Thursday, January 19, 2023

Failures of a Type A parent: mea culpa!

 There is a central proposition around the act of being a parent, that articulates, ‘a parent is only as happy as his/her most unhappy child’. Obviously this is an American epithet, where the pursuit of happiness has been embedded in the cultural code. Nevertheless, even outside the U.S., the linkage - inevitable, inescapable, and perhaps even insurmountable- between a parent’s sense of self and the depth of unhappiness of his/her children cannot be denied. Hugh Jackman and others are now playing in a new movie entitled, “The Son.” The movie follows Peter whose hectic life with a new infant and partner is upended when his ex-wife, Kate (Laura Dern), shows up at his door to discuss their son Nicholas’ mental health struggles. On, reported in a piece by Christa Pina, January 17, 2023, entitled, ‘Hugh Jackman Says Filming ‘The Son’ Made Him a ‘Different Parent,’ Jackman is quoted as saying, “Every scene is this terrifying fear as a parent where you don’t know what to do. You don’t know how to help. You’re doing your best. Everything seems to not work…My father passed away during filming, and I think I was just confronting a lot of things as past parent, fears that you have.”

Kate Taylor, writing in The Globe and Mail, published yesterday (January 17, 2023) in a piece entitled, “Hugh Jackman-starring drama The Son is a cruel, tolerance-testing affair,” writes:…The Son is more interested in the impact an adolescent’s withdrawal and pain has on his divorced parents, most especially his father….(T)he film’s perspective is largely that of the father, Peter, a highly successful Manhattan lawyer played by Hugh Jackman. This A-type personality is preoccupied with his work, his pretty young wife and their new baby—but he also is such a rational and self-confident character that he finds it impossible to understand a young man who would rather wander the streets than go to school.  His initial reaction is that you can’t just do that, although he gradually comes around to the realization that he has to help his son, deposited on his doorstep by his ex-wife Kate who can no longer cope with the boy…..Anthony Hopkins steps in with a rather improbably cameo as Peter’s old father, in which he reveals he, too, abandoned his wife and son when Peter was a teen…

TWhile there will be innumerable far more penetrating, cogent and insightful reflections on this film, from others more professionally and personally schooled and experienced than this scribe. However,, personal experience of the impact of abandonment, and the deep anguish of participating in a broken family, leaving three daughters to their own devices, along with their mother, finds this scribe, decades later, struggling with the half-life of shame, guilt and sorrow that my own type-A drivenness, including blindness to both projection and transference and the psychic vice that such blindness can generate. However, my pain is minimal in the light of the chaotic sea in which three teen-aged daughters were forced to swim, following my withdrawal from the family.

The question of whether such deep and permanent family fractures can or will ever be mended, as if they were analogous to a broken femur, even one broken in several places needing plates and screws, remains an open puzzle. There are so many differences between a fractured femur and a fractured family. The femur is able to be captured on film, indicating the location, the dimension, the complications and the potential orthopedic surgical interventions to bring it back to strength, stability and stamina. The fractured family, on the other hand, is a complex confluence of both conscious and unconscious dynamics pulsating in the minds, hearts and psyches of several individuals. The competing trend lines of motives of parents in several directions, including engendering ambition, social skills, frugality, some form of spiritual and religious identification, and an introduction to the activities of both the arts and athletics all function, much like flowing and changing weather patterns. These many variables also depend on such variables as the mood of the moment, not only of the parents but also of the child(ren), the qualities and relationships of coaches, teachers, friends, and the various interpretations of those patterns, hourly, daily and over a longer stretch of time. One’s blindness to the transference of a mother’s voice to a spouse, and the blindness of my own and another’s projections, also unconscious expressions of something deeper than consciousness knows, are among the floating winds in which any family tries to navigate.Nevertheless, their choice to swim for the ensuing decades apart from at least one parent, is a choice to be both commended, for its strength, stoicism and endurance, and to be

“Success,” especially for type “A” men and women, is a highly volatile concept. And the implications grow both in intensity and complexity if both parties tend to be type A. In that situation, success carries the freight of how each parent has integrated previous notions of success from parents, grandparents, mentors, coaches and teachers of the past. It also includes, whether openly or more discreetly, dreams and fantasies of the parents that comes not only from their highest hopes, but also from their perceptions of the ‘height’ (metaphoric) of the potential of each child’s capacity. And all of this confluence of so many almost imperceptible rivers, flowing in and through the same kitchen and dining room tables, in and through the family room, and out into the wider world, can be and often are like ships passing in the night, without the benefit of radar, telling them where they are in relation to themselves as well as in their relationships with the others in the family.

The last half century, too, has been impacted by a variety of influences of the psychological fraternity, some of which have been effective in healing broken relationships, others not so much. None of those potential influences, naturally, were available to the children of parents whose kids were born in the 70’s. In fact, even the concept of seeking, or especially of needing, counselling, in those years, was a mark of considerable weakness, to be assigned and required by those who were in conflict with the courts, the school administration or the social services sector. Whether such services would have been helpful in forestalling a family fracture can only be assessed in hindsight, even if such supports were sought and tolerated and integrated.

None of us can escape the reality that, from the perspective of decades later, we all, each and everyone of us, could have and would have conducted themselves differently, given what we all both know and have experienced in the interval. However, living with the stark reality of brokenness, betrayal (probably more as betrayer than as victim), and the prospect that, as Jackman says of a line from the movie, “Sometimes love is not enough!”, many of us are left with the truth both of our own perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, and the impact of those on others.

Reflections around how each of us failed, not only ourselves, but also others we care about, continue to fuel much of the perceptions, attitudes and words and actions are that we take to help us heal and to help us grow. It is only in and through every hour and day that we catch glimpses of light out of the darkness we have been in, and knit that light into the tapestry of our sense of self, another of the multiple, complex, flowing, growing, changing and also declining realities and truths and perceptions into our own sunset…personal biography.

It is our biography that, like a river flows in and through us, and in and through all of the situations, persons, projects and dreams and fantasies of our bodies, minds, hearts, psyches (and in and through all family members)…much of which we continue to protect from full disclosure.

In this moment, I am reminded of the Jesuit John Powell’s little book, entitled, “Why I do not tell you who I am”….answered by the freighted and legitimate reason: “Who I am is all I have, and if I disclose it to you, you might reject it!”  

For all of the drama, conflict, tension and disappointment in which I have been an active participant over the years, one of the constants is the unconscious, becoming conscious discipline of keeping my personal secrets, a lesson/habit/requirement and serious failure for which I am deeply sorry, that I developed from early childhood.

Keeping secrets, in order to present a public face of the kind of pride and upstanding family that went to church every Sunday, while things far less honourable were going on inside the home, was a kind of straight-jacket analogous to the mind of military discipline required of men and women in the United States Marines. While military discipline was not either understood or explained, it was effectively the ‘order’ of the day in our home. And the vestiges of its impact continue to raise their ugly head even today, although with far less influence and respect.

Sensitivity, compassion, empathy, and tolerance, including patience with both self and others, all of which ring like a hymn to the highest ideals, are not qualities that come in a store-bought package from Walmart. They are also not high on a totem pole of values among those whose lives are considered, by themselves especially,  to be examples of ‘competitive and stoic’ engagement and endurance. Sharing feelings, disclosing anxieties, taking time to listen to what might be said, behind the immediate need….these are all qualities needing deep and extensive steeping in and through experience, mentoring, modelling and both imitation and interpretation.

As a failed father, in many ways, I have only been introduced to the profound value of these qualities over the last few decades. That is not to excuse my insensitivity, my pride, my impatience and my stubbornness. Nor is it to escape the reality of having been a significant participant in the life-long pain of others, including three now grown adult daughters.

