Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Reflections on transactionalism...in public affairs

 The transaction theory signifies that both the reader and the text play important roles in the formation of meaning. Meaning is produced by continuous transaction between the reader and the text, employing the meaning potential of the text and the reader’s experiential reservoir. While the reader is active in selecting and synthesizing the potential in his reservoir, the text contributes to the shaping of his selection and hypotheses, resulting in an interplay between them. Reading and writing are interrelated skills in which the transactional theory is applicable. (researchgate.net)

From the Australian Journal of International Affairs, (abstracted on tandfonline.com) in a piece published November 28, 2019, by Galid Bashirov, we read:

We define transactionalism as a foreign policy approach that favours bilateral to multilateral relations, focuses on short-term wins rather than longer term strategic foresight, adheres to a zero-sum worldview where all gains area relative and reciprocity is absent, rejects value-based policymaking, and does not follow a grand strategy.

Writing in anthropological-theory.fandom.com, in a piece entitled Transactionalism,  Lamonica Stackhouse writes:

Transactionalism is a psychology idea that humans are social, multifaceted that change when in contact with another person in their world. There were some criticisms about this theory. Some were that the transactionalism theory ignores long term historical processes; while some have criticized it for paying ‘insufficient attention to the structure of class and property relations in society…(I)t is also important to acknowledge the symbolic cultural and religious ideas that might govern peoples’ choices and decisions in their social interactions. Transactionalism was criticized because of it being of social exchange but stressed self-interested actions.

From btd.consulting, in a piece entitled Move beyond the Transactional Mindset, we read:

The Transactional mindset is a way of thinking and behaving that looks as M(ergers) and A(quisitions) as cutting deals, buying and selling companies, hiring and laying off people-make a deal, get it closed, hire & fire. It’s a management paradigm that seeks efficiency, standardisation and continuity….It has a way of diminishing understanding, eliminating complexity and reducing the quality of decisions….The Transformational Mindset, on the other hand, represents a more expansive view (of M &A). It’s like widening the aperture of a camera. When we widen the aperture more light comes in. This provides a greater awareness fo the surroundings, enhancing the ability to see new perspectives and different shades. More light allows you and others to see opportunities that would otherwise be shrouded in darkness. By widening the aperture, the mind is illuminated by new possibilities.

Action, efficiency, productivity, ‘best and most productive use of time,’ because time is money…these are the phrases that rule in business, and increasingly in government perceptions and language, and also in public service organizations funded by public funds where budgets have become both the judge and the sword to construct personal resumes, indicating the successful capacity to reduce spending, while increasing service numbers.

The individual in any conversation about an idea, a public issue, or a treatment plan, for example, is seen from the perspective of his or her agency, his power to comply or conflict, and the perceptions that form the arguments and the presentation of issues, are based on the ‘reductionistic perception that this person is either an ally or an opponent, or possibly a neutral. It reminds one of the old adage that there are three kinds of people in the world: some symbolized by ‘red’ light, for STOP, and these will disagree no matter the argument. A second group, represented by “green light” are more likely to be open and thereby more susceptible to becoming an ally. A third group, “orange lights” are those categorized as neutral, who could fall into the “red” or the “green” light categories.

From the perspective of red-orange-green, (child, adult, parent from Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis), people are then no longer seen as whole persons, capable of discerning the merits of an idea, without being manipulated by some “extrinsic” and empirical “offer” in order to induce (read seduce) them into agreement. Ally, agent, vote, supporter, or opponent, source of conflict, defamer….these are are “roles” into which people are then cast, on the basis of the power broker.

Just today, Axios.com has published a new book entitled, Smart Brevity, in order to tutor and mentor leaders, teachers, public officials in how to get the attention of readers, by summing succinctly, authentically, and simply the core of any piece of information. Analogous to the headline of a newspaper article, when constructed with creativity, sensitivity and authenticity, or the “sell line” in an advertising campaign which trumpets the primary benefit of any product or service, all in the name of magnetizing the cognitive and emotive and psycho-social gestalt of the viewer/reader/consumer/student/client.

Efficiency, once again, lies at the heart of their prescriptive menu for communicators: that is the efficient use of the time of the reader etc.? Busy people, they argue, being bombarded with cataracts of information, are unable and unwilling to take the time to digest each issue fully, and thereby have to choose from a menu of bullets, designed to “grab” their attention, and then for the reader to pursue additional information related to their interest from pieces like those in The Atlantic, or The New Yorker, where substantive pieces are the norm.

