Tuesday, January 30, 2024

cell913blog.com #19

 In his book, A Terrible Love of War (1976), James Hillman writes:

One sentence in one scene from one film, Patton, sums up what this book tried to understand. The general walks the field after a battle. Churned earth, burned tanks, dead men. He takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc and says: ‘I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life.

We can never prevent war or speak sensibly of peace and disarmament unless we enter this love of war. Unless we move our imagination into the martial state of soul, we cannot comprehend its pull. This means ‘going to war,’ and this book aims to induct our minds into military service. We are not going to war in the name of peace, as deceitful rhetoric so often declares, but rather for war’s own sake: to understand the madness of its love.

Our civilian disdain and pacifist horror—all the legitimate and deep-felt aversion to everything to do with the military—must be set aside. Thid because the first principle of psychological method holds that any phenomenon to be understood must be sympathetically imagined. No syndrome can be truly dislodged from its cursed condition unless we first move imagination into its heart.

War is first of all a psychological task perhaps the first of all psychological tasks because it directly threatens your life and mine, and the existence of all living things. The bell tolls for thee, and all. Nothing can escape thermonuclear rage, and if the burning and its aftermath are unimaginable, their cause, war, is not.

War is also a psychological task because philosophy and theology, the fields supposed to do the heavy thinking for our species, have neglected war’s overriding importance. ‘War is the father of all,’ said Heraclitus at the beginnings of Western thought. If it is a primordial component of Being, then war fathers the very structure of existence and out thinking about it: our ideas of the universe, of God, of ethics; war determines the thought patterns of Aristotle’s logic of opposites. Kant’s antimonies, Darwin’s natural selection, Marx’s struggle of classes and even Freud’s repression of the id by the ego and super-ego. We think in warlike terms, feel ourselves at war with ourselves and unknowingly believe predation, territorial defense, conquest, and the interminable battle of opposing forces are the ground rules of existence.

War is becoming more normalized every day. Trade war, gender war, net war, information war.  But war against cancer, war against crime, against drugs, against poverty and other ills of society has nothing to do with the actualities of war. These civil wars, wars within civilian society, mobilize resources in the name of a heroic victory over an insidious enemy, These wars are noble good guys against bad guys and no one gets hurt. This way of normalizing war has whitewashed the word and brainwashed us so that we forget its terrible images. Then whenever the possibility of actual war approaches with its reality of violent death-dealing combat, the idea of was has been normalized into nothing more than putting more cops on the street, more rats in the labs and passing tax rebates for urban renewal. I base the statement ‘war is normal’ on two factors we have already seen; its constancy throughout history and its ubiquity over the globe. These two factors require another more basic one: acceptability. (penguinrandomhouse.ca)

Chris Hedges, in his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007) Hedges insists that today’s evangelical Christians are good old-fashioned fascists and Nazis reborn. (Ryan T. Anderson, firstthings.com 3/7/07 in a piece entitled, Christianity is an Enemy that Gives Hedges Meaning) (Now) in American Fascists, he offers a critique of contemporary Christianity, drawing, he tells the reader many times, on his own experience as a Christian and the son of a Presbyterian minister. In fact, he writes, it was while studying at Harvard Divinity School that he first learned American Christians are the Nazis’ modern ‘ideological inheritors.’ Bearing not ‘swastikas and brown shirts’ but ‘patriotism and the pages of the Bible,’ these new fascists are led by a ‘theocratic sect’ of Calvinism called Dominionism….The Dominionist movement ‘shares prominent features with classical fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race. If Christian fascists win, then ‘labor unions civil-rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the workforce to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship. The key, Hedges claims, is he certainty of evangelical faith. Confidence, we are told, is a fascist ploy, while real Christians accept that we ‘do not understand what life is about…Faith presupposes that we cannot know. We can never know.’ Those who take comfort in evangelical dogmas are fleeing what Hedges calls our ‘Culture of Despair’ the social and economic conditions of modern industrialized America.

Certainty, absolute certainty, the notion that only ‘my’ or ‘our’ view, belief, morality, ethics, perception and ‘right’ to such exclusivity, while perhaps even seeded in the evangelical movement of the Christian religion, is not exclusive to that demographic. A similar notion is inscribed in such religious attitudes and beliefs in insignia that read, with regard to any specific faith group, “this is the right (and only) religion”. The nexus of a faith position with a deity that purportedly represents that faith, gives those who espouse that faith a kind of ‘divine right’ to that belief. In Britain’s history, the ‘divine right of kings’ was elevated to a justification that God had somehow ordained that person “X” was ordained by God to occupy the throne and with that authority came the divine right to rule however the king saw fit. In another life, I encountered a ‘Sunday School’ curriculum that proudly displayed, as a first directive for teachers, “This is how to speak to a five-year-old who has been saved, and this is how you speak to a five-year-old who has not been saved.” Imagine such a preposterous and onerous responsibility to even presume to ‘know’ which young boy or girl has been saved. The David C. Cook curriculum, however, was unabashed in its pedagogical, evangelical tutorial.

Indeed, only this morning, I listened to a similar degree of certainty from Steve Forbes, in a replayed television interview, in which he called ‘ridiculous’ the conventional designation of government spending as part of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Profit). His certainty, coming as it does from the certainty of the economic conservative mother-lode of beliefs, that by definition government spending cannot and must not be included in any calculation of a country’s GDP.

I spent the first decade-plus attending another of those Presbyterian churches, of which Hedges is so familiar. Adored by his sycophantic born-again members of the church Session, the clergy, a transplant from Ballymena Northern Ireland, and effectively a clone for the Reverend Iain Paisley, pontificated his own brand of religious, and yes, Christian ‘certainty’ on a Sunday morning in 1958. (Repeatedly reported in this space, in different contexts), the core of his sermon on the last Sunday I agreed to attend ‘his church’, went something like this:

If you are a Roman Catholic, you are going to Hell.

If you go to dances, ‘you are going to Hell.

If you wear make-up, you are going to Hell.

If you go to the movie theatre, you are going to Hell.

If you prepare meals in Sunday, you are going to Hell.

Something inside of me snapped. I heard myself saying, “Bullshit!….that message has no place in this church, nor does it have any resonance with anything one might find in the New Testament.” I had read that scripture, and while I had not ‘got’ all of its meaning and import, something told me that such judgement was unwarranted. I never did go back, except in a weak moment when I agreed to that man’s participation in a first marriage. Decades later, in a conversation with another Irish clergy, after hearing my story about the “Ballymena bigot,’ he commented, “I once heard Rev. Paisley speak and he was just as frightening as the Fuhrer whom I also had heard speaking,”

Hillman’s notion of the ubiquity and penetration of the war image, the war archetype, has clearly been one of the most deeply wedded archetypes for the evangelism movement of whatever religion. Competition among religions has even reached into the pulpit’s (clergy) telling parishioners to have more children in order to ‘grow the faith community’ as if one’s family size were one of the instruments available to the church’s hierarchy, to demonstrate growth. Indeed, the adoption and absorption of the corporate model of organizational leadership and development by the ecclesial institution(s) is one of the more glaring and toxic of the self-promoting, and at the same time self-sabotaging, features of the church(es). The legacy of the mentality of the ‘poor church mouse,’ that infected hundreds of parishes for centuries, inculcating both parsimoniousness in all of its darkness and the power of the purse into the religion of thousands, if not millions of church treasurers. Indeed, from an abbreviated stint as a parish clergy, in each of the several churches in which I served, the treasurer had adopted, the role of ‘controller’ of all the thinking, talking and dreaming of the parish membership. Budget size was the determining factor for whatever might be considered. “We cannot afford that!” was (and no doubt is in many quarters) the most repeated chant in the life of the parish. Hopes, aspirations, ‘strategic planning’ and everything related to church operations were (and too often are) rooted in the current size and projected size of the bank account. At the same time, often hundreds of thousands, even millions, in some cases, have been socked away in trust accounts, as a matter of protecting and preserving the ‘legacy’ of the business.