Apologies are not paving stones to forgiveness or reconciliation. They are merely internal reckonings with one’s internal life. And the internal life, far from the madding crowd, is really the only life that matters, when all is said and done. How does one come to consciousness about such concepts as enantiodromia, the fusion of the ego and the mask, when one’s performance is equated with one’s identity, and the process of breaking free of such an enmeshment? How does one separate one’s professional vocation, for example, and the multiple performances entailed in that pursuit, from one’s inner drives and motivation. Only much more recently have I discovered some of the thoughts and concepts that could/would have served my needs nearly forty years ago. One such insight comes from James Hillman reported by Matthieu Larsen Morava, from Archetypal Psychology in the Public Group, James Hillman – Archetypal Psychology on Facebook:

Vocation is a very inflating spiritual idea. One to one. God to me. Notice how our idea of Renaissance man is a polytheistic fantasy. He does all kinds of things. But vocation addresses the ego and makes it a specialist-then you ‘believe in yourself—and that’s another trap of that devil, belief – because who is believing whom? I am believing in myself-all ego, and then I have a mission. Now that fantasy of the farm is polytheist, and who is to say what is THE important thing of a farm: the man who buys eggs from me would like more eggs and sees the time I spend chopping wood a waste. ‘Have a secretary do it, You have the best eggs around, Produce more,, and even better ones.’ Specialization: the best egg man around; and that’s monotheism and mission and early death!’

And the public, vocational, professional life, to which I was so deeply committed, may have been little more than an illusion, both to and for me, and certainly to and for my former family. In my adoption of a role, mask and the ambition to fulfil that role, I actually thought and believed that I was doing what I was supposed to do, only to learn, like so many others, that being true to oneself, if and when one discovers who/what that is, is what matters.

The difference between feeding a public image and living a life of personal integrity, authentic and honest to one’s own identity, remains as both the greatest single lesson of my life, as well as its most significant disappointment. And, even though I consciously recognized that “something inside” kept my chained to the wheel of ‘work’, another accomplishment, performance, another column, another editorial, another advertisement, another interview…all of it consuming as many as sixteen-to-eighteen hours every weekday, I knew I had to get off the hamster’s wheel. Unfortunately, preparing for active ministry, and the anticipated process of reflection, meditation, study, prayer and intense supervision in pastoral education, as I perceived to be an antidote to the ‘wheel’, only changed the set of expectations, without altering the intense and dominating drive to perform.

Only after hitting the wall of exhaustion and rejection did I come to my senses, too late to make up for the many omissions as partner, father, friend, those essentials of a healthy bio. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Gaps in public service oversight are unacceptable...yet rarely protested

 In the Anglican/Episcopal liturgy, there is a prayer seeking forgiveness for sins of both commission, and of omission.

So much of our public discourse focuses on the commission of acts with which we do not agree, for which we have little respect and for which we have a multitude of laws to “prevent” and to “punish” offenders, whether those offenders be individual persons or organizations. As a contrarian, I have often reflected that we might do well to turn some of that laser-focused attention from the acts to the omitted, and thereby less easily perceived, documented, proven and legally actionable gaps in our lives, in our thinking and planning and in our public perceptions of the public need and the public interest.

This piece, while to some will appear whining and picayune and pedantic, nevertheless attempts to shine light into the several ‘gaps’ in public accountability, transparency and even legitimate public expectations.

The pattern of ‘gaps’ could be conceived as deliberately designed, or more likely benignly overlooked by those who write and those who debate and those who pass legislation, generate regulations, and consider the need to enhanced discipline and rigor at all of those levels.

Let’s look at the question of whether or not the federal government is doing, has done, or will do more to lower the costs of cell phone service, given that three behemoths hold an absolute and long-standing oligopoly here in Canada. Sharing towers, nevertheless, is a clause that has been included in the licence of all three, although the federal authorities have failed to enforce that specific clause. The former owner/operator of Wind cell phone service, recently appearing on CBC’s Marketplace, says he had no idea of the headwinds he faced in inaugurating his venture. Now known as “Freedom mobile”, Wind simply exhausted resources given the market dominance of the three giants, Telus, Bell and Rogers. An NDP MP, also interviewed on Marketplace, says that the cell phone lobby is the most visible and influential on parliament hill. So, what are Canadians to do about paying the highest cost for cell phone service in the world? reports in a piece by Alex Wideman, December 16, 2022, entitled, ‘Why are cell phone plans so expensive in Canada?’:

Canadians pay 20% more than Americans and 170% more than Australians on their cell phone place on average. For unlimited talk and text an d2 GB of date, we spend an average of $74/month, compared to $60/month in the US and $22/month in Australia….The Big 3 Canadian telecom companies (Bell, Rogers and Telus) own 90% of the market and charge high prices due to a lack of competition. The lack of competition is due to a wide variety of factors including the industry’s high barrier to entry, restricted  foreign investment, limited access to the wireless spectrum, potential for price coordination and history of privatization and acquisitions…Year after year, the federal government studies the industry, acknowledges that prices are high, commits to new approaches, directs the CRTC* to prioritize the consumer, yet they capitulate when it comes time to assert their authority and decide in favour of consumers. The actions taken by the government and the CRTC over the years to address industry competition, affordability and consumer choice have brought about slow, impermanent or even regressive progress.

The depth and degree of “beholdenness”, or in ordinary terms, co-dependence, of the federal government to the “big three” is not only unconscionable but also inexcusable. However, given that the nation’s preference to muddle through, rather than cut through the bull-shit of the rationalizations, excuses and deferrals of the big three, is both legendary and shameful. On the other side, the degree of relative compliance, orderliness, politeness, and resistance to activism among the Canadian public not only permits, but actually encourages and fosters such negligence, even insouciance on the part of the federal government. In their ‘heart of hearts’ they know that the public will not be stampeding Parliament Hill in massive protests over such a minor public issue. Trouble is, however, that, while that gentile and negligent approach may have been somewhat tolerable, given how happy Canadians were at the inception of cell phone service, and the surprise and awe at the very technology itself, that early ‘bloom’ has come off the rose; and at the same time, rising inflation, interest rates, and growing public awareness of the  exorbitant differences between Canadian cell phone prices and those of countries considered similar to, analogous to, and thereby relevant to the Canadian scene, all contribute to the growing angst among Canadians.

Like so many other issues on the “plate” of the federal government, however, it tends to get lost in the ‘force-field’ of public issues and the relative detachment from politics generally among the Canadian electorate, except perhaps at election time. And even then, a mere 50-60% of voters actually turn out to vote., reports: Voter turnout rose sharply in the 2015 election, at 68.5%, the highest turnout since 1993. Voter turnout has been on the decrease post 2015 and dropped 4.3% from 48.8% in 2019, to 44.5% in 2021.

We need and want both the CRTC and the federal cabinet to shift priorities from bowing and sycophancy to the big three, to enforcement of the shared tower regulation, as well as opening the doors to competition and investment in order to better serve Canadian people. And that does not include, infer or imply any opening of the cell phone networks to Huawei or China. And while, we in the neighbourhood, given that the U.S. and Europe have sanctioned or refused permission to TikTok, why is the Canadian government not actively considering a similar approach to that platform.

Jeremy Nuttall, in The Star, December 15, 2022, writes, in a piece entitled, ‘As
TikTok bans unfurl across the globe, some say Canada should follow,’ writes: Ottawa must investigate TikTok over national security concerns as more jurisdictions in the United States move on banning the controversial social media app based in mainland China, says Conservative foreign affairs critic, Michael Chong. Chong said the app’s reach and ability to manipulate algorithms and laws in China requiring companies there to co-operate with the government, including on intelligence operations, could present a national security threat to Canada…Pin the United Kingdom, the government closed its Parliamentary TikTok account over the summer due to security concerns. I:n Ireland, the country’s Data Protection Commission recently sent the results of an inquiry into the handling of children’s data to other EU members. A draft decision from the inquiry said TikTok is also to be hit with a range of fines, the Irish Times reported Nov. 24.