Similarly, local politicians, in their role as community leaders, often take the position that, rather than consider the whole person, and what a healthy relationship might entail, dumb down to “how is this person likely to be leveraged” on this issue. Individual persons, then, are reduced to “actors” operating with an script which is designed to simplify and to expedite and to “move” their agenda along, depending on the compliance of those people whom they may have assessed appropriately or not. Margaret Atwood, after achieving a high degree of public acclaim, noted that she had become a “thing” in the public mind.

The concept of short-term, leveraged, decisions, based on the perception of immediate “benefits” as a template for governance, the base definition and operative model of transactionalism, is not merely flawed; it is counter-intuitive to the public interest. First off, anyone who has an idea can be and is dismissed by some minimal superficial piece of information that suggests, infers and/or outright states that the idea has no merit, in the mind of the “other” (the listener). So the immediate response, reflexive and protective, is “No! that idea will not work because…!” “We have already tried something that looks like that, and it went over like a lead balloon!” ,…inferring that a similar idea, in a different context, with different people will consider it abhorrent just as history did.

Humans have evolved many highly sophisticated and highly seductive, and even smiling words, phrases and perceptions both of the issues and how they must be addressed and how the people who might have a different ‘take’ on an issue can and will be “administered too” in the most efficient manner.

This is not an argument for “hand-holding” by every public servant on each public issue, in which a person might have an interest or a complaint. Direct contact between elected officials and their constituents, however, warrant an organized and effective “intake” system, that includes a series of “format” answers to frequently asked questions, providing public information for those needing it, without consuming the time of the elected official, or the public staff, to explain. Also, with an ’intake’ system, following the education of the public on both how to access it, and how to formulate questions and inquiries, concerns and complaints, there could/should be a follow-up data-collection and curation of the input, both for the purpose of detecting and diagnosing the public perceptions, interests and concerns, as well as their aspirations. Should an issue require further investigation, there needs to be a formal process of research, public input, with a time-frame and a dollar-frame for both the investigation and the decision-making.

This kind of approach, call it a system if you like, uses the honouring of both the individuals and the ideas on a common basis, and to the degree possible, skates around the “crony” aspect of all politics, especially local politics.

In this moment, I am facing the difficult question of how to “educate” those men and women who are courageous enough to offer their names to the public for consideration on the ballot, to reframe their approach from a minimal form of transactionalism to something more akin to transformationalism.

Originally, transactionalism was designed as a template for addressing how individuals respond and react to each other, based on the child-parent-adult model detailed by Eric Berne, in The Games People Play. It was never  designed to be or become a template for political schmoozing by men and women intent on their career enhancement as their first priority, and only secondarily or even further down their priorities, the best interest of their community. 

The concept of trust between individuals, more likely to be thwarted by “making the deal” in the short term, by offering some “carrot” as motivation. Similarly, over a period of time, and not a long period, such a system quickly devolves into that “red-green-orange” devaluation, really another model of colonization, without the spectre of nationalism or religious conversion or even profit-loss statements.

I recently heard a local candidate refer to a colleague as one who “knows the inner workings of municipal government, including the financial and taxation and provincial government regulations, but who does not see the municipality as a “business” to be operated on business premises.

The conflation of the business model, into both the governance of the nation and its municipalities, risks many valued perceptions, attitudes and opportunities. First, public money, through taxes, is an established revenue, to be used to provide essential services, not to raise the profits and the dividends of those making the decisions or those providing the services. Needed services, especially in a period of economic stagnation, are still needed and their legitimate costs have to be included in the tax assessments and bills. What is too often missing, however, from the mind-set of elected officials is the courage and the creativity and the sensitivity to put themselves in the shoes of their voters, and consider why such services are needed, how to demonstrate that need, and how to educated the electorate on the complexities of the long-term tax bill, rather than to take the short-term, easy, uncomplicated and even “lazy” way out…by dodging the essential need.

In a northern Ontario town, back in the 1980’s, finally, after nearly a century, the sewer and water services on the main street needed to be replaced. So serious was the issue that, when engineers dug up the original “pipes” they discovered that there were no longer pipes, but merely “tunnels” where the pipes had been after they had completely rusted out. Of course, the story made news, but the decades of local councils that had avoided the issue were no long dead, and therefore had avoided, evaded and denied their legitimate responsibility.