Certainty, then, is not merely a matter of certainty of religious belief. It comes to dominate much of the attitude, the perceptions and the modus operandi of the ecclesial institutions. However, that depth and fixity and absolute conviction of one’s dogmatic attitude and perception, can legitimately be laid at the feet of the most addicted and obsessed group of evangelicals. In a church history class, after asking a question of the professor, I heard these words from a classmate: “Never mind all these questions; just tell us what we need to know so we can get out there and save the world!” And in the same first-year class, during field education, when a non-evangelical (we were dubbed the ‘liberals’ then), announced, “I am confident that Hitler will be in Heaven!” not only did bedlam erupt, but another class member retorted, “That is not true, and the Bible says so!”

This scribe has never been certain whether or not Hitler is in heaven, irrespective of whether the statement is taken literally, metaphorically or philosophically. As a concept that raises to the ‘outer limits’ of the imagination, however, it is completely in accord with our most elastic and vibrant imagination and creativity, as well as congruent with the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God. Nevertheless, it surfaced the deep divide within that class, as well the divide which Hedges dubs as ‘war’.

For our purposes in this moment in history, however, war on the battlefields proliferates in Gaza, Ukraine, the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar and elsewhere. Not all of them warrant ‘coverage’ in the mind and eyes of news agencies in the West…We are addicted to the headline version of the news. And, to contemplate any kind of amelioration in the number or severity of conflict, we will, as Hillman advises, be more effective if we ‘go to the core of our ‘love of war’ and what it offers, with all of the bloodshed, rape, pillage, lies, manipulation and devastation, in order to see ourselves for ‘who’ we are and for which voices (think Mars/Ares) that ‘have us’ in their clutches.

On reflection, that kind of exercise was absent from the several years of ‘formation’ for Christian ministry, in the 80’s and 90’s in Canada. And yet, two weeks of formal instruction with rigorous oversight and discipline was required, in what we then dubbed ‘holy hand-waving’ over the sacraments in order to ‘sanctify’ those elements prior to the Eucharist. Co-ordinating with the priest’s script for the celebration of the Mass, those hand movements were to be ‘modest’ and gently flowing and not ostentatious or melo-dramatic. And in order to be ‘perfected’ they required rehearsal in a manner similar to the young piano student’s learning to master the arpeggio or the four-note broken chord. Not only was there not a deep dive into the human psychological ‘love of war,’ there was not a single course in parish conflict and the various options for addressing (even if not fully resolving) it.

While it is quite obvious that ‘war’ from ‘certainty of belief in dogma is an inherent component of evangelical churches and their adherents, such certainty and conviction (morphed into obsessive-compulsion of the group) infects many other churches, faiths, and quite recently, political leaders, and their organizations (hardly worthy of the name, governments). The conventional “either-or,” along with the plethora of binary oppositions/conflicts/debates/perceptions/convictions/truths haunts us all every day everywhere.

Mandela is turning in his grave, in despair!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

cell913blog.com #18

It is, currently and has been for several decades, those passionate, articulate and dedicated writers on the environment who have been making the case for a world-wide effort to ‘save the planet’ and in that process ‘save us from ourselves’. William Vogt, in his Road to Survival (2015), penned these words, prophetic then and more searing nearly a decade later:

Drastic measures are inescapable. Above everything else, we must reorganize our thinking. If we are to escape the crash we must abandon all thought of living unto ourselves. We form an earth-company, and the lot of the Indiana farmer can no longer be isolated fromj that of the Bantu…An eroding hillside in Mexico or Yugoslavia affects the living standard and probability of survival of the America people…Today’s white bread may force a break in the levees, and flood New Orleans next spring. This year’s wheat from Australia’s eroding slopes may flare into a Japanese war three decades hence…..When I write ‘we’ I do not mean the other fellow. I mean every person who reads a newspaper printed on pulp from vanishing forests. I mean every man and woman who eats a meal drawn form steadily shrinking lands. Everyone who flushes a toilet, and thereby pollutes a river, wastes fertile organic matter and helps to lower a water table. Everyone who puts on a wool garment derived from overgrazed ranges that have been cut by the little hoofs and gullied by the rains, sending runoff and topsoil into the rivers downstream flooding cities hundreds of miles away…..Especially do I mean men and women in overpopulated countries who produce excessive numbers of children who, unhappily, cannot escape their fate as hostages to the forces of misery and disaster that lower upon the horizon of our future…..The freebooting rugged individualist, whose vigor imagination, and courage contributed to much of good to the building of our country (along with the bad), we must now recognize where his activities destroy resources, as the Enemy of the People  has become…Above all, we must learn to know-to feel to the core of our beings-our dependence upon the earth and the riches with which it sustains us. We can no longer believe valid our assumption that we live in independence…..We must-all of us, men women and children-reorient ourselves with relation to the world in which we live…We must come to understand our past, our history, in terms of the soil and water and forests and grasses that have made it what it is. We must see the years to come in the frame that makes space and time one….As we are crowded together ..on the shrinking surface of the globe, we have set in motion historical forces that are directed by our total environment…If we ourselves do not govern our destiny, firmly and courageously, no one is going to do it for us. To regain ecological freedom for our civilization will be a heavy task. It will frequently require arduous and uncomfortable measures. It will cost considerable sums of money. Democratic governments are not likely to set forth on such a steep and rocky path unless people lead the way…So that the people shall not delude themselves, find further frustration through quack nostrums, fight their way into blind alleys, it is imperative that this world-wide dilemma be made known to all mankind. The human race is caught in a situation as concrete as a pair of shoes two sizes too small. We must understand that, and stop blaming economic systems, the weather, bad luck, or callous saints. This is the beginning of wisdom, and the first step on the long road back. (from themarginalian.org)

Imagine those words as a ‘letter to Mandela’ and then try to imagine his response to such a ‘mandate letter’.