Another obvious, glaring and deplorable “gap” of regulations, supervision, monitoring and public ethics has surfaced in stories about the announcement of the closing of Huronia Guest Home in Stayner, Ontario. Cheryl Browne, on Barrie, reports on January 12, 2023, in a piece entitled, Ont. Assisted living home announces closure, gives residents 60 days to vacate’:

Leaky ceilings, rotting floors, little food and bed bugs were the conditions at Stayner’s Huronia Guest Home in which resident lived during the last few weeks before a whistle-blower blew the lid off their plight…..The facility is not considered a licensed care facility. In mid-2022, its owners terminated its domiciliary care funding contract with the County of Simcoe…However, the County of Simcoe said it doesn’t have the legal or regulatory authority to intervene. A spokesperson from the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority which oversees retirement homes under the Retirement Home Act, also stated it has not authority over the site.

Stories about public officials ‘taking care’ to attempt to find new places of residence for these displaced both residents and workers, while decent and honourable, do not substitute for the glaring lack of oversight, supervision,  monitoring, reporting and even enforcement of minimum standards of decency, cleanliness, nutrition and care in this home, and what is worse, this is likely only the tip of the ‘iceberg’. While the Stayner story concerns a “guest house” and not a licensed Long-term care home, under the act, (and even that omission, both on the part of operators and provincial authorities, speaks volumes about the public hierarchy of responsibility and care for people on the verge of homelessness. Oh, but there is no political retribution from the homeless or the near-homeless! Sorry, UI forgot!)

Of course, COVID exposed glaring inadequacies in both care and facilities in long-term care homes. However, while that exposure garnered some public attention, the matter of care for indigents, at all levels of their existences, has been ignored for decades if not longer, at least in Ontario. In 2020,  according to a report in the National Post, an independent commission on  the long-term care sector point(ed) the finger in a scathing report at governments past and present for thousands of COVID-19 deaths at the province’s nursing homes.’ Quoting the report, ‘Many of the challenges that had festered in the long-term care sector for decades-chronic underfunding, severe staffing shortages, outdated infrastructure and poor oversight contributed to deadly consequences for Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens during the pandemic”…The commission took particulate issue with long-term care homes that area owned by investors.

Negligence, insouciance, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to such a glaring public boil, one that continues to fester and ooze public disdain and contempt, for the public officials, is becoming so prevalent, in so many jurisdictions, that one has to wonder about the spikes in failures. Are they a cumulation of a kind of ho-hum tradition of attending primarily to those issues which are guaranteed to erupt in public outrage, political opposition, loss of votes and termination of governments? Are they part of the Canadian tradition of the ‘nice-guy-and-gal’ stereotype which protects many political oversights and negligence from catching fire? Are they also embedded in the decline of local reporting media, and the resulting silence, and unawareness of many public issues that really need to be addressed? Are they a part of the political landscape and culture that hold that, there are only a few prominent and politically radioactive files with which any government can be really focussed, leaving all others to ‘maybe we will get to that sometime later’ kind of thinking and acting?

When hundreds of air passengers are left sitting on a tarmac for twelve hours without food, water, or even evacuation, in a period of turbulent weather, when the responsibility for such legitimate human services are essential, none of those services were, apparently, supplied. Whether the airline or the airport, both of whose regulatory and contractual responsibilities are involved in any solution, is more or less accountable, the fact that previous arrangements for a set of circumstances that occurs in Canada on a regular winter basis, had/have not been made, and written into the contracts between airlines and airports,  is inexcuseable.

Another obvious “gap” in coverage, whether deliberate or not, whether caught between the public service of the airport or the private profit of the airline, another of those ‘intersections’ of power, the issue of ‘gaps’ seems to be one that inflicts much of our public policy and accountability.

Intersections of power and jurisdiction, however, not attended to, as was the demonstrated case in 9-11, when intelligence and national security  and criminal agencies had relevant information that was never shared with the appropriate agencies, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000, Americans, is a lesson for all governments, large and small. Gaps, for which no one and no agency can be held responsible, have surfaced, too in the responsibility for housing at the municipal level. If a person calls a mayor looking for assistance in finding a place to live, that matter is referred to the “county” which holds responsibility and authority for “housing”. Not only is there no accountability residing in the mayor’s office, but the issue is permitted to slide out of the public mind-set of the municipality.

Deferral of public responsibility, as a political weapon, seems to have been one of the legacies of the Harris government in Ontario, when maintenance of local roads, for example was transferred from the province to the municipalities. Down-loading is just another word for out-sourcing, a practice and policy that has infested the major corporations for decades, as they sought and found the cheapest labour and the fewest environmental regulations in whatever country they could find, and abuse.

Let’s start to get real with our governments; let’s stop burying our collective heads in the sand. And let’s stop turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to some of the more obvious and yet equally unacceptable gaps in public service, from our public officials.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Symptoms as lens rather than weakness...

 The last blog entry’s smorgasbord of thoughts in this space seems, on reflection, to be a mangled and over-stuffed stew…not only of information but also of emotion and anxiety. And on reflection, it is the emotions and the consternation and the anxiety and the confusion we are all going through that has to be top of mind.

The street gibberish, ‘suck it up,’ that accompanies so many irritants and frustrations and traumas that, it has become acceptable, tolerable even expected that nothing about the world’s geopolitical situation, all of it outside our individual control and influence, is not worthy of expending emotional energy even on reflection. Detachment, indifference, insouciance, and even hopelessness, are preferable, in most situations, families, and even board rooms and sanctuaries, to elevated anxiety and concern.

It is this conventional ‘wisdom’ that is under severe scrutiny here.

For three-quarters of a century, the West has been lulled into a state of mind that has been characterized by growth, optimism, new technologies, new pharmaceutical discoveries, elevated performances by athletes and entertainers, enhanced sensitivities about ‘human rights’ and equality. Celebrating diversity, acknowledging the colonial wounds, deaths and deprivations that have been inflicted on racial and ethnic and religious minorities has been a central theme of social justice and the pursuit of enhanced equality of opportunity. Access to higher education and the demonstrable reduction of rates of poverty have ear-marked a sense that western society and culture had found a way to move in the direction of what the Americans call a ‘more perfect union’ in reference to their own country.

And while resisting that epithet, most of the rest of us have tended to ride the wave of hope and optimism and the prospect that our children would and could expect to have lives that improved upon those lives of their parents and grandparents. The Cuban missile crisis, the Viet Nam war, and even the Israeli 6-day war, the Middle East conflicts, the Falklands war, the Grenada invasion, Chechnya, Georgia and then War in the Balkans and even the Al Qaeda/Al Shabab attacks, while individually and collectively unsettling, did not seem to have the combined impact that we are not only witnessing and more importantly, actually experiencing these days. WE continue to remain detached, and anxious without either the will or the ability or the opportunity to take action, except for a core or angry anarchists. And their anger seems highly local, narcissistic and nihilistic.

Such elements as the creation of the United Nations, with its multiple social and educational arms reaching out into the depth of trouble spots with aid and care, the exponential rise of the number of philanthropies reaching into the darkest and most desperate social and political emergencies, the democratizing of technology and the real-time access to events taking place around the globe, along with the multiple advances in food production and the relative stability in nuclear weapons development may have contributed to a kind of somnolence, a kind of ‘faux-security’ and even faux-smugness that has accompanied the kind of triumphalism that politicians and mass media generated and propagated for decades. Growing opportunities for trade, on the international level, were another integral component of the rising tide of ‘hope’ and ‘promise’ and human evolution. And all of this rising tide was both engendered and exploded by a mass media whose life-line consisted of corporate and political cash.