This story, while true, is merely an example of similar stories in too many municipalities, especially after the provincial government, at least in Ontario, off-loaded many of its original responsibilities onto the towns and townships, as a slick, slimy and sleezy way to dodge their own responsibilities. If I recall, this despicable initiative came during the Harris administration in Queen’s Park, a government whose refuse continues to haunt towns across the province, regardless of how their approach might have served them in the short, transactional and ultimately cynical run.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Even the most perfect and absolute is partial and incomplete....

 We have been raised, taught, and deeply immersed in a world in which opposites, dualism, and the dominance of the human will are considered absolutes. We tend to frame our thoughts/arguments/debates on whatever propositions lie at the heart of the theorist’s primary lens, or perspective. This approach tends both to need and to foster a notion that on one side of each dualism is “good” while on the other side of the dualism is “evil”. Axioms such as God is good, man is evil, tend not only to portray a conventional premise, as well as a theological dictum; they also form part of the foundational footings for a western culture. And indeed, if one is to compare God and man, then there is an obvious consensual disparity on any continuum of ethical virtue. This disparity, in the comparison, however, may not be absolute, and yet, given that the proposition has been included in the Christian belief ‘system’, it takes on a kind of elevated significance, and becomes a totem of the faith. Faith language, because it has the aura, and the ethos, and the history and the tradition, the liturgical and rhetorical vestments that have become the norm, takes on a resonance, and indeed even a penetration into the shared consciousness and unconsciousness of many who may or may not subscribe to the faith itself. How often have we heard, for example, Joe Biden, president of the United States, comment, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, but compare me to my opponent!”

And while Biden’s plea is political rhetoric, it has significant application to the nature of our use of words in our public discourse, whereby we all engage in a debilitating process of comparing both ourselves and others with something or someone outside of our perception and conception of human reality. For the past ten days, the world has been watching something approaching an epic, historic, liturgical, and religious drama, in the death and mourning of Queen Elizabeth II, after a reign of 70 years. The most minute details of each person’s role, costume, parade routes, liturgical scripts and the timing of each event have all been pre-programmed, not only for centuries in some parts, and also with the complete concurrence and oversight of the deceased monarch. 75 footsteps per minute, for example, measured the procession from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey, thereby making it possible to estimate precisely the time it would take to make that part of the sovereign’s last journey, eight minutes.

Speeches given by the new King, Charles III, have been scripted, edited, rehearsed and likely edited again, prior to final delivery. We have been watching a highly professional, highly political, eminently psychological, and hopefully religious enactment of the burial of a monarch, in real time and in full view, universally. Hundreds of thousands camped out in quite cold temperatures, (also likely damp air) for hours or even days, in order to witness and participate in this drama. And while the royal family and their acolytes are the actors/participants, the public, too, has an integral part in the full enactment. Whether those thousands saw themselves as both spectators and actors or not, is an observation likely unique to each person.

The royal family, however, has been charged with the responsibility of carrying out their assigned, detailed, rehearsed and expected and anticipated roles, including their different costumes for different occasions, different intonations for different speeches, different faces for different greetings, and different irritations for different spilled ink or leaky pens. Following the script, however, is a duty to which each of them has been schooled and drilled for their whole lives. And, as for the public, we too have been schooled on what to expect from the ‘firm’ which is engaged in the death of its sovereign.

Words like duty, honour, humour, loyalty, family and faith in Jesus Christ, have all been echoed throughout the coverage. And naturally, their meaning, as abstracts, have all been heard and interpreted by each of the millions within earshot, in the way in which they have context and meaning for each person. At the heart of the whole funeral, grieving, supporting, and gratitude experience, is the relationship between ultimate realities of life and death. Linking those, in the Christian frame, are words and concepts and experiences of “belief” and “trust” and conscious awareness: “If we believe in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, we shall not die”…is the summation of many of the theological notes uttered in the funeral ceremony in Westminster Abbey, earlier this morning.

Immortality, then, is implicit in those words. Another of the many numinous, ethereal, indescribable, unmeasureable, and rarefied notions of eternal life, linked intimately and intrinsically to a “meeting” with God,…. ‘we will meet again”….is both an expected notion accompanying any funeral liturgy. And underlying the promise of eternal life, is the expectation of belief and faith, and a life of discipline and worship and celebration of that faith.

So, we are witnessing an example of the historic and religious and faith “bridge” between human existence and a life beyond time and space, as we know them. And this example, embodied in the deceased queen, is testament to the durability, the credibility, the veracity, the validity and the truth of the Christian faith. Indeed, her life serves as evidence of the virtues and the rewards and the emulation and commitment of others, in this case, those engaged in the process, of the life of a Christian disciple. God-Queen-Country have been metaphorically married in both liturgy and in faith, as a path to personal and national and global righteousness…and also hopefully peace.