Here are some glimpses of the young boy, Mandela, in his own words:

From an early age, I spent most of my free time in the veld playing and fighting with the other boys of the village. A boy who remained at home tried to his mother’s apron strings was regarded as a sissy. At night, I shared my food and blanket with these same boys. I was no more than five when I became a herd-boy, looking after sheep and calves in the fields. I discovered the almost mystical attachment that the Xhosa have for cattle, not only as a source of food and wealth, but as a blessing from God and a source of happiness. It was in the fields that I learned how to knock birds out of the sky with a slingshot, to gather wild honey and fruits and edible roots, to drink warm, sweet milk straight from the udder of a cow, to swim in the clear, cold streams, and to catch fish with twine and sharpened bits of wire. I learned to stick-fight—essential knowledge to any rural African boy—and became adept at its various techniques, parrying blows, feinting in one direction and striking in another, breaking away from an opponent with quick footwork. From these days I date my love of the veld, open spaces, the simple beauties of nature, the clean line of the horizon…As boys we were mostly left to our own devices. We played with toys we made ourselves. We molded animals and birds out of clay. We made ox-drawn sleights out of tree branches. Nature was our playground. The hills above Qunu were dotted with large smooth ricks which we transformed into our own roller coaster. We sat on flat stones and slid down the face of the large rocks. We did this until our backsides were so sore we could hardly sit down. I learned to ride by sitting atop weaned calves—after being thrown to the ground several times, one got the hang of it. (Nelson Mandela, Long Road to Freedom, pps. 9-10)

The perspectives of two men, living on opposite sides of the planet, both in their own way revering nature, both rooted in its preservation, protection. Nature is and never can be separated from humans or humans from nature. However, a philosophical perspective, known as anthropocentrism, argues that ‘human beings are the central or most significant entities in the world. This is the basic belief embedded in many Western religions and philosophies. Anthropocentrism regards human as separate from and superior to nature and holds that human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind. Many ethicists find the roots of anthropocentrism in the Creation story told in the book of Genesis in the Judeo-Christian Bible, in which humans are created in the image of God and are instructed to ‘subdue’ Earth and to ‘have dominion’ over all other living creatures. This passage has been interpreted as an indication of humanity’s superiority to nature and as condoning an instrumental view of nature, where the natural world has value only as it benefits humankind. This line of thought is not limited to Jewish and Christian theology, and can be found in Aristotle’s Politics and in Immanual Kant’s moral philosophy. Some anthropocentric philosophers support a so-called cornucopian point of view, which rejects claims that Earth’s resources are limited or that unchecked human population growth will exceed the carrying capacity of Earth and result in wars and famines as resources become scarce. Cornucopian philosophers argue that either the projections of resource limitations and population growth area exaggerated or that technology will be developed as necessary to solve future problems of scarcity. In either case they see no moral or practical need for legal controls to protect the natural environment or limit its exploitation. Other environmental ethicists have suggested that it is possible to value the environmental without discarding anthropocentrism. Sometimes called prudential or enlightened anthropocentrism, this view holds that humans do have ethical obligations toward the environment, but they can be justified in terms of obligations toward other humans….Prior to the emergence of environmental ethics as an academic field, conservationists such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold argued that the natural world has an intrinsic value, an approach informed by aesthetic appreciation of nature’s beauty, as well as an ethical rejection of a purely exploitative valuation of the natural world. In the 1970’s, scholars working in the emerging academic field of environmental ethics issues two fundamental challenges to anthropocentrism: they questioned whether human should be considered superior to other living creatures, and they also suggested that the natural environment might possess intrinsic value independent of its usefulness to humankind. The resulting philosophy of biocentrism regards humans as one species among many in a given ecosystem and holds that the natural environment is intrinsically valuable independent of its ability to be exploited by humans. (britannica.org)

From the European, academic perspective, we now turn to the indigenous perspective. In KAYANERENKO:WA, The Great Law of Peace, we read these words:

One fundamental principle that flows from the Creation story is the relationship between human beings and the natural world. The Book of Genesis gives human beings ‘dominion’ over all parts of the natural world and suggests that everything was created to serve the needs of humanity. More recent Christian thinkers have struggled to insert the concept of ‘stewardship’ into these words. While logic agrees with the approach, fundamentalists who see an obligation to develop and exploit wage theological war with environmentalists who feel a need to conserve. The Haudenosaunee Creation story places human beings squarely in the midst of a natural world in which they form an integral part and in which each part has been given responsibilities. Sotsisowah* explained:

The Haudenosaunee Creation Story, which we can assume predates the foundation of the League, is replete with symbols of a rational universe. In the Creation Story, the only creature with a potential for irrational thought is the human being. All the other creatures of Nature are natural, i.e. rational.

Nature is depicted as a threatening and irrational aspect of existence in the West’s cosmologies. The Haudenosaunee cosmology is quite different. It depicts the natural world as a rational existence while admitting that human beings possess an imperfect understanding of it. The idea that human beings have an imperfect understanding of the rational nature of existence is something of a caution to Haudenosaunee in their dealings with nature. Conversely, the idea that the natural world is disorganized and irrational has served as something of a permission in the West and may be the single cultural aspect which best explains the differences between these two societies’ relationships to Nature.

The reason it’s so important to get people to cease fearing nature is that negative emotions invade one’s ability to think clearly. People who are afraid of nature have much more difficulty defending it than people who are not. All of those negative emotions give you permission to enact violence on nature. (p. 33-34)

*Sotsisowah: Native perception of philosopher-thinker-activist John Mohawk (Sotsisowah). Mohawk’s intellectual approach is keenly universal while founded in the practice of his ancient longhouse culture. (hks.harvard.edu)

In a footnote we read:

John Mohawk has suggested that the difference between Haudenosaunee (and other natural world) religions and Christianity is the difference between magic and miracles. Haudenosaunee ceremonies call upon the power of the natural world for assistance: if the power is beyond human, Western observers tend to call this ‘magic.’ Haduwi, for example, the power behind the b asked medicine societies, is in some ways a culmination of the forces of the natural world that we cannot control. Haudenosaunee medicine societies tend to be reflections of natural forces-the help of the Bears, the Otters, and the Buffalo, for example. Christianity, on the other hand, sees ‘miracles’ as unnatural by definition. If a cure attributed to a saint’s intervention can be shown to have been the result of a natural cause, it is no longer considered to be a miracle. (Op. Cit. p. 34)

Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard Divinity School, Janet Gyatso, interviewed on October 29, 2019, for a piece entitled, Attending to Animals, (on hds.harvard.edu) answers the following questions in this manner:

HDS: One of the courses you teach is called ‘Forms of Life: Buddhist Ethics for a Post-Human World. What do you mean by ‘post-human’?

Janet Gyatso: We live in the Anthropocene era. For the first time in the earth’s four-and-a half-billion-year history, human beings are the primary force shaping the planet’s climate and environment. That’s a pretty dramatic development, and it’s the result at least in part of a belief that humans are superior to all other species and deserve to control the planet. That’s a deeply held view in pretty much all the world’s major religions, including Buddhism. Today, the prospect of catastrophic climate change not only threatens nearly every other species on earth, but also humanity itself. A lot of people see the climate crisis as a result of the failure of humans to appreciate the danger of their desire to control the planet, and see the importance of their relationship with nature and other species. And so, post-human studies are about how to get beyond that, to stop placing human needs above all else, for one thing, because we’re digging our own graves, but even beyond that, it’s just wrong.

HDS: Wrong How?

Janet Gyatso: The degree of suffering, the misery that we put animals through is wrong, whether we’re talking about factory farming or scientific experimentation or the way that some people mistreat their pets or farm animals—which is every bit as wrong as mistreating humans, in my opinion. This is where this work does touch on my study of Buddhism. Compassion for all other sentient beings—really caring for them, wanting them to be happy, and not wanting them to suffer—that’s a straight Buddhist idea. There is also the Buddhist notion that you can only truly be happy if you have a realistic sense of your place on the planet and an understanding of who you are in a way that’s free of ideology and other kinds of stories that we tell ourselves. And so, if we overuse our resources and if we blot out all the life around us, we’re not in sync with the material reality of where we ae, and ultimately, we can’t be happy. That’s an idea that a lot of religions, in some way or others, try to get at.

HDS:…As we acknowledge the importance of animals more ethically, do we run the risk of anthropomorphizing them—thinking of them in human terms rather than their own?