Capitalism, even moderated capitalism, needs a culture of optimism, hope, growth and the energies that both prompt and sustain sales, whether those sales be of consumer goods, new vehicles, televisions and computers, or military weaponry or the illicit, criminal infestation of the drug trade and the multi-national cartels as well as the growing human trafficking trade. And, approaching  like a small car riding the wind behind an 18-wheeler, benefiting from the wind-drag, is the spike in entrepreneurialism, that new child of capitalism, a spreading cultural fad, with a life of its own. The business model, now embracing the mega-multi-national corporations, securing components from around the world, for manufacturing and distribution where wages and energy costs offer maximum profits, extends down/out/into the ‘weeds’ of the mom-and-pop descendents, the Etsy’s the Amazons, the Shopify’s, Facebook marketplace and a myriad of others.

Transactions, as opposed to relationships, have become not merely the norm, but the definition of how people relate. And ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and ‘how to climb whatever ladder you choose’ have come to dominate the cultural landscape. Of course, there are still honourable and highly respected social service organs like the Ambulance, the Fire fighters, the police and the librarians and public schools and universities and colleges. Raw personal ambition, under the rubric ‘the end justifies the means,’ led by corporate raw ambition to compete and to win, in what is considered the ethical model of ‘the zero-sum game’ has come to dominate the landscape and the cultural mind-set.

And this methodology, so easily and glibly contained and trained by menus and lists, by cognitive-behavioural conditioning, has now found such a permanent resonance as to be relatively impossible to moderate. It is not that competition, winning and the ‘at all costs’ component of those endeavours is, by definition, evil or unworthy of either respect or retention. It is that, for such a model of not only commerce but also language and perspective to dominate the culture is to risk losing sight and consciousness of a different kind of attitude, perception and value.

In this space, I have referred to Lee Iacoca’s frustration in the 1980’s at not being able to attract the best brains from the Harvard’s and the Yale’s for the auto industry, because they were predominantly choosing Wall Street and the financial services sector, as their path to personal financial wealth. The presidents of both of those universities, in letters to Iacocca, expressed a similar view, not merely a sentiment but an actual apology, summed up in the words, “We have been teaching the wrong stuff” to our undergraduates.” Forty-plus years later, and zillions of algorithms later, with that cataract still exploding, we are, all of us around the world, trying to get out from under the low-hanging cloud of a language and a perspective and culture that values the financial “ends” far above the “human means” to the achievement of those ends.

Although Immanuel Kant  reminded us that we ought not become the means to another’s ends, we have fallen into that trap precisely and almost unconsciously. Means to ends, however, is a reductionism that renders us all ‘functions’ as opposed to persons. And the conjunction of being with doing, measured in terms of profit and loss statements, in both small and mega-corporations, leaves the complexities and the confusions and the interruptions and the hiccups of human nature not only under the microscope of employers but also under the microscope of the medical fraternity.

Lionel Tiger’s work, entitled, The Manufacture of Evil, often referenced here, has left a lasting imprint on this mind and heart. He argues that with the rise and precision of the manufacturing industry, and the elevated degree of precision expected and demanded of our machines, North American culture, at least, has fallen into the trap of demanding that human beings conform to a similarly high degree of perfection, precision and ‘quality control’…and all of this cultural and anthropological thrust directly contravenes biology and nature. Perhaps the take-over of morality and ethics based on the industrial model has taken place seemingly imperceptibly or perhaps there were individuals and organizations eager to grasp this ‘holy ring’ of perfection in their pursuit of their religious, ethical or even corporate goals.  Were there battlements erected to slow or to mitigate this wind-storm or even if they were, were they strong enough to resist this tidal wave of ‘instrumentation’ of human beings?

Some time ago, I had a face-to-face conversation, at my request, with an oncology surgeon, about the subject of treating each patient, (and doctor, and hospital staff person) as a “soul”….Reputed writers, far more wise and experienced than this scribe, have developed the notion of the pursuit of ‘soul.’

In an interview with Scott London, James Hillman, as recorded and reported on, we read these words:

London: Symptoms are so often sees as weaknesses.

Hillman: Right, so they set up some sort of medical or psychotherapeutic program to get rid of them, when the symptoms may be the most crucial part of the kid…..

But when the medical becomes scientistic; when it becomes analytical, diagnostic, statistical, and remedial; when it comes under the influence of pharmacology and HMO’s--limiting patients to six conversations and those kind of things—then we’ve lost the art altogether, and we’re just doing business; industrial, corporate business. ….I think we’re miserable partly because we have only one god, and that’s economics. Economics is a slave-driver. No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole culture is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of that box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.

(The interview was adapted from the public radio series, ‘Insight & Outlook’.)

One of the obstacles to a perspective that reaches beyond the ‘transactional’ or the purposeful, or the ‘utilitarian’ or the functional, is that we have come almost to believe that everything has a direct and empirical and measureable cause. Both cause and effect are seen in literal terms, leaving out the possibility that our imaginal perspective might have a different possibility. Amid our conventional dynamic, the individual/act/word/ decision is good or bad, normal or abnormal, and those constraints are boxed into either medical or legal containers, both needing treatment and change.

Hillman’s proposition that a different perspective, one embracing a ‘soul’ for both the observer and the observed, contains and exhibits an opportunity to ‘see’ the psychology from the perspectives of one of more myths, or gods or goddesses, in whose voice and pattern the individual is embraced. Through such a lens, we might become a voice/actor of some voice derivative from our whole human culture. Such a metaphoric, even metaphysical, neo-platonic perspective does not seek instant remediation, instant treatment; nor is it based on a foundational principal that whatever symptom is being exhibited is by definition, the problem.

We are neither machines, nor are we reducible to the kind of instrumental measurement and diagnosis and precision expected of and demanded by a culture deeply immersed in such expectations.

Paul DeFatte, writing on Facebook in a piece entitled, Complexio Oppositorim (4/11/11) writes this:

Ego-bound persons quite naturally (and naively) seek to fix the problems and to resolve the tensions out of which soul is generated. The ego seeks to make things comfortingly manageable by translating everything into the literal and concrete terms with which it is familiar and which are natural to its standpoint. Unsurprisingly, most of us are unwitting ‘soul-killers’. In ‘acting out’* instead of ‘acting in,’* we slacken or collapse altogether the inner tension required for the lyre string to produce its piercing note. In repressing, on the other hand, we retreat from the tension (of the tuning peg) needed to provide the basis for music that will never be possible otherwise.

Can and will we be able to take our ‘tight-fisted’ literal, obsessive perspective and release our literal and metaphoric ‘fingers’ from such a lens and open to a more healthy, more compassionate and even more potentially ethical perspective?

There are some hopeful, green, spring-like shoots peeking through the asphalt of conventional cognitive-behavioural reductionistic psychology of the last several decades. Can this garden attract more gardeners, more fresh water and more sunlight?

**DeFatte quotes James Hillman’s Alchemical Psychololgy, p.36-7, earlier in the same piece:

Thou shalt not repress/Thou shalt not act out…On the one hand, fire (alchemically understood) will act out. It cannot be concealed…Fire insists of being visible. It does not want to be repressed…It will smolder long after the flames have died. On the other hand, desire may not be released straight into the world. The work is spoiled, say the alchemists, by direct heat. Do not let flames touch the material. Direct fire scorches, blackens the seeds…Do not act out; do not hold in.  paradox. And a double negative that suggests a via negative, a de-literalizing cancellation of both commandments. A mercurial escape from the exhausting oscillation between them. Instead of holding in or acting out, act in,. Cook in the rotundrum#, as one vessel was called, referring both to a container and to the roundness of the skull. Hold the heart inside the head by warming the mind’s reveries. Imagine, project, fantasize. Think.