Noble, honourable, authentic, and worthy of our attention and our participation…even if we are not fully embracing the whole picture. A perfect performance, in terms of ceremony, liturgy, homiletics, and musicality, as well as military pageantry, can and does offer pictures of stability, hope, aspiration, and collaboration. And these images are not merely needed; they are essential to our individual, familial, social and cultural aspirations. However, just as we are spectators and participants, we are also conscious that underlying this pomp and ceremony, the beauty and the pageantry, there is a darker side, not only to the royal household, and to the body politic and to the world’s history, in which both the monarchy and the rest of us are also spectators and participants.

We hear about the brutal abuses of power by the British Empire, some of it endorsed and practiced by previous occupiers of the same throne as Elizabeth II. We also know that the knighted (Sir) John A. McDonald endorsed religious schools for indigenous children in Canada where violent and inexcusable crimes were committed in the name of the same God and Church as celebrated the life and death of Elizabeth II. And while we are fully engaged in the somber, sullen and grateful remembering of the virtues and the gifts of the deceased monarch, we are also fully aware that these are human beings, underneath those crowns and robes and rituals and liturgies, listening to those sacred readings and those sacred hymns, as are we.

And while the language and the authority and the apparent clarity of the words and the belief system in which they are contained and uttered, seem inscrutable, beyond argument, and of the highest purity and thereby ethical and moral virtue and veracity, they are, and cannot be construed as, “perfect” or “absolute” or dispositive (in the sense of fully resolving any controversy). These words, and both their denotative and their connotative meanings, whether in reading, chanting, singing or even in body language and attire, are essentially human attempts to search for, to reach for, to imagine and to attempt to incarnate what is considered by ordinary human minds and ordinary human spirits and hearts, the best and most complete depiction of God that the church fathers have delivered to us.

These words, and the liturgy in which they are embedded and delivered, are not and cannot be considered ultimate and final and indisputable and unexaminable and God-given notions and beliefs that command and demand universal adherence, obedience, submission or total exclusivity. They are “partial” in the sense that human beings, albeit honourable, ethical, diligent, studious and imaginative (mostly) men have arranged their thoughts and their convictions for us to integrate into our consciousness, and hopefully into our unconsciousness, both individual and collective.

And in so far as these words and the liturgies and the music hold us, and lift our spirits and embrace the fullness of our various and deep emotions, we are extremely grateful. And, we also know, and believe that our cognition, and our studies and our obedience to ritual and to liturgy and to tradition, while helpful and supportive, cannot be expected to be the exclusive and solitary expression of either the mind or the will of God. And while, for the first time since Henry VIII, a Roman Catholic Cardinal attended the funeral this morning, and while the Queen herself visited and worshipped in both the protestant cathedral in Edinburgh and then crossed the street to worship in the Roman Catholic cathedral immediately after, the remaining faith communities were not included in this funereal. Again, honourable and authentic, as a funeral service for the British monarch but partial, as is each and every human act by each and every human being, in each and every town and country in the world.

The churchs’ (faith communities in general) aspiration and incarnated attempts to present a perfect image of their faith, as if it were not only the best but the “one and only” way to God, remains unresolved this morning, while we watch the procession of vehicles moving to Windsor Castle, and the final service in St. George’s Chapel, and the burial in the royal vault, alongside Prince Phillip.

And it is the “unresolved” and the “partial” and the “imperfect” and the “limited” and the “mysterious” and the “unknowing” as the “infinity” and the “ultimate” and the “final word” to which we barely catch a glimpse, that humans are blessed with…and not with the absolutes to which we seem to addicted.

And, in that sense, even by raising the questions left unanswered, that by prodding us into the unknown, and into what life and death mean for each of us, and into the mystery of all searches for God, however we might conceive that deity to be and to exist or not, we have been invited and ushered into a space, a time, and an ethos with which most of us are decidedly unfamiliar.

There is a distinct difference between the chaos and the uncertainty about whether and if and how the war in Ukraine will end, for example, or the pandemic will slow, or global warming will be slowed or minimized and the uncertainty and the mystery of the relationship between humans and God. And we have to be conscious of those differences and not confuse or conflate our anxieties or our attitudes about the differences.

Faith, hope and charity are the ingredients on the menu of all world religions:

fear, despair and narcissism are on the menu of too many of the world’s power brokers.