Janet Gyatso: There are two problems there: anthropomorphizing and speciesism. With anthropomorphizing, we project our humanity onto animals. ‘They’re just like us.’ But we also have this idea that we’re totally different, that we can’t possibly know anything about them, and that anything we think we know is merely anthropomorphizing. I think both of those extremes are wrong. We share a lot in common with animals and we can understand a lot more than we think we can. There’s a difference between understanding them and anthropomorphizing them. The trick is to be simultaneously aware of difference and of sameness, which is actually a good way of describing what we try and teach students throughout the HDS curriculum…..

HDS: So, at the core of your thinking, is a rejection of binaries, of absolutes, of the notion that one should always do, or one should never do. It seems like that, in itself, is as much of a problem to you as anything.

Janet Gyatso: Yes, and that’s why some of what I’m saying is a little bit transgressive. My approach isn’t just post-human, it’s a little bit post-religion. I’m really interested in getting us back to into the material realities and building out from there, which for me means moving away from religious beliefs that are about salvation or about enlightenment. I’m not sure I believe in enlightenment-at least not in the sense of perfectibility…..I do think that there is a kind of self-cultivation through which people can attain a very high degree of realization, but I don’t think that anything ever gets perfect. Even the Buddha died, you know?

After adhering to a strict policy of non-violence for some fifty years, without achieving its goal of a nonracial democratic society, the African National Congress, following Mandela’s reluctant, yet sober, decision to consider an armed ‘wing’, demonstrated not only a high ethical and moral commitment but articulated the change in strategy in his own defence in the courtroom:

We of the ANC have always stood for a nonracial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of nonviolence had brought the African people nothing but more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this court to understand , but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence—of the day when they would fight the white man and win back their country, and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to use peaceful methods. While some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a nonracial state by nonviolence had achieved nothing and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 364)

Not only can the binary of nature and man as separate entities be sustained no longer, neither can the absolute commitment to a highly warranted ethical principle, like nonviolence, be sustained in the face of intractable concrete oppression. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

cell913blog.com #17

 In a piece on vox.com, dated February 14, 2019, entitled, Fascism: a warning from Madeleine Albright, interviewed and reported by Sean Illing, we find this exchange:

(Illling): When you use the term ‘fascism,’ what exactly do you mean?

Madeleine Albright: Well, first of all, I’m troubled by how thoughtlessly people throw around that term. At this point, anybody who disagrees with us is a fascist. In the book (Fascism, A Warning) I try to argue that fascism is not an ideology; it’s a process for taking and holding power. A fascist is somebody who identifies with one group—usually an aggrieved majority- in opposition to a smaller group. It’s about majority rule without minority rights. Which is why fascists tend to single out the smaller group as being responsible for or the cause of their grievances. The important thing is that fascists aren’t actually trying to solve problems; they’re invested in exacerbating problems and deepening the divisions that result from them. They reject the free press and denounce the institutional structures within a society—like Congress of the judiciary. I’d also add that violence is a crucial element of fascism. Whatever else it is, fascism involves the endorsement and use of violence to achieve political goals and stay in poser. It’s a bully with any army, really…..I think what differentiates fascism from other ideological movements is the use of violence and anger to achieve political ends. What you almost always see in fascist regimes is propaganda being used to set people against each other without any potential solutions to any of the problems. Fascism is always, in the end, about stirring people up and giving them someone to hate.

(Illing): You say that fascism is ascendant right now. Why do you think that is?

Madeleine Albright: A lot of reasons. Most of us were looking toward a system that had been established after World War II—democratic governments, a globalized economy that would gradually bring the world together- and thought it was remarkably stable. But the situation has gotten more complicated. A lot of people have benefited from globalization, but it has huge downsides. It’s faceless, and people want to know their identity, want to be connected to some religious or ethnic or national group. Identity is fine, but if my identity makes me hate your identity, then it becomes very dangerous and it falls into hypernationalism. Suddenly groups are pitted against each other or scapegoated and all of political life becomes tribalized conflict. And we see this happening in a number of places. Viktor Orban’s embrace of ethnic purity in Hungary is a good example of this. The other major factor is technology, which has incredible advantages, but it’s also desegregated voices and made it harder to take political action because individuals are sucked into echo chambers. Weirdly enough, this has managed to make us more tribal and more frightened at the same time. So there are just a lot of forces coming together and creating an atmosphere of anfger, and people have no idea what the solutions are, or if there are any solutions. Then some strongman comes along and says, ‘I have the answers, I can fix everything,’ And this is when you get fascism.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat (ruthbenghiat.com) is professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. She writes about fascism, authoritarianism, propaganda and democracy protection. Her latest book, entitled, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present ‘examines how illiberal leaders use corrruption , violence, propaganda and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded  over a century. In her substack space, Ben-Ghiat, on January 3, 2024, in a piece entitled, Authoritarians and their Sons-In-Law from Mussolini to Trump: Partners in Corruption, writes:

The essence of authoritarianism is getting away with crime, and corruption must be at the center of any analysis of how dictatorships operate.  A large percentage of actions authoritarians take are about covering up corruption: demonizing journalists, judges, prosecutors, and investigators, inventing narratives about their selflessness and purity and establishing ‘inner sanctums’ composed of sycophants, and family members who will keep their secrets, dispose of their enemies, and share in the profits from illicit activities…..The leverage and control the leader can exert over the son-in-law is also why left and right-wing authoritarians have placed these figures in economic policy and management positions that have high potential to enrich the family. When Chile became a laboratory of neoliberal policies during the military dictatorship, leader Augusto Pinochet put on son-in-law, Julio Ponce, in charge of the government agency in charge of privatizations and awarded him control of a chemical company with a $67 million annual profit. Another son-in-law, Jorge Aravena, got a large insurance agency in Cuba, President Raul Castro appointed his son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez, as head of the armed forces’ Business Administration Group, an entity with large powers over Cuba’s economy…..At his most powerful, the son-in-law can be a proxy for the dictator. That was the case with Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, who was widely hated by Italians for trying to be a ‘mini-Duce’. As Mussolini’s biographer Laura Fermi wrote, Ciano’s nickname was ‘the jaw’ because ‘when Mussolini thrust out his chin, Ciano thrust his own half and inch further.

Why begin this piece by referencing Albright and Ben-Ghiat?

Obviously, everyone in North America, and in the western world, is both highly conscious of what is becoming a high probability that trump will be the Republican nominee for president of the United States, whether or not he is continuing to be arraigned in various courts, or possible even occupying a jail cell. We are not living back in 2016 when he had no record, no infamous twitter (X) account and no criminal indictment. There had been no insurrection which the courts have determined he incited. He has placed three (3!) justices on the Supreme Court, each of whom, along with the already three conservative justices on the court, (Roberts, Alito, Thomas) form a majority that could easily lean in trumps favour in any case that comes before the court. Republicans in the House and Senate, at least in numbers far exceeding responsible, court his favour, arguably for the primary, if not sole, purpose of enhancing their ‘stay’ in power. Even those who sidle up to the ‘great one’ in an attempt to curry his favour, while briefly and glibly thanked, are then thrown under the bus, if the occasion calls for such disloyalty.

