccine passports, and masking for school students)…where most ordinary people do not participate. So, for the very first time in a very long time, if ever, ordinary people are moved to get off the couch, out of the kitchen and off those bar stools, and go out into the public town halls and, even for a small minority, to drive a tractor-trailer 3000 miles to plug the streets of Ottawa, “until all mandates are lifted”. The blindness and rage of such a manifesto, however, is that all or most of those mandates are designed and imposed by provincial authorities. Those regarding border crossing truckers from the U.S. do come from Ottawa, and they match similar mandates from Washington.

Immediacy, and something called efficacy, a measure of what makes sense because it “works” underlies much of the public protests. Perceptions, stirred by latent frustration, anger, fear and a loss of hope and optimism are prompts to action by many who had never before even carried a picket sign. Incongruities, like rules and regulations that appear to make little to no sense to an audience, designed and delivered by health care officials, “on the fly” using their best data at the moment, all of it migrating on the back of a mutating virus for which we are all unprepared offer a public movie script of the classic collision of incompatible forces.

Immediate and “free” access to digital devices offers a handy valve through which to vent and to organize like-minded others who seek to exert their “opinion” forcefully, immediately and threateningly. The 90% of truckers who have compliantly received vaccinations and simply try to go about their daily routines are not adequately or ethically represented by the less than 10% of their peers making all the noise and air, and private space and street “pollution” called a “siege” by the Ontario premier in declaring a state of emergency.

So far, the violence in Ontario has been restricted to “things” and spaces and intimidation of citizens who have nothing to do with the protests. And that has been and continues to be unnerving. Attempting to meet with the Governor General, who, according to their manifesto, is envisioned as ruling with a public committee of the protesters, while also embarrassing the prime minister and his government are hardly a path to relief from all mandates. Nevertheless, the “siege” continues, at last report, on the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit, in  spite of a court-ordered injunction to disband. The protests have been unnerving to those ordinary people who continue to grant grace to scientists and doctors and the public figures who echo their best advice. Rather than focussing on the irritant of “lost freedom” as the protesters are fixated on, the rest of us are trying to stay safe physically and mentally, as the evidence is gathered, lab-tested, and the public figures attempt to balance what they think/conceive/imagine the public can and will tolerate as the pandemic lingers.

Balancing public “health” in the narrow sense of whether or not individuals are “infected” with the broader “public health” of the body politic in the first pandemic of this magnitude, both in spread and lethality, in a century, is and will continue to be a challenge for the best minds and the most articulate and sensitive public leaders. And while that responsibility rests on the public figures, ordinary people are left digesting the perceived success or failure of those political decisions. While children are left wondering if they will be attempting to learn remotely or in a classroom, the body politic has been rendered an epic-sized classroom, with distant learning coming through the television and personal screens. Returning to being a “student” as the “professors” are also trying to keep up with the evolving curriculum, filtering their shifting date through the lens of their learning and best practices, was not a prospect many who already may have had negative experiences with formal school in their youth envisioned or willingly accepted.

Pile those “school-room” images on top of images of distrust and ennui fostered and nurtured by an American president and administration determined to “deconstruct the state itself” and the North American continent is being transformed from a relatively stable, predictable normality to something verging on not merely chaos, but anarchy. And, as the civil servant of a small city in Ontario observed, ‘the small minority of pickle-ball enthusiasts is making far more noise in demanding facilities than their numbers warrant.’ The proverbial ‘tail’ in numbers of protesters has clearly taken control of the ‘dog’ in making far more noise and disruption than either their numbers or the validity of their anger warrant.

We see this kind of imbalance every day on every newscast, depending on the ‘newsworthiness’ of the event. Loud trump-supporting women in the Republican party have garnered far more media attention than their numbers and the validity of their argument warrant. The former president, himself, garnered far more media attention than his political standing and positions taken warranted, especially given his iconoclastic, insurrectionistic and even anarchistic motivations. And those motivations and his vacuity were both on full display at the very beginning of his escalator ride in trump tower. Cozying with dictators merely satirized the predictable and reliable public role and persona of American presidents, and the underlying motive of insulting the ‘establishment’ not only in personal terms but also in political action terms, lay then, and continues to lie at the heart of the former president’s modus operandi.

Manipulating public opinion, through whatever platforms are available both to disseminate propaganda and to vacuum cash from unsuspecting and innocent and even ignorant and willing ‘victims’ was and continues to be a national “scam” so far escaping the claws and the grasp of the American legal/political protections. And manipulating public opinion through the same platforms has birthed the “freedom convoy” and, until the assets were frozen, funded the protests.

Tragically, as the freedom convoys interrupt public confidence and supply chain flows, embarrassing public figures in North America and elsewhere, on the geo-political scale, Putin amasses hundreds of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders. Combining the military threats with the threats to public safety and security, is to beg the question about whether the tail and the dog have not reversed traditional roles. Is the tail now in charge of the public square? Is protest, as a vehicle of political persuasion and control, the new war theatre, supplemented by the digital platforms for cyber warfare? Anne Applebaum wrote, several months ago, in The Atlantic, “The bad guys are winning.”

Disaffected truckers, angry at mask and vaccine mandates could pass as the tail wagging the dog in the North American context. Whereas Putin and Ji Xin Ping dominating the world stage, solid in their opposition to NATO, constitute a formidable axis, in a potential conflict in more than one conflict zone, (think Ukraine, Belarus, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and potentially the Balkans). Are Iran and North Korea to be considered allies of their’s? And, if bullying and throwing inordinate weight around to get one’s way is the model for the trucker insurrectionists, they have mega-models in trump, Putin, Ji Xin Ping and Kim Jung Un. Cyber currency, as well as digital platforms are among the new weapons for all those opposed to domestic and world order.

And the sad fact is that the mind set of the iconoclasts, the anarchists, and the insurrectionists is to “damn the consequences” while the mind set of the Democrats, and the Liberals in Canada, the Conservatives in Great Britain, Macron’s party in France and Germany’s Bundestag are all conditioned to attempt to resolve differences through negotiations and the applications of the law. In the cliché vernacular, that is like taking a machete to a missile fight. The winners and losers are predictable from the beginning.

Ontario Premier Ford has attempted to find a middle path, by declaring a state of emergency, supplemented with legislation that would make those who defy the law subject to substantial fines of $100,000 and jail terms of one year. Will that be enough to neutralize the siege in both Ottawa and on the Ambassador Bridge? Time alone will tell.

Is Ford’s siege a parallel push-back to the imposition of serious sanctions on Putin now, before the first shots are fired inside Ukraine?

Given that the Ontario story was the lead story on the BBC World News last night, it is inescapable that the information revolution makes the latest moves on any continent immediately accessible to the whole world.

Neither the conflicts nor the issues themselves will be contained in any specific theatre. And we are all imperiled on the horns of the worst and most heinous behaviours everywhere.

Do we have the requisite power and will to counteract whatever is coming?