And irrespective of which faith community we adopt or which one will have us, our human capacity to stretch to the light of faith, hope and charity is and has always been at the heart of the reign of this honoured and devoted monarch.

And for that the world is thankful.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Reflections on the parable of the Good Samaritan...

The Queen’s death, as does the birth and death of personages who are, by their stature, ‘larger than life,’ evokes public attention, scrutiny, grief and reflection. We pause, at a moment like this, and we pay attention, even if we are not in complete grasp of what it is that is happening, beyond the bare fact of the end of the life of a monarch, after nearly three-quarters of a century of her reign.

Queen’s, in the historic and traditional sense, are not a commodity, nor a rock star, nor a political legislator, but rather a somewhat ‘mythic’ and mystical figure, whose personal identity, while important, underlies her public persona. Every word, gesture, card, visit, public opening of hospital, factory, as well as each public disaster, if and when visited (think the burning of the apartment tower in London), are recorded for history by the encounter with the ‘crown’.

So, it is also, that people like the Governors General, and the Lieutenant’s General, representatives of Her Majesty, convey a hint, a glimmer, and a connection with and to the crown, as Her representatives in Canada, and our provinces. And yesterday, the former Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, was asked for his reflections on her passing. After the usual expressions of gratitude, and grief, and celebration, he launched into the Queen’s Christian faith, by way of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Detailing the Jew taken for dead in the ditch, and passed over by the priest and the Levite, while rescued by the Samaritan, a mortal enemy of the Jew, the former Governor General endorsed what he believed was the Queen’s adoption of the model of reaching out, not only to friends in difficulty, but also to one’s enemies, as the model guiding the Queen in her life and performance of her duties. And that ‘reading’ of the parable had been the long-standing and traditional interpretation of the famed biblical story from the New Testament, for centuries. Valid, honourable, somewhat challenging and clearly, worthy of monarchs and her subjects around the world. It exhorts each of us to consider whether and how we might regard those less fortunate among us, if we were to ‘look’ through the lens of this interpretation of the story. And for most of us in the west, the ‘ideal’ so embedded in the Good Samaritan story has been the beacon guiding the governments and the social and conventional wisdom for centuries. Indeed, whether and how governments have lived up to that ideal has, in part, been the benchmark by which those governments have been measured by their publics. Similarly, Christian churches too, have been held to a standard of ‘care’ that uses the metaphor of the Good Samaritan as both a teaching moment as well as a guiding principle of social justice ministry. For young people in church education programs, and their teachers, the lesson has been considered ‘integral’ to many if not most curricula. And, for that history and tradition, we can all be grateful. It does call us to reach out in compassion, care and hopefully empathy. In fact, the Greek word ‘agape’ (the fatherly love of God for humans, and the reciprocal love for God) has been one of the guiding beacons of Christian theology, based at least in part on this interpretation of the parable.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, a group of scholars, known by the name, The Jesus Seminar, studied the New Testament from the perspective of a variety of academic disciplines including linguistic, historic, systemic theology, anthropologic, and revisited the many stories and parable in the New Testament. One of their focuses was on the parable of The Good Samaritan, and one of their members, John Kloppenberg, who taught at Saint Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, brought some of their insights into his classes. Rather than hold to the historic interpretation of the parable, these scholars offered a very different ‘take’ on the story. For them, the figure of Christ was embodied, not so much by the Samaritan, but by the Jew taken for dead in the ditch. Passed over, rejected, abandoned, and left to die by those whose professed lives, the priest and the Levite (representing Old Testament prophets, a lesser class of priests, did chores at the temple), the Jew lying destitute in the ditch, for the Jesus Seminar, (and following them, for their students), the ‘revised’ version of the parable carries a far different message and theme.

If the Christian life is envisioned as a disciplined emulation of the life of Jesus Christ, then, it is not only through the love of one’s enemies (Samaritan for Jew) that exhorts us to consider. It is also to consider the place, the condition and the implications of the “taken for dead Jew”…the completely broken and abandoned one, that lies at the heart of the theology, when viewed from this perspective.