Indeed, loyalty is another of the trashed traits in contemporary American (and global?) politics. Trump openly curries the favour of dictators, while threatening one of America’s own military leaders. In thehill.com, 09/27/23, Brad Dress, in a piece entitled, ‘Trumps threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term,’ writes:

Former President Trump’s violent rhetoric toward Gen. Mark Milley is raising fears he will us a second term in the Oval Office to seek retribution against enemies. Trump suggested Friday that Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is stepping down from his post at the end of the week deserves the death penalty for allegedly betraying him and committing an act of treason. The threat came just days after Milley warned that if Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he would enact vengeance against those he felt have done him wrong. And Milley believes he is at the top of that revenge list. ‘He’ll start throwing people in jail, and I’d be on the top of the list,’ Milley told The Atlantic in a profile of the four-star general published last week. (In thehill.com piece) Kristy Parker, legal counsel at Protect Democracy is quoted as saying, ‘Trump has shown and talked about weaponizing the Justice Department to retaliate against people who he perceives as his enemies as he did, in fact, do that to people when he was president the first time.

Madeleine Albright, in her book, Fascism, A Warning, did not go so far as to call Trump a Fascist. Ben-Ghiat, the historian of authoritarianism, clearly considers him one of her cast of strongmen, and there is a sizeable cadre of American voters who have fallen sway to the trump ‘charm-offensive’. Now that he has successfully ‘won’ top rank in Iowa and New Hampshire primaries for the Republican nomination for the presidency, all the while commuting back and forth from and to various court hearings and campaign rallies, the American political campaign ‘system’ if there was one, has been so deconstructed as to leave the courts and the stage they offer to this candidate as another of his campaign resources. He receives wall-to-wall coverage from the media, whether he is ‘performing’ like a dancing chimp on the stump or in front of cameras or judges for whom he has nothing but contempt.

Campaigning while undermining the justice system and its highly professional (an non-partisan) officials, only injects more venom and oxygen into those trump cultists who have taken to threats to various individuals (thereby also directing needed and somewhat scarce law-enforcement resources away from the legitimate work they are being paid to do), while offering even more open windows to those wishing to throw cash at the trump machine. The tectonic shift in American life, especially American politics, now reaches right into the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, himself an unabashed sycophant of the former president, who, not incidentally, is making it very difficult to pry support from Ukraine out of the Congress.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s war in Gaza had not only taken a toll of well over 20,000 Palestinians killed, and many more maimed, left homeless, without adequate health care or needed food for survival. This war, too has taken Ukraine off the front pages of our minds, offering Putin even more opportunity for deadly strikes, while Ukraine forces struggle to cope.

If there has been a time in American history in the last seventy-five years when she has been so ‘inept’ and so ‘paralyzed’ in her political and geopolitical life as she is today, I do not know when that would have been. America, on her knees, at least from the eyes of her allies who now have to prepare to adjust to a world in which trump seeks and acquires a second term in the Oval Office, is not only a danger to herself; she is also a danger to the world’s democracies. An American democratic model that has ceased to function, as trump would prefer, is a serious threat to the stability and security of the international community. And not only does trump threaten the stability of the American election and governing systems, he threatens to take America out of international commitments, just as he did when he withdrew the U.S. from the Iranian accord on nuclear fission. Taking the U.S. out of NATO, too, would be an open invitation to Putin to flex muscles beyond Ukraine, and a ‘bent’ America would also embolden Xi Jinping to bring the Taiwan crisis to a head.

For those 70+ millions of Americans who voted for trump in 2020, there is a loud warning siren ringing in all of the capitals of the world, warning you not to repeat your vote of 2020. Your ‘head in the sand’ in tribal nationalistic evangelical fervor, while demonstrating your thumbing of your nose at the ‘establishment’ and those you consider ‘woke’ has the potential not only to hike oil and gas prices, food prices, interest rates and the padding of the pockets of the financial services and banking sector. You are, in a word, being duped, for and buy the ‘wannabe’ dictator whose

sole interest in his own hold on power (and his thwarting of the justice system!).

As Forest Gump reminds us in that memorable line from the movie:

“Stupid is as stupid does!”

In his blog, Scuola Leonardo Da Vinci Turin, (scuolaleonardo.com) writes:

The phrase that the protagonist uses to defend himself from the attacks of those who offend him conveys a profound meaning: people are not stupid, but it is their behavior that makes them so.

Can enough people be ‘stopped’ from repeating a very stupid and dangerous voting choice?


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

cell913blog.com #16

 For Nelson Mandela, there was no ambiguity as to the ‘target’ of his life’s work: the elimination of the policy, practices, laws and history of apartheid. His band of freedom fighters knew that they operated within the borders of South Africa, and saw the white supremacist governments of that nation as their immediate and indisputable enemy.

In calling for a new generation of freedom fighters, in 2024, however, the issues seem much more diffuse, ambiguous, almost ethereal and elusive in their definition, implications, and in the manner in which recruit of allied freedom fighters is far more complex, if even feasible.

We can all ‘feel’ or ‘sense’ or ‘intuit’ or even ‘imagine’ a kind of pall, a cloud, a darkness that hangs over each and every day of our lives. How we perceive and define and relate to that ‘cloud’ may differ; its existence, however, is the subject of conversations at the water cooler, in the lecture hall, in the sanctuaries, in the corporate board room, the government committee rooms and the newsrooms of every media outlet on the planet. Pervasive, if not actually invasive, a sense of doom and gloom, worry and angst, fear and trembling have become a constant ‘character’ in the panoply of characters that haunt our imaginations, our dreams, our hopes and our prayers.

In his unique and memorable attempt to understand, and to help others grasp the difference between the inner world of the spirit and the outer world of ethics and aesthetics, Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, focuses on the time between the injunction to sacrifice his son Isaac, to Abraham, and the time of the envisioned event.

“Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so anyone who has not made the movement does not have faith, for only in infinite resignation does an individual become conscious of his eternal validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith….There comes a moment in a person’s life when immediacy is ripe, so to speak, and when the spirit requires a higher form, when it wants to lay hold of itself as spirit….Once Abraham became conscious of his eternal validity he arrived at the door of faith and acted according tohis faith. In this action he became a knight of faith. In other words, one must give up all his or her earthly possessions in infinite resignation and must also be willing to give up whatever it is that he or she loves more than God. (wikipedia.org.)

In a much more recent piece of writing, in The Hollow Men, by T. S. Eliot, we find these words, also about that ‘in between’ angst. In interestingliterature.com,  Dr. Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University) writes:

One of the most famous poems by T.S. Eliot is The Hollow Men. One of the most famous sections of poetry in all of T.S. Eliot is the fifty and final section…which contains the famous lines, which state that ‘between the ideas and the reality falls the shadow’…The ‘Hollow Men’ of the poem are themselves trapped in some sort of between-world, a limbo or purgatory between life and death, existence and nothingness, light and darkness….(For) ‘between the idea and the reality falls the Shadow’, critics such as Christopher Ricks (in his excellent T.S. Eliot and Prejudice) have suggested, is an allusion to Brutus’ words in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘Between the acting of a dreadful thing And the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: The Genius and the mortal instruments Are then in council: and the state of man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection.’…And something falls between conceiving an action and actually going through with it: this mysterious ‘Shadow’….What is being described here? O
ne possible interpretation is that Eliot is talking about that other interim state between death and life—not at the end of our lives, but at the beginning. Between conception and the creation—what is a baby after it has been conceived but before it has been born….(However), perhaps we would be better off bearing in mind Brutus rather than foetuses, and think of Eliot’s chain of idea-reality-motion-act-conception -creation-emotion-response as referring to the complex relationship between our desires or aims and our actions and behaviour….The Hollow Men find themselves between the
idea of escaping their existence and the reality of actually succeeding, but between that idea and longed-for reality, the ‘Shadow’ falls which will prevent them from seeing their way to achieving their aim.