#Rotundrum: psychologically, the symbol of wholeness and the archetype that expresses itself in mandala form, a pattern of order which, like a psychological view-finder marked with a cross  or a circle divided into four, superimposed on the psychic chaos so that each content falls into place and the weltering confusion is held together by the protective circle. (from,  The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)

Monday, January 9, 2023

The convergence of powerlessness and desperation with a perceived order spells...???????

Proportionality, the preferred option of deferring to the majority, while the minority absorbs the loss, and prepares to ‘fight another day’ is the norm in a democracy. If and when the radical minority rises up and takes the majority hostage to its demands, and the leaders of the purported majority ‘sell out’ to those radicals, then stalemate is the new reality in the short run, and in the long run, a new pattern of both defiance and emasculation and self-sabotage emerges. And while there are not any ‘shots’ fired’ in the physical, literal way, the long-term implications of the convergence of a hot-headed, instransigent, and anarchist ‘gang’, whether on the floor of the House of Representatives, or on the streets of a modern city, with an ambitious, and grovelling opponent who seeks their compliance, redound for a protracted period.

And while this ‘model’ of  drama just played out in the U.S. Congress, there are some parallels that have different but equally significant import. Ironically, as historian Jon Meacham noted on Morning Joe on MSNBC this week, one parallel is that the Republican Party has been subjected to a similar kind of hostage-taking these days by twenty-some insubordinates as was America itself over the last few years, in that an intransigent, radical minority has held the nation hostage to its demands, since the descent of the former, now disgraced president, rode down that elevator in trump tower, to declare his candidacy for the presidency.

A similar and somewhat parallel dynamic is playing on the global stage, with the instransigent, anarchist, Putin and his allies, who together seem determined to demonstrate to the ‘west’ that their power and influence can and will be deployed irrespective of the damages that determination wreak. Contempt for the ‘west’ epitomized in contempt for Kevin McCarthy, is shared by Iran, North Korea, and other nations whose colours are only slightly less clear.

Belarus, tjos week announced a trial for its Human Rights Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Ales Bialiatski. “Mr. Bialiatski, 60, was arrested in anti-government protests in 2021, and his supporters say that Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime is trying to silence him. He is accused of smuggling cash to fund opposition activity, according to the Viasna (Spring) Human Rights Centre, which Bialiatski founded. He faces up to 12 years in prison….The Belarus leader, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, rules with an iron fist, and has in the past been described in the West as Europe’s last dictator. He has allowed the Russian leader to launch missile attacks from Belarus as part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” (Samuel Horti, BBC News, January 5, 2023)

The Moscow Times reports, January 5, 2023, “With the help of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko cracked down on the opposition movement, jailing his critics of forcing them into exile. The Vesna trial is the first in a series of high-profile court cases due to begin in Belarus over the coming weeks, including those of several independent journalists and that of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the opposition movement who now lives in exile.”

 These notes point to the potential of Belarus joining the war in support of Russia. On December 19, 2022, in The Guardian, Pjotr Sauer writes, “Vladimir Putin has discussed closer military cooperation with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, during a rare visit to the country, as fears grow in Kyiv that Moscow is pushing its closest ally to joint a new ground offensive against Ukraine.”

It is not only Belarus that Ukraine has to fear. This week The GZERO newsletter reports: Iranian-made drones have allowed Russia to inflict significant damage on Ukrainian cities, infrastructure, and civilians and Teheran may also soon help Russia with missiles. North Korea may be providing weapons as well.

Meanwhile, western news reports that the U.S., Germany, France are each upping their military contributions to Ukraine: (From The GZERO Newsletter) France announced its intent to supply Ukraine with several dozen ‘light battle tanks’..and the US and Germany followed suit, confirming on Thursday that they will send armoured combat vehicles to Ukraine and that Berlin will dispatch an additional Patriot. (missile defence system)

News reports in the west tend to tilt toward the contributions from western allies of Ukraine, while the Russians continue to garner both support and weapons from a small number of allies, themselves determined to undermine the power and influence of the majority of western countries.

And while people like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson nightly defame McCarthy, and  Carlson and his viewers tilt towards leaders like Orban in Hungary, (from which country Carlson has actually broadcast his diatribe), the continuing support from the U.S. for Ukraine, under the new Republican majority in the House is coming under some cloud of doubt, as McCarthy has declared ‘no blank check’ for Ukraine.

The concept of a radical, intransigent, anarchist, and potentially nihilist “mob’that represents a small minority, both in the United States and over the weekend in Brazil (while Bolsonaro is reportedly visiting Mar a Logo) having an inordinate as well as an unjustified and unjustifiable amount of power and influence, is a model that is increasingly both flexing its muscle and confounding the establishment powers on other fronts.

In Canada, the Freedom Convoy is the symbol of this intransigence, defiant as they were (and continue to be?) over issues like imposed lockdowns and masks during COVID. This gang continue to trouble authorities in Canada over how to address such open and rebellious movements. Were Emergency Measures needed to quell the protest that paralyzed Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge, is only one question still being debated. In Florida, Governor DeSantis, in a speech this week, declared, ‘while others grinded down their people,’ Florida freed its people during COVID”…(We can hardly ignore the malaproprism or the glaring grammatical error of substituting ‘grinded’ for ‘ground’ coming from both a Yale and a Harvard Law grad.) The larger point, however, of attempting to paint Florida as the ‘non-compliant’ outlier among what by implication are the ‘weak’ and spineless majority of states who prioritized the health of their people, in an effort to garner trump cult voters, indicates the depth to which this outlier archetype has become embedded in the zeitgeist of the nation.

The public media uses depictions like ‘mob’ for the kind of language and perspective that surrounds the trump ethos, the inference being that their leader imitates the mob boss, directing others to do the dirty work and washing his hands of all responsibility and culpability. And while law enforcement concentrated on both their names and their methods, and brought many to justice, this iteration of hostage-taking, defiance, and rebellion, on the global scene has so many ugly implications as to be demanding and receiving the focused attention of governmental departments that range from the military, to national security, to foreign affairs, and even to electoral stability.


In the U.S., as we all know, directly from Steve Bannon, the trump cult has a primary motive to deconstruct the actual administrative structure. On Monday January 9, 2023, Bannon was recorded on his podcast saying that while the voting machines used in Brazil are different from those used in the U.S. each country has to ‘fight its own fight’ in a clear and conjunctive alliance with Brazilian insurrectionists. And, based on the multiple, nefarious, insidious and highly seductive manoeuvres that have been deployed, and have twisted at least the Justice Department into a paralyzed pretzel, regarding the ‘big names’ that lead the ‘insurrection’, it is not only fair and reasonable but essential that the Biden administration continue to monitor and adapt to the continuing threat to the stability of the nation, And the threat, while housed within, has the implicit if deceptive support from people like Putin and his allies in their active deployment of cyber-invasions.

In some ways, McCarthy’s reputed ‘sell-off’ of many of the protections of the speaker’s office and chair, in order to gain the necessary votes to become Speaker of the House, has parallels with the NATO response of scrupulous adherence to the letter of the charter of NATO, in refusing to consider Ukraine a full and legal member of NATO and thereby justifying restraint in the provision of military aid to Ukraine. Everyone knows, and Putin has publicly declared, that his ‘fight’ is with the West, and that includes NATO. And just as the trump cabal will stop at nothing in their campaign to subvert the nation’s democratic institutions, so too will Putin and his allies do whatever it takes to undermine and subvert whatever stability might be vulnerable in the West. And that includes the kind of infrastructure Russian forces are destroying in Ukraine, as well as the electoral foundational infrastructure that offers the best hope for democracy.
Unless and until NATO comes to its senses, and begins to conceive of the magnitude and the insidious and nefarious and ubiquitous nature of the
Putin ambition, this was will only grow. And every day, as Russia becomes more embroiled in the pursuit of its goals, it grows as a threat to world stability and order.