And the two perspectives, while not absolutely incompatible, require considerable adaptability both of mind and heart, from the pilgrim. Think for a moment, about how the official realm of our churches and our culture has attempted to incarnate the traditional interpretation, without considering the revised perspective. Think for a moment about how that traditional view of extending care by an enemy for a desperate person (family, town, nation) has been held up as an emblem of ethical and moral and spiritual heroism, evocative of the kind of love (agape) that we all aspire to express. And think about the ‘extrinsic’ and transactional features of that interpretation. And then, pause to reflect on the second vision of the parable, that expresses a very different model of spiritual “abandonment” and “rejection” and a form of death that lies in the ditch with the Jew…as the metaphor for Christ. In this view, one’s own life, ‘ditched’ by and in whatever manner that might be, determined by whomever and whatever circumstances that seemed beyond one’s control, is the subject of the perspective.

And if we are to parse at little further, this view of the Christian faith is less about “transacting” a kind, generous, empathic ‘good deed’ for someone in difficulty, than it is about ‘becoming’ that abandoned, rejected, ‘taken for dead’ posture of the Jew. And think for a moment about how that interpretation would radically shift our perceptions, attitudes and real comprehension of those whose lives have been ‘left for dead’ in the ditches of our towns and cities and neighbourhoods.

We hear phrases from indigenous peoples, about ‘walking a mile in another’s mocassins’ if we are to get to know the other. And such mantras are both helpful and also somewhat easily passed over. Too often, we hear people say, “I know just how you feel!” when they have no comprehension of the totality or the depth of the feelings of desperation of the person whom they are addressing. We may want to express support and through something like identification with the other, we are attempting to offer our support. And yet, what does it mean to “walk a mile in another’s mocassins’ if not actually to “be” (through the time-sensitive, deliberate, imaginative and poetic identity in the details of the other’s moment). And to “be” that other person is an act that reaches way beyond the act of giving care, of providing sustenance, of enacting a program that seeks to help….(even if it is also a hand-up and not a hand-out).

And herein lies the challenge for each of us, not merely to engage in a public act of generosity, kindness, compassion and agape, but to take the time, to breach the threshold of the door that separates our lives from the lives of those ‘taken for dead’ in the ditch, as an act of the imagination. And in the moments and the hours in which we engage in the discipline of seeing and feeling and hearing and weeping as we enter the space of the ‘taken for dead in the ditch’, our lives with or without our consciousness, or our wills or our consent, change.

The notion that we are “social” creatures has so many layers of meaning that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of our potential for relationship. We have, it would appear, fallen into the spectre of ‘giving, writing cheques, volunteering for a worthy cause, and for ‘transacting’ models of rescue that pervade our culture. And while many of those causes, agencies, and organizations, both for profit and not-for-profit, have honourable and worthy goals, they rely on a transactional exchange of time for service.

And what is too often missing is our deeper and inner selves, in and through the very demanding, challenging and even mountain-top (or valley bottom) encounter with the totality of being lost, abandoned, re-and de-jected, and we view this state as the ultimate one to be avoided and protected against at all costs. And, part of our resistance, denial and avoidance of ‘going there’ is our attitudes to death…the state and circumstance of Queen Elizabeth II, whose passing evokes tears and sadness, along with gratitude and leadership of a kind seldom seen these days.

It is not a ‘death-wish’ to identify with the Jew in the ditch. It is rather an opportunity to go where our culture, and even for some, their faith, does not expect or require them to consider ‘going’. And, it might be possible to transcend the level of violence, hatred, bigotry, contempt and derision that stalks both our public and our private lives, if we were open to seeing both interpretations of the parable of the Good Samaritan without regarding one as superior or inferior to the other.

After all, who among us can say with conviction that we know the absolutely correct version of the story? And who among us would not welcome an opportunity to reflect upon and to dialogue about two seemingly different versions of a story we have all been familiar with for decades, without any of us having to recede into the false safety and security of being absolutely ‘right’ in our views and in our theology.

Is both-and even among those concepts we might tolerate today?

One wonders how the former Governor General would respond to the juxtaposition of the two interpretations of the parable. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Testing the waters (again) of archetypal psychology...

 Public discourse, including the cataract of words in mass media, is focussed primarily on the extrinsic, empirical and observable data in any given situation, always seeking some kind of meaning or purpose, motive or implication of the act/word/attitude/bill/photo or whatever.

Actions, especially those actions that have a big sound, a big impact, a tragic or a romantic impact, are the things of public notice, public reflection, public journalism, political rhetoric, and the debates around those issues, dominate our consciousness and our watercoolers.

Numbers of dollars, numbers of refugees, numbers of missiles, drones, cancelled flights, pandemic deaths, numbers and dimensions of forest fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…these are apparently the benchmarks of our achievement and our worst fears, hightest aspirations and dreams. Even the degrees of temperature (heat or cold) and the number of inches of precipitation have a significant impact on many of our decisions.