Not long ago, I answered a question about the meaning of the ‘alchemy of the in-between’ (borrowing from James Hillman’s notion of the soul):

What comes to mind (are) the multiple ‘voices’ or ‘images’ that emerge in and through the active, open and curious imagination in an attentive focus on the ‘moment’ seems at least somewhat analogous to the ‘alchemy’ that attends that ‘energy’ and process’

In a piece entitled ‘The Alchemy of Angst’ (on project-syndicate.org) Elif Shafak, after carefully noting and detailing the depth and ubiquity of both anger and a sense of hopelessness, writes these words:

At the end of the day, is there is one thing that is far more destructive than any emotion, it is the lack of all emotion: Numbness. Indifference. Lethargy of the spirit. The moment we become so desensitized to the deluge of information (and the multiple threats and dangers we face) that we barely register what is happening in another part of the world, or just next door, is the moment we are completely severed and disconnected from each other. And that is a far more dangerous threshold. The decisions that we make today will have long-lasting consequences for the planet, for our societies, and for our individual and collective mental health. This might be the Age if Angst, but from here to the Age of Apathy is but a short and fateful step. We need to make sure we don’t take it.

Clearly, and unabashedly drinking from the cup of courage, determination, hope, optimism and the warrior that was an integral psychic menu for Mandela, and inviting others to ‘share the same cup’ with the same ‘idealistic’ vision (not an addiction, as Jung warns against, but rather a determination for survival!), let’s look a little more closely at the signs that characterize this moment, our moment.

Writing on substack, January 22/24 in a piece entitled, Trump’s Brownshirts, Robert Reich (former Secretary of Labour in the Clinton Administration), after documenting the threats of violence and swatting  and dehumanizing tactics that have confronted Secretaries of State, for attempting to implement Section 3 of the 14th Amendment that would disqualify trump as in insurrectionist from having his name of the ballot,  as well as death threats on Jack Smith, special counsel of federal prosecutions, noting that the Justice Department spent ‘more than $4.4 million providing security for Smith and his team’. Reich also notes the determination of trump ‘if you go after me, I’m coming after you’….the tape of Roger Stone uttering death threats to ‘either Congressman Eric Swalwell or Congressman Jerry Nadler prior to the 2020 election…’There is a direct and alarming connection between Trump’s political rise and the increase in political violence and threats of such violence in America.’ Reich also delineates the names of people who might have voted to impeach the former president, but for their fear for the lives of themselves and their families….and then Reich writes these words:

Political violence in an inherent part of facism. Hitler’s SA—the letters stood for Sturmabteilung or Storm Section, also known as the Stormtroopers or Brownshirts—who were vigilantes who did the Nazis’ dirty work before the Nazis took total power…
Last night in an abbreviated appearance on her own show, owing to a throat infection, Rachel Maddow, detailed the story of hundreds of thousands of German citizens in the streets of many German cities, in numbers that threated the safety of the protesters. These men and women, deeply resonant with memories of the Fascists of the Third Reich, and their deportation of immigrants, refugees, and undesireables, are demanding the removal as a political party of the AfD right-wing party in the upcoming German elections. Al Jazeera, in a story dated, January 21, 2024, reports:

The mass protests were triggered after an investigative media organization, Correctiv, released a report about the ‘undisclosed’ meeting near Berlin, where a proposal to deport millions of immigrants and refugees, including some with German citizenship, was discussed. Among the participants at the talks was Martin Sellner, a leader of Austria’s Identarian Movement, which subscribes to the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory that claims there is a plot by non-white migrants to replace Europe’s ‘native’ white population…..Since its founding, the party has continually moved to the right and gained support for its fierce anti-refugee and anti-immigration views.

The Guardian, in a report by ‘staff and agencies’ records, on January 20, 2024: Politicians, churches and Bundesliga coaches have all urged people to stand up against the AfD….Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who joined a demonstration last weekend…urged ‘all to take a stand for cohesion, for tolerance, for our democratic Germany..(AfD) popularity has risen again since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the back of disgruntlement over high energy bills, food inflation, and what it sees as the high moral and financial cost of defending Ukraine.

Maddow’s analysis of the similarity of the threats facing the German electorate included references to proposals from trump and Steven Miller that immigrants, refugees and ‘others’ will be detained in internment camps in the United States, should trump be re-elected. The linkage between the American alt-right’s resistance to funding and supporting Ukraine cannot be overlooked in the light of the German protests, nor can the adherence to the ‘replacement theory conspiracy’ by men like Tucker Carlson, a close associate of the former twice-impeached president.

Is it becoming more clear, that together we face a moment of deep and authentic angst, from which we can become paralysed or out of which we can summon the strength, conviction, determination and commitment to engage in what is already a fight for the soul of the liberal, democratic, law-based, human-rights-based order in what the alt-right conceives as a fight for white supremacy and against all forms of tolerance, liberty and democracy?

Of course, we fear, and we tremble, and also of course, we can each ‘see’ a place for our voice in this current chapter of world tension.

Monday, January 22, 2024

cell913blog.com #15

One of the issues facing every group, especially any group dedicated to a series of principles, is the intersection (interface) of the principles with their enactment. Words on a page, crafted and curated, edited and vetted, with an eye to clarity, precision, intelligibility, easy and ready accessibility, elevating an idea, an aspiration, a hope and an ideal, might or might not include some form of accountability and the potential sanctions that attempt to enforce compliance. Often, too, any such ‘group’ or organization comes into being if and when a number of individuals come to a shared view of the need for change, to which they commit themselves and the group, both individually and collectively, to ‘action,’ that is the ‘work’ necessary to bring about that change.

The documentation of the formation, development, narrative of conflicts toward the achievement of the group’s goals, and the evaluation of the group’s success/failure in attaining its stated purpose taken together, comprise the history of that group or movement.

 In his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, in part 11 of that work, entitled, ‘Birth of a Freedom Fighter,’ writes:

I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. To be an African in South Africa means that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth, whether one acknowledged it or not. An African child is born in an African Only hospital, taken home in an Africans Only bus, lives in an Africans Only area, and attends Africans Only Schools, if he attends school at all.

When he grows up, he can hold Africans Only jobs, rent a house in Africans Only townships, ride Africans Only trains, and be stopped at any time of the day or night and be ordered to produce a pass, failing which he will be arrested and thrown in jail. His life is circumscribed by racist laws and regulations that cripple his growth, dim his potential, and stunt his life. This was the reality, and one could deal with it in a myriad of ways.

I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, From henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people: instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise. (p.95)

Mandela, along with others, had to face, and then shed what he referred to as “paternalistic British colonialism and the appeal of being perceived by white as ‘cultured’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized.’ I was already on my way to being drawn into the black elite that Britain sought to create in Africa. That is what everyone from the regent (his mentor) to Mr. Sidelsky (law partner where Mandela articled) had wanted for me. But it was an illusion. Like Lembede, (South African lawyer, and one of the founders of the ANC) I came to see the antidote as militant African nationalism. (Op. Cit. p. 97)

It may be somewhat beyond the scope of the imagination of many western readers, especially those whose lives have been founded on access to privilege, a full education, honourable and remunerative employment, and all the benefits of access to health care, and especially freedom from any infringements on his/her human rights, to envisage himself/herself living under such conditions. Nevertheless, there lingers deep and constricting signs of ‘paternalistic British colonialism’ and the concomitant ‘reputation’ as ‘cultured’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized’ if and when one integrates oneself into the established power ‘structure’. And, one does not have to be black, Asian, Middle Eastern, or even European to confront those ‘preferred patterns’ of social, political, educational and workplace tolerance and integration.