On January 3, 2023, writing on GZERO’s website, in a piece entitled, Eurasia Group’s Top Risks for 2023, Annie Gugliotta writes:

#1. Rogue Russia: A cornered Russia will turn from a global player into the world’s most dangerous rogue state, posing a serious and pervasive danger to Europe, the U.S., and beyond. Bogged down in Ukraine, with little to lose from further isolation and Western retaliation, and facing intense domestic pressure to show strength, Russia will turn to asymmetric warfare against the West to inflict damage through a thousand ‘paper cuts’ rather than through overt aggression that requires military and economic power Russia no longer has. Vladimir Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling will escalate. Kremlin-affiliated hackers will ramp up increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks on Western firms, governments, and infrastructure. Russia will intensify its offensive against Western elections by systematically h supporting and funding disinformation and extremism. Attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure will continue. In short Rogue Russia is a threat to global security, Western political systems, the cyberspace, and food security. Not to mention every Ukrainian civilian.

 The historic convergence of minority insurrection, war, shooting and imprisoning activists (Iran) with an establishment that is unsure of how to respond to this kind of power-grab, for the sake of power, and nothing else, whether inside a specific country or across the globe has serious implications for us all.

At the very moment when global conditions require the exercise of restraint, meeting of minds and political goals and purposes, the explosion of an insurrectionist movement that seems to have one over-riding identity: seize power from the established institutions for the sake of demonstrating that they can. Such despicable and growing political cancer seems to demand a shared and collaborative approach to neutralizing its potency.

Of course, social media is the new link that makes granular reports of insurrection and war and defiance of traditional and conventional power and authority fly through the atmosphere in real time, emboldening those seeking to take up arms to do so.

Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Kyiv and the people and the many infrastructures in Ukraine, North Korea, and potentially Taiwan are all in varying degrees, current and/or potential hot spots for violence. And the plague of violence, at both the domestic and the international level is feeding itself, in a less predictable and less rigorously researched manner than the pandemic. It is also not unreasonable to speculate on a potential, if currently hidden and undisclosed, political, cultural and desperation link between the pandemic and the spate of violence.

Global warning and climate change only add fuel to the fire of discontent, anxiety and a determined resistance to quell or forestall its own ravaging power.

None of us can ignore the racial component in all of this either.

Powerlessness, or the perceptions of powerlessness, in all of its many iterations, is a deadly, venal, and lethal white-hot ignition and furnace. And for some of us, those who are at the heart of the ignition, also seek to become its fire-fighters….and the rest of us are beholden to their various dark goals and purposes. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Omphaloskepsis....another word for 'navel-gazing' and implications

 It is unlikely that many of us have ever encountered the word, omphaloskepsis

From we read, “As funny as it may sound, omphaloskepsis is a word for being obsessed with your own navel…The Ancient Greek root words omphalos, ‘navel,’ and ‘skepsis’, ‘reflection,’ combine to make a great way of describing a tendency to be self-absorbed.”

This piece is not about a two—year-old’s fixation with his navel. It is also not about whether a conscious and critical self-reflection is relevant and important to a health sense of personal wellness.

This piece is intended as a reflection on the degree to which each of us, and each organization, and each school and university, church, town, city, province, state and especially nation is growing obsessed with the ‘branding’ of its own ‘identity. Or course, there is ample reason for making as clear as one can which kind of culture, menu of options, manner of their delivery is available to the consumer, from a business organization. And, from a marketplace perspective, consumers need to know which model of fridge, stove, furnace, auto has which options, what kind of reviews, and what price one is expected to pay for any proposed transaction.

However, we risk losing perspective if and when we turn our gaze into a lens through which we examine and expect each of our exchanges, encounters and transactions to be rationally based on the framing of the identity of a person/organization which comes primarily from the source of that organization. Similarly, when we are reflecting on the quality of a person, a potential political candidate, for example, as to whether or not s/he is worthy of support, questions of ‘identity’ must be far more nuanced, complex and ‘rounded’ (to borrow a literary criticism term, differentiating between round and flat characters in a play or novel.) Marketing, selling, soliciting support, campaigning, and the language and protocols that attend that process, are by definition, as narrow, self-inflating and reductionistic as the market expects and demands.

Colleges and universities have increasingly been expected to ‘market’ their services to foreign students, as a source of new revenue. Naturally, the Canadian ‘ethos’ and traditional reputation of the country as cold, but friendly, and welcoming to immigrants and refugees will be included as either or both a stated or am implied ‘selling feature’. Reputations among researchers, in specific fields, will also be among the pieces of information that recruiters, message-designers and admissions officers will focus on as a language path to the sale. And for this purpose, some serious internal examination, collection and curation of data is normal and necessary.

Similarly, researchers in labs of whichever disciplines, will have focused their study on a specific null hypothesis, for the purpose of disproving that thesis, as they follow the discipline of scientific discovery. The study of previous propositions in their field will also inform their design. And this process of disciplining one’s ‘gaze’ for professionals, and for corporations seems reasonable and warranted.

It is, however, the question of a manner of considering the matters that come before what is coming to be known as the ‘public square’ that navel-gazing has its most serious and constricting impact. And the public square is a complex, multilayered, multi-interest, equation that attempts to respect the widest number of interests with the contentment of the largest number of people as its long-term ideal focus.

The question of the scale and the dimension of the public square, however, is undergoing such a dramatic transformation, that from the town square of many towns in Europe and North America where statues of prominent local personages are often built, and remain for centuries, to the public square that now embraces all of the capitals and nations of the world. We are not only living in a post-truth world, we are also living in a post-parochial world in spite of the valiant and seemingly heroic efforts to retain the ‘local’ is everything we think and do.

A few decades ago, there was a popular slogan among some institutions, “act local, think global,” that attempted to balance the local and the global. Cute and cliché though it was, it has apparently been washed away with the tidal wave of both technology and a degree of personal omphaloskepsis at the same time that philanthropy and global trade have exploded.

What has not expanded, however, is the spread of ideas, including political strategies and structures not only to embrace the new frontier of issues confronting the whole world, but to seek collaborative approaches to those issues. The current omphaloskepsis that has ensnared the Republican Party, over the question of a matter of what historically has been considered a house-keeping chore of selecting a Speaker of the House of Representatives, did not achieve front-page headlines overnight.

This epic and tragic omphaloskepsis is, in a word, a canary in a coalmine, in which we are all living. Money, consumer goods, oil, gas, and military materiel fly around the globe with both alacrity and increased transportation services, some of them actually breaking under the weight of their volume. New pipelines, new freight carriers, sleeker and more fuel-efficient planes, and a new internet that beams these digits into the farthest corners of the globe, the moment I upload them, is, however, not so much ‘balanced’ by an increase in personal autonomy, but rather an increase in abdication of the shared responsibility among all people and all nations for our shared future.

The media, and the political class, together, even if not in a deliberate and purposeful conspiracy, are increasingly encased in a mind-set, along with both protocols and previous legislation and traditions that, not only no longer work but that actually subvert the pressing needs and demands of a new era. And while tradition and history have a legitimate role in each of our histories, both personal and national/ethnic/religious/cultural, the limits of their role have not been defined, curtailed and removed as obstructions to the new reality,

All politics is local, is just one of the cliché’s that, while identifying the basic premise that all votes from neighbours and businesses on the same streets in the same towns and townships in which the elected official resides, nevertheless, has more clout that is reasonable, given the many other attributes of a political party and candidate, including policy, philosophy, vision and commitment. These larger, or more esoteric, or more abstract, or more ‘intellectual’ aspects of a political campaign, must not be permitted to atrophy or even disappear under the guise of ‘protecting’ our local traditions.