As our ‘technical capacity’ to measure, record, and then both store and curate things we call ‘data points’ has exploded exponentially, we have dived even more deeply into the multiple rivers of data where the rivers themselves have also evolved more and more into threatening eddies, whirlpools and under-currents. Those who have official, public and disclosed information abut those who have a completely different vault of data, on the inside, that is classified, secret, and proprietary, at least to those who have the clearances to be trusted with this bank of information.

And so public debates have shifted from the relative importance and relevance of specific ideas of how government, for example, best spends public money, to what are the  legitimate facts, opinions, emotions and manipulations in any situation. Opposing sides, both official and informal, now have become engaged in the validation of their ‘unique’ and ‘truthful’ verification of the facts….and most of those justifications amount to little more than the collision of dramatically exclusive opinions that are designed to manipulate their “base”.

Indeed, we have replaced a public discourse about ideas on how to govern with a flood of incendiary and fact-devoid utterances designed, at least in the radical right, to inflame, to incite and to foment what is perceived as a repressed volcano of residual anger, frustration, bitterness and alienation. And while there is some validity in the acknowledgement of residual anger and resentment, many of those who pander to this most base and nefarious political well-spring, are attempting to manipulate the votes of the dispossessed for their own retention and/or acquisition of power.

Underlying the words and attitudes, perceptions and beliefs of the forces representing the radical right and those attempting to hold the ground for the moderates and the left are mythical figures in their collective unconscious about which the public and the participants themselves are either unaware or wish to keep secret.

My tentative view is that, for the most part, they and the public are largely unaware, unconscious of the “gods” that undergird the worldviews and the approaches on both sides.

 “A God is a manner of existence, an attitude toward existence and a set of ideas….A God forms our subjective vision so that we see the world according to its ideas. A Saturn will shape order slowly overtime, so the puer eternus (eternal boy), winged and fiery, will turn matter into spirit-quick now, here now, said the bird.’   The child will see the future in each event and thereby force its coming, while each of the Goddesses will form a distinctly different vision of relationship, nurture and interiority….(S)ince ideas present archetypal visions, I do not ever truly have ideas; they have hold, contain, govern me. Our wrestling with ideas is a sacred struggle, as with an angel: our attempts to formulate, a ritual activity to propitiate the angel. The emotions that ideas arouse are appropriate, and authentic, too, is our sense of being a victim of ideas, humiliated before their grand vision, our lifetime devotion to them and the battles we must fight on their behalf.” (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 130)
Also from Revisioning Psychology, we read:

“The liberating hero sees repression everywhere, while the old king sees the very same events as order, duty, and tradition. He has a different role to play in events because he has a different idea; both role and idea are archetypally governed…..So too might we proceed with basic psychological ideas about the nature of soul: that the soul is a harmony or a multiple and varied unity, that it is born in sin, that it is divine and immortal, that it is a quest for meaning or self-knowledge, that its essence is life and warmth, that its essence is death, that it is structured in three or more parts which enjoy a psychomachia in strife of oppositions, that it is in enigmatic relations with the body, that it is fundamentally like air or water or a vaporous mixture of them.”(p.126-7)

Conversation seems to be saturated with feelings about various projections onto specific individuals, a loathing and contempt for trump and his MAGA crowd, and a hatred and vilification of Biden and democrats. People who retain some hope and trust and moderate view that the extremes will eventually burn themselves out are a diminishing breed. We are in a situation in which the rhetoric itself, including each word, the timing and the staging of each public utterance, is weaponized, and the public is left with the cynical and desperate task of discerning which side each spokesperson is on in what is projected as an existential war of elimination. It is not rocket science to observe that in many ways the model of thought, idea and action of radical Palestinians to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and Israelis attempt to continue to exist and to forge a future in the face of such an existential threat has been transposed onto the political landscape in America and beyond.

Analogous to the elimination of Israel are those in the radical right who, in their attempt to gain permanent control of the levers of power, seek to block immigration, who seek to preserve a ‘national’ racial and ethnic purity on their national turf, who seek to retreat from globalization and its perceived unfairness and who reject the open border-open ideas-open opportunity melding of the most desperate with those already established, and who see opportunity in a world that tries to work together on global issues to the degree that such a posture is feasible.   