Any form of “militancy” in the west, is both suspect and, while formally and legally permitted under free speech statues, is nevertheless surveilled carefully and critically, by the ‘establishment’. Indeed, as the “Black Lives Matter” and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee Recommendations (Canada) have demonstrated, there is deeply rooted and systemic racism on both sides of the 49th parallel. Among directly impacted men, women and children, there are hundreds, if not thousands of activists who, every day, dedicated themselves to righting the wrongs and the colonial vestiges of their/our shared history. Generally, whites, on both sides of the 49th, do not either identify, nor actively support these efforts. Indeed, it is a legitimate discernment to note that governments at all levels, municipal, provincial/state and federal/national continue to resist a full acknowledgement of the oppression and repression under which minorities have to live.

And it is not only the absence of what might be called ‘human rights’ that is oppressive. It is also, and perhaps even more penetratingly and tragically, the turning away, the eyes that ‘do not see’ and the ‘ears that do not hear’ and the opinions that continue to ‘disparage, demean, denigrate and dismiss’ people of difference, whether that difference is colour of skin, accent of language, belief of religion, or choice of lover. We all have developed, inherited, endorsed, and supported a myriad of body movements, verbal epithets, social attitudes and superior ‘noses’ (literally and metaphorically) that both ‘show and tell’ the different ‘others’ how we actually view, consider, distance and alienate them. In each and every group, even where the divide does not have a skin colour, or a language accent, or a religious belief, there is a hierarchy of ‘in’s and out’s’ to which every one either subscribes and fits within, or refuses and is excluded or withdraws.

Parochialism, defined as a limited or narrow outlook, narrow-mindedness, may well be the inherited face of nationalism, or its Siamese twin, as we watch the erection of both physical and mental borders of exclusion being both funded and applauded around the world. Different forms and faces and histories of ‘paternalistic imperialism’ not only continue, but seem to be garnering more and more political support, especially from what has come to be known as the ‘alt-right’. And ‘freedom fighters’ in the model of Mandela, (and not in the model of ISIS, Al Qa’da, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Ansar al-Sharia, Afghan Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin,  Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, Al Nusrah Front, Hamas, Hizballah…et al) but in the model of Nelson Mandela, and his ANC, with its Youth League, (resisting armed conflict, until they had to resort to it) seem to be either dispersed or unwilling to come forward to take ‘political action’ against what is obviously becoming a tightening noose around the neck of liberal democracies.

Even this weekend, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are extolling the ‘moderation’ of the likely Republican Party’s candidate for the Presidency of the United States. “He’s not that bad!” will be echoed around both the U.S. itself and around the world as leaders everywhere attempt to brace themselves and their people for a second term of this monster. As discussed on Morning Joe on MSNBC today, this legitimizing of the trump fascism, so promised and articulated as not to be either missed, disguised, or denied, a promise that includes the embrace of tyrants like Putin, Orban, Kim Jung Un, and others.

Is it respectability and the imprimatur of ‘decorum’ and ‘decency,’ and monikers like ‘cultured and civilized and progressive’ that those who have the spark and the spine to confront what is clearly a threat to all human rights, human lives and human security are seized by? Are we sharing a moment, perhaps even a decade or two or three,

·        when we will have capitulated in our shared need to reduce global warming and climate change,

·        when we have ceded, permitted and walked away from inordinate, inexorable and inexcusable divides in income between CEO’s and ordinary workers,

·        capped ceiling on the labour movement to organize,

·        permitted the inexcusable banning of books,

·        continued the brutal and cruel deployment of capital punishment,

·        and the imprisonment of political prisoners (just this weekend, a women who posted protests against the war in Ukraine was sentenced to 7 years in prison in Moscow)

·        walked away from United Nations Security Council Resolutions calling for a cease-fire in Gaza,

·        refused to fund and to support the Ukrainian defense of their homeland because ‘trump’ is too cozy with Putin…

·        refused to confront Netanyahu and joint the law suit charging Israel with ‘genocide’ in Gaza, in the International Court in the Hague

·        Watched banks and financial institutions reap billions in profits, while ordinary people have to decide between needed medicines and food or rent

·        and continued to appropriate, in America, more funds for the Pentagon, that all other countries combined (for U.S. defence, rather than for Ukrainian support)

Individuals, the triumphant image of the western, especially the United States’ ethos, has not only erased any perception of the ‘public good’ and ‘public interest,’ but in its short-sighted, narcissistic and selfish opportunism, ‘grab what you can today’…and damn the consequences for the next generations….is a sure tidal wave of collective self-sabotage.

Are there any freedom fighters who can and do see the threats we share collectively, around the globe? Are the thought leaders, whose intellectual lens and pens see and document the connection of the dots in a way that the spirit of Mandela and his band of freedom fighters can be and will be found and recruited, funded and engaged in a series of not merely defensive manoeuvres, but actual offensive initiatives legal, (non-military, but legal, informational, educational, with both credibility and validity in the arguments proferred)? Can the tidal wave of threats, all of them at some level co-ordinated and co-sponsored, by those seeking to overthrow what has been considered an established world order, for more than three-quarters of a century, be presented with a determined, courageous and undeterred anti-dote?

We can talk about principles until the cows come home, without having to embody their breathe and blood. And we can discuss, and debate and defer to matters of personal decorum, both legitimately and ethically, without actually making any change in our personal lives or in the collective life we share. And when the contest of opposing principles provides the kind of conflict to which men and women either gravitate to or withdraw from, another silent ash of the paper on which the principles were written will lie in the ashes of that group.

Individuals, just like governments and families and organizations can be and are parochial, imperial, paternalistic and exclusionary. And unless and until we address, each of us, our own narrowness of attitude, belief, cognition, dogma or even social status, our organizations and their principles will founder on our personal myopia.

And, most, if not all attempts to remove the blinkers, will find resistance and withdrawal and perhaps even enhanced conflict and division. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

cell913blog.com #14

 Here is a quote I found recently that begs unpacking…and as a Friday morning self-challenge, let’s try to unpack it imagining if Mandela were responding:

Why are so many problems today perceived as problems of intolerance, rather than as problems of inequality, exploitation, or injustice? Why is the proposed remedy tolerance, rather than emancipation, political struggle, of even armed struggle? (Slavoj Zizek)…Mr. Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher, cultural theorist and public intellectual. He is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London, visiting professor at New York University and senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana’s Department of Philosophy. In a debate in Toronto in 2019, with Jordan Peterson, in which the topic was Happiness: Capitalism vs Marxism, Professor Zizek is reported to have uttered these words: (L)ess hierarchical, more egalitarian social structure would stand to produce great amounts of (this) auxiliary happiness-runoff.” (wikipedia.org)

It may seem trite to observe that public debate, at least in the west, has devolved into a personality litmus test, whereby the political, intellectual, professional individual’s words are viewed from a lens that is dominated by questions of hypocrisy, integrity, honesty, consistency, predictability and the individual’s perceptions of the role of power, bifurcated into: for personal self-aggrandizement, or for the public good. Personalization as a perception has supplanted ideas, policies, programs, and certainly philosophy. We ‘like’ these few men and women because they seem to be more resonant with ‘how we see the world’; and we dislike these other men and women because they seem to see the world very differently. Either-or! And either-or from another perspective that can be depicted as ‘black or white’…there are no nuances, no alternative, no options, and no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the righteousness of their views or the heinous contemptibility of both the ‘other’ and his views. The fusion of person and view/attitude has replaced any discernment that s/he is NOT only his/her position on a specific issue of public interest. “Personalizing” as a frame for culture, is only one of the several ways of picturing it.