And the mind-set and the attitude that clings to the ‘local’ candidate over the one who has appropriate and needed policies and ideas to make both the constituency and the state and nation better, is not merely provincial, it is essentially, political omphaloskepsis…navel gazing, just as the hostage-taking of the Republican Party by two dozen anarchists, models.

A similar kind of omphaloskepsis, although much more critical with international implications, whether the men and women who sustain its grip on the American political class, is the U.S. refusal to become a signatory to the International Criminal Court. Rationalized under the flimsy excuse that, to sign on would expose American military and diplomatic personnel to the same scrutiny under law as other nations, just does not fly, in a world in which thousands of men, women and children are dying under the specific orders of the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin. And this war, itself, is another example of omphaloskepsis, on the part of Putin and his Russian sycophants. It is not so much that America and Russia are not enemies, but that they are both deeply enmeshed in a kind of polity and perspective that not merely shapes national perspective, buy corrodes and precludes national potential.

What are the underlying motivations, conscious and unconscious, for the dynamic of omphaliskepsis?

The most obvious, is that the world as far as we can see, is amenable to control to the degree to which we require it to be. Not only on its face, but in its full perspective, that is utterly inconceivable. Drawing a line around the world in terms of our ability and willingness and capacity to control it, is fanciful, fantasy and self-sabotage in the extreme. The two-year-old fixated on his belly-button is merely exploring his body and his new world. Similarly, the atomic microscope in the research lab is detecting the components and the movements and the relationships between and among the item under study with other items. There is a legitimacy to those respective pursuits. Applied to the national interest, whether as imitation of or as defence from another nation’s omphaloskepsis, however, it evaporates under clear-eyed scrutiny.

Another potential motivation for this dynamic might be national pride, nationalism, and the building up of the hopes and the dreams and the aspirations of the people of any nation. And while national and personal pride are both welcome and necessary, to a limited degree, hubris, in the service of both personal mental health and national status and respect, fails both the person and the nation. And, there is no denying that omphaloskepsis directly and indirectly contributes to the risk of hubris, at home and abroad. And the implications of the simple phrase, “Number One” emblazoned on the hearts and minds of any people, or religion, or ideology or culture, or even an auto manufacturer or pharmaceutical company, or certainly a candidate for the presidency, (think “I alone can fix this!”).

There is a qualitative difference between omphaloskepsis and narcissism. The former brings about some potential self-reflection on the narrowness of one’s perspective, and perhaps even the option of extending the range of vision to include a more complex, nuanced, and interesting and imaginative perspective, on the way to a global perspective. National navel gazing, also, is not a psychiatric or psychological diagnosis. Narcissism carries the connotative freight of a mental defect. It is not incidental to note the prominence of the word narcissist, as one of the more insidious fixations of the social media, rendering everyone access to the false and dangerous perspective of a psychological professional, a qualification none of us holds or is authorized to hold. And the very dependence on the vocabulary of mental defective, from those of us who have no legitimacy to deploy such radioactive words, screams both omphaloskepsis and a degree of dismissal of those we do not like or know.

In Canada, the dynamic of omphaloskepsis can readily be seen in the national government’s public stance on reconciliation with the indigenous population. Public, persistent and proud proclamations of ‘making things right’ with indigenous people, in an attempt to right centuries of colonization, contempt and downright racism, while generating a media blitz of headlines, conferences, and the like, all of it coming from a place of acknowledged national shame, without actually making real the necessary changes both in law and in practice to move in the direction of reconciliation, smacks of timid and tepid commitment at best, and deceit and delay at worst.

Hypocrisy of political parties and actors, is also different from omphaloskepsis. The former is so deeply embedded in the cultural memory and imagination, and readily separated from the daily lives of the ordinary people. Omphaloskepsis, on the other hand, applies to everyone everywhere, and is not and cannot be restricted to the attitudes and behaviours of only the political class. Hypocrisy is also universal, but navel-gazing seems so much more pedestrian, almost incidental and less loaded with negative freight.

If we are all engaged in a process, omphaloskepsis, and we can all open our minds and our hearts to the implications of gazing at our collective navel, is it possible  in that we might shift our gaze from our narrow, personal, familial, neighbourhood, parochial, and national fixation and begin to embrace a new perspective?

*    Can we begin to envision a world in which nations realize that self-interest is no longer the solitary or even the primary interest of each national government?

*    Can we begin to envision an international series of bodies, institutions, designed, created and empowered that can and do represent the interests not only of rich and militarily powerful countries, but of the single mother scratching out an existence in a hovel in Africa, as equally important, and equally subject to the ravages of global warming and climate change as a universal existential threat?

*    Can we envision an international media, representing the writers and the perspectives of at least the major ethnicities and cultures, in the spirit and design of addressing the multiple complex yet universally shared threats to respectable, dignified, and sustainable human existence, for the benefit of everyone?

*    Can we envision both the philanthropic and the corporate and the academic and governmental ‘establishments’ in each nation coming to accept the respective responsibility and surrender of some of what is commonly referred to as autonomy or sovereignty, depending on the locus, in order to manifest and to design and then to build a shared , sustainable and stable future for our grandchildren?

*    Can we begin to realize how dry, uininteresting and unimaginative our own ‘navel’ is in light of the variety, and stimulation and creativity that a wider, more receptive and more courageous ‘personal, national “lens” offers?

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Resolved: don't trust the mainstream media...a review of the Munk Debate

 Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media…the title of a recent Munk Debate, aired on CPAC last night, featuring Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi on the Affirmative side, and Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg for the Negative.

While the ‘polling results’ indicate a sizeable shift in audience opinion in favour of the Affirmative side, compared with the snap-shot of audience opinion at the beginning, the debate itself warrants some serious reflection.

First, although it will come off as parochial, provincial and somewhat neurotic, as a Canadian interested in the role and influence of the media in our contemporary world culture, why did Munk planners select debaters from the United States and Great Britain, with Malcolm Gladwell, a transplanted Canadian whose career has been rooted in the U.S? Are there no media scholars, observers and practitioners who could have tackled this subject with vigour, scholarship and insight? OR, and this is going to ring as a sarcastic cheap shot, “Was the issue of ratings, audience numbers, star power and the dominance of the American media in North American culture too compelling to ignore?”

Indeed, while ratings among the mainstream media is a core issue, and helps to shape much of the lens through which story assignments, reporting, and editing takes places in the major media outlets, specifically the New York Times and the Washington Post, the two most frequently referenced in this debate, ratings was not considered a significant factor in the debate itself. Whether rich media barrons like Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, or large corporations dominate the ownership and boardroom decisions, the look into the specifics to support each side tended to be very specific, as if a single episode served the purposes of the debaters more than the gestalt of the landscape.

It is the landscape in which the mainstream media operate that warrants more attention than it received last night. Implicitly a direct and expansive comparison of the mainstream media in an information culture dotted with independent outlets, blogs, podcasts, and outlets like Politico, Buzzfeed, and their clones, seems to be a relevant reference point for this debate. That lens was rarely, if ever, opened throughout. The literacy levels of the readerships/viewerships, along with the attention span of media consumers, too, were ignored, avoided, or perhaps deliberately passed over in order not to insult the audience. Whose direct or indirect ‘editing’ prompted this oversight? Was it the debaters, or the Munk strategists?