Behind and driving these gestalts, we hear words of fear, exclusion, white supremacy, racism, exploitation and nationalism, however they might be defined by whoever is taking leadership positions. The spectre of a violent incursion from outside imposing devastation on the allegedly innocents within, while focused directly on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, hangs over much of the perception elsewhere, as if it were a parallel process. Will China invade Taiwan? Will global warming and climate change finally wipe out millions of people, crops, species and resources? Will economic disparity generate such scarcity that food supplies will be so costly that many will be unable to survive? Will some “accident” of incompetence, willfulness, design or complicity trigger something that ignores national or even regional borders without a co-ordinated and meliorating and neutralizing response?

The internal, reflective and untameable conflicts within each of us about what and whom to trust, what and whom to listen to, what and whom to believe and what shared goals to invest our time and energy in….these interior questions that seem to stretch our capacity to cope, are the questions we are all having to include in our secret lives.

And the manner of our perception, and the manner of the embrace of these “gods” (as it were), is as important as the side to which we consent to join. AS Hillman continues to instruct:

(But) psychology cannot be one department among others, since the psyche is not a separate branch of knowledge. The soul is less an object of knowledge than it is a way of knowing the object, a way of knowing knowledge itself. Prior to any knowledge are the psychic premises that make knowledge possible at all. Most disciplines try, as Jung says, ‘to forget their archetypal explanatory principles, that is, the psychic premises that are the sine qua non of the cognitive process.’ These premises keep knowledge humbly situated within the psychic precincts, where it is linked with all the follies of human subjectivity, the ironies of pathology, but also in the imaginative richness of the soul. These psychic premises, or ‘inalienable components of the empirical world-picture’ as Jung calls them, are a discomfort to the intellectual spirit, which would think them away in order to have intellectus purus (Augustine), ‘pure act’ (Aquinas), ‘pure reason’(Kant), ‘pure being’(Hegel), ‘pure logic’ (Husserl), ‘pure prehension’ (Whitehead), or ‘pure science’…..The archetype is a psychic premise with many heads: one we see in our dream imagery, another in emotion and in symptoms, another styles our behaviour and preferences, while still another appears in our mode of thought….Psychologizing sees through what is taught; it is a learning beyond any teaching. If psychology can be learned everywhere, then it has no field of its own. Rather it is a perspective on all field, parasitical to all  fields, drawing from everything in the universe for its insights…(as Jung said in his Terry lectures), the psyche is both the object of psychology and also its subject. (Revisioning Psychology, p.131-133)

This “lens” in and through which we all ‘see’ and ‘interpret’ and ‘base’ our observations, if we are to open our embrace to its ‘calling’ is not a political ideology, a religious or theological ideology, an economic ideology, or even a literary criticism ideology. Nor is it an empirical, materialistic ideology. Indeed, it seems to transcend all ideologies, as well as all personalities, and their personas, and, like an ever-flowing river flows in and through everything we see and think and say and do, whether or not we are conscious of its existence/significance/reality or not.

And, if, as Hillman asserts, that it is only by reading a life backwards, reflecting upon the situations, people, activities and beliefs and perceptions in which each of us was engaged, only then can we become even modestly and tentatively clear which “gods” had us in their embrace.

For example, the liberating hero will, does and always has ‘seen’ repression everywhere, as integral to his/her romantic notion of a role to liberate those enduring such repression. The notion of ‘chaos’ has obvious connection with the old king archetype which considers tradition, stability and order a very high value, and seeks to preserve it.

Rather than a conventional perception of brokenness, needing to be unified into a coherent, stable and therefore respectable human being, through some form of ‘fixing’ in therapy, through prescriptions, or through some form of re-programming, archetypal psychology, it seems to this amateur scribe, to prefer to look for, to open to and to acknowledge the ‘gods’ in whose embrace we are/were/will be held, as an integral discernment of our human existence.

Rather than circumscribe human behaviour as needing either a legal or a medical intervention, as a starting place, we might look more closely and also sensitively, as which archetypes might be undergirding the various situations in which we humans are engaged. For example, if the archetype of the crucifixion is central to the religion, is it not conceivable and even probable that such an act would be feasible if a Christ figure were projected onto a specific individual…and such an archetypal perspective might have considerable implications for a religion whose followers are unaware of and unconscious of such a dynamic?

From this perspective, our headlines and our public discourse seem like tepid tea, while we engage in heated rhetorical scorched earth conflict that pit one kind of archetype (perhaps the Old King) against the romantic hero, as an example, without acknowledging that such engagements are both necessary and inevitable. And if we were to step back, could we dilute the white heat, the contempt, and the utter disdain for ‘the other’ regardless of whom that other might be to us?