And while specific significant mistakes were detailed, on both sides, given the failure, for example of reporters to follow up on the Klimnik influence on the Trump-Ukraine web that prompted the Mueller probe of the former disgraced president, the media’s persistence in quoting every word of the thousands of Trump tweets, whether they made any sense, or whether they were merely character assassin’s word bombs, was not considered worthy of discussion in this debate. The media landscape, however, has been shifted (certainly not transformed) by the media’s enmeshment in the campaign of deceptions, lies, and projections that issued from the Oval Office for four long years. What kind of role did such an obsession of the mainstream media play in the erosion both of the validity and trustworthiness of the general flow of information? And why was such a question not even raised in this debate?

Fact checking, as a specific issue, was an important topic, approached differently by each side. For the Negative side, Gladwell told a personal story that illustrated his failure to fact check a story he wrote for the Washington Post, for which omission he was nearly fired. On the Affirmative side, Mr. Taylor attacked Gladwell for his compendium of factual errors in a chapter on the Northern Ireland troubles in his book entitled David and Goliath, an oversight Gladwell easily and readily acknowledged along with his determination to hire and deploy fact-checkers thereafter.

However, the trust of the public in mainstream media is not so much due to the errors in specific facts, in specific stories, or even in their failure to follow up on stories that warranted additional coverage, even if the public appetite for such follow-up (risking a turn “into the weeds” a phrase evoked by Ms Goldberg) and a downturn in public consumption of that part of the story. If newsrooms and editorial rooms are so fixated on the ‘fact-checking’ aspect of their business, then, perhaps the mainstream media has fallen for the myopia of the public appetite and consciousness for the kind of court-room silver bullet of ‘gotcha’ which, admittedly generates sales, ratings and advertising revenue, but which also truncates and thereby reduces the complexity of political campaigns, into ad hominum attacks.

Such an ad hominum attack, through the blatant and cheap deployment of sarcasm and belittling of Gladwell by Murray, while generating an audience applause, and potentially contributing significantly to the audience change in opinion on the debate question, lowered the tone and the professional potential of the debate itself, while also demonstrating a fatal flaw of the mainstream media and the culture. The obsession with personal attack/assassination/sarcasm/ radioactivity that we all know lies at the heart of the process of magnetizing eyeballs, ears and perhaps even the occasional mind.

Was the fast-food addiction to the radioactivity of any story, specifically focused on the failures/peccadilloes/outright abuses/sexuality/extortion of/by a human being, the acknowledged menu of the tabloids, into which trap the mainstream media has succumbed, on so many occasions and fronts not worthy even of a mention in such a debate? Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Fox News and the mainstream media’s obsessive competitive impulse to compete with and to attract eyeballs from the already converted consumers of those voices, a dynamic both sides of the debate would likely concur has and is and will continue to erode the trust in the mainstream media. Why was that dynamic not worthy of the specific and detailed contest and acknowledgement in this debate? The fact that a large percentage of Fox News viewers vote Republican and an even larger percentage of viewers of MSNBC vote Democratic, while not in dispute by either side, (Gallup was the source quoted by Mr. Taibbi) nevertheless begs the question what role has the media played in such a deep divide in public opinion? And how has that role-adoption contributed to the demise of public trust in the mainstream media? Just another question left unaddressed and begging for address!

Everyone agrees with the cliché that mainstream media is the first draft of history, and thereby warrants a focus on the granularity, the specificity and the detailed answers to the five core questions of any journalist’s job description: who? what? where? when? and why? And the tasks involved in fulfilling the basic requirements of those questions/answers, including the demand to contact all available and willing sources, and record and report the findings of “all sides” of an issue, a matter highlighted by Gladwell as an important reason for trust in the mainstream media, also invites the perspective of how those details are to be implemented and included in the discussions over editorial board decisions.

And it is in this light, the editorial stance of any responsible and respectable mainstream media outlet, warrants and demands scrutiny. “Duration of a story’s currency” is, different and must be considered differently from the currency and relevancy of a stock’s rise and fall in the market. However, if the journalism business insists on operating on the corporate/investment/profit model, exclusively, and the exclusivity of that model damages the amount of resources deployed in any direction on any story, then we all know that relevant, and cogent and perhaps unsettling information will fail to capture the assignment editor’s eyes and reflection, even if it comes to his screen. Of course, the occasional courageous editor, with the support of his/her publisher, (as evidenced in the Watergate stories by Woodward and Bernstein), will green light a story that bears considerable risk.

Have editors and publishers lost some of the kind of courage and grit on display by Martha Graham during Watergate? Why was such a question not even mentioned in this debate? Were the debaters wrapped in a deferential (and somewhat bland) ethos of protecting the rank-and-file reporting camp? Or was the issue simply too complicated and thereby too ‘weedy’ to be included in the research done by either side?

Financial sustainability, as a significant factor in the temperament in any mainstream media, embracing each and every organization on a daily, hourly, monthly and yearly basis. Competition with the digital media, not yet considered a full player on the mainstream media platform, has eroded advertisers, viewers, readers and ultimately trust and confidence in the mainstream media. And part of that erosion can be attributed to the “all politics is local” epithet which negates coverage and deployment of correspondents into foreign lands. Decline in those numbers is only exaggerated when a conflict like the war in Ukraine demands coverage, and finds the consumer culture somewhat devoid of background in which to integrate the new information.

This void of international news and foreign bureaus, ironically has accompanied and paralleled the mountainous growth of international trade, the interdependence of national economies on the world trends, and the rising of global issues which demand a collaborative and co-operative approach and muscular commitment from all nations. These existential threats, food shortages, global warming and climate change, geopolitical conferences and negotiations, the state of nuclear weapons development in various states, including rogue states, the migration of millions of people from very different ethnicities, religions, languages and traditions demand a very imagination, courageous, creative and substantial funding investment from the mainstream media. And so far as this single scribe, unattached to any news service, living in a small border town in Canada can decipher, only G-Zero media has taken up the challenge to being to consider the world after the G-7-8-20 groupings. Their perspective, however, while not abandoning national boundaries and interests, attempts to bring current, relevant and cogent information from many quarters on  a daily basis to readers who have selected and signed on to their platform.

The laggardness of the mainstream media, to revise their priorities from the micro, parochial, business, national market, to the international scene with new bureaus and new reporters and new investors and advertisers is a demerit and blind spot that hangs over not only last night’s debate, but the future of the industry and the world generally.

Trust in mainstream media, while worthy of serious reflection and debate, both inside and outside the editorial and board rooms of the main players, neverthelessp demands the best from the organizers and the debaters themselves.

Critics, from a safe and secure place in a study before a laptop, while not engaged in the hurly-burly of the daily news, nor in the elite atmosphere of the Munk Debates at one of the most prestigious auditoria in the world, The Thompson Hall in Toronto, the home of the world renown Toronto Symphony Orchestra, under the auspices of the Munk Centre, an arm of the Munk School of Global Affairs, itself an arm of the also world renown University of Toronto, are positioned to offer significant, substantive and perhaps even historic insights, visions, not only of our problems but of their potential solutions.

Trust, a sine-qua-non of any organization, including the mainstream media, is a matter under consideration of all leadership groups in all sectors. And in order to address the issues surrounding the building and sustaining of trust, the worker bees as well as the queen bees have to integrate both a mirror and a lamp as their lenses through which to consider the issues.

Last night, we were fed a menu full of mirror reflections, with hardly a tip of the hat or the verbiage to the lamp… Leaders depend on the mainstream media not only for the micro-fact-checked, verified facts, but for their intelligent, imaginative and courageous assessment of those facts and the best minds’ curation of those facts. Mired in the minutiae will provide a glimpse of the menu of the fact in the mirror, and will fail to address the responsibility of the lamp lit by those facts, no matter how complex, or how unsettling.