Having dumbed-down, simplified, and effectively performed a kind of (metaphorical) surgical lobotomy on our public leaders and the issues about which they are charged with being responsible to address, at a time when technology has made individual personal opinions, most of them emerging from the collection of ‘moths’ of persons and opinions that surge around a light-bulb, instantly accessible in real time, everywhere, and also at a time when local media has been eviscerated of dollars, staff, offices and even existence, and international media is struggling by a cash-thread, we are living in a time of minimal, if not excoriated, intellectual engagement, interest and especially trust.

Critical thought has been a casualty of both the social media and the coup of democratic, and small-l liberal governance by narcissistic, nationalist, tribal despots funded primarily by right-wing financial oligarchs. Their argument, of course, would be that they are only protecting the public interest by their patronage, given their focus on the trickle-down economics of unfettered capitalism. No economic system, if and when allowed complete free reign, without guardrails, reasonable regulations and controls, a serious commitment to the welfare of even the ‘least among us,’ can be justified, tolerated nor can it even support itself. Untethered, like a green-broke horse, it will ‘run wild’ and self-destruct, as history has demonstrated frequently. Neither extreme of capitalism nor communism can survive, nor can the extremes of any polarized issue find the needed oxygen to survive. What is true in personal psychic biography is also true in municipal, national, and geopolitics…extremes burn themselves into oblivion. Nevertheless, the damage they can and do generate can and does last for eternity. And we have a complex, unnuanced, and seemingly mutually exclusive perception of extremes: we adore their theatricality, their histrionics, their drama and their risk and we also wither at their limitless ambition, their relentless absorption and/or consumption of everyone and everything in their wake. And we oscillate between these polarities, sometimes consciously, often unconsciously.

Now, let’s look more carefully at the ‘tolerance/intolerance’ ‘diagnosis/disease’ dichotomy!

Elevating personal relationships to the top of our ‘value totem pole’, as it were, we have effectively turned a blind eye to the complexities of ideas whether those ideas have their roots in history, philosophy, religion, economics, sociology or psychology. In our seemingly obsessive-compulsive rush to worship at the altar of science, and the proposition that our universe can be reduced to its atomic (both literal and metaphorical) structure, for the purposes of all ethical, moral, political and intellectual debate, the very notion of abstractions, ideas, propositions, principles and especially the multiple, varied and highly complex and nuanced relationships between various ideas, in various theatres (venues, playing fields, boardrooms, lecture halls, sanctuaries, stock exchanges, institutions) has become a vestige of history. We have fallen into our self-obsessed microscopic magnification of ‘our ego and our person’ as the defining totem in our value system. And we are unable to assign culpability either to Capitalism or Marxism, or any other ‘ism’ for our ‘fall’. Indeed, we have fallen, like Narcissus, in love with our own image and then found readily available, vulnerable and accessible targets for our highly inflamed judgements, based on what once would have been considered adolescent hormonal outbursts. Ad hominums gone wild! Call it hubris, or call it anxiety, or call it insouciance, or call it sanctimonious, or call it sycophantic, or even pre-pubescent, or call it myopic….nevertheless, our social and cultural perspective is a form of blatant, if unconscious, self-sabotage, both individually and certainly collectively.

What is behind diagnosing another as ‘intolerant’ whether the diagnosis comes from a legal perspective, or a corporate management perspective, or a social justice perspective or a religious perspective, effectively means that from the perspective of the ‘diagnosing source’, that person has instantly become ‘persona non grata’…And we all know that ‘intolerance’ has so many faces, iterations, ramifications, and even reprehensible consequences. Inside each of us, there seems to be a cast of characters (images) for which/whom we feel an attraction, as well as those for which/whom we fell a kind of rejection. At the moment when that ‘switch’ becomes conscious, whether we are in direct contact, or virtual contact, with the other, we are ‘responding’ to that image. We often know little to nothing about the ‘other’ person; that lack of information, however, is almost irrelevant to our ‘switch’. And whether we actually put ‘words’ to our response to the other person, or not, we have, it seems, at least metaphorically if not also scientifically and biologically, released a chemical, or an electrical, or a neuronal impulse. Even the notion of this image of ourselves, as involuntarily responsive, without seeming to engage in any cognitive or willful engagement, may seem preposterous to some.

However, tolerance/intolerance as a dichotomy, has to be considered, at least if not first, as a personal response. And each of us likely has numerous such responses daily, depending on our circumstances.

From the personal/psychological, let’s move to the public issue depictions of our universe. Tolerance/intolerance is a highly effective, worthwhile litmus test for assessing racism, sexism, ageism, religious bigotry, nationalism and tribalism, in sum, personal identity value!…It is, however, highly defective, incomplete and inadequate in any legitimate exploration of public issues that, while embracing the persons charged with decision-making, nevertheless, call for a perspective that embraces multiple options, perspectives, ideologies, attitudes and even philosophies. Binary choices, in the final analysis, may have legitimate application if only after multiple perceptions, discernments, interpretations and circumlocutions have been explored. Rushing to an ‘either-or’ at the beginning of any question, whether about a person or an idea, is both an escape from fully embracing the person or issue, as well as an easy way out of confronting the either. Tip-toeing around both persons and issues, however, they might be ‘framed’ by whomever, for whatever purpose or motivation, is a sure-fire approach to avoid the fullness and complexity of the truth, at least in so far as we are able, (in all aspects of that word) to discern it.

Take for example, the issue of global warming and climate change. A person can be considered to be ‘tolerant’ and thus supportive of measures to combat the crisis. Another person, considered ‘intolerant’ will be much more favourably disposed to continuing the production and deployment of fossil fuels, and the resulting increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other toxins. And, of course, among both sides of that and other issues, are ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’.

Another binary reductionism, allies/enemies, only insults both the observer and the subject of the assessment. Like cardboard cut-outs, we not only reduce our opponents to that flimsy, incomplete and insulting image; we also reduce ourselves to a perspective that tolerates,  endorses and engages in more of the same.

Think, for a moment, about Mandela’s obsession to defeat apartheid. He could be categorized as ‘intolerant’ of this oppressive system. He was never, however, intolerant of those who passed the laws, worked as wardens in the prisons, inspected men, women and children in search of their ‘passes’ under the pass law regime, or those who burned down the house his wife and children were living in. Indeed, even those who accused the ANC of being ‘communist’ were treated by Mandela simply with the truth: that some in the ANC had communist affiliations yet the organization itself was never controlled by, dominated by, or dependent on the Communist Party. He did, however, see the benefits of a focus beyond the individual to the public good, the collective, that helped preserve both his perspective and his never-failing hope and optimism that the movement would eventually succeed. He never forgot or ignored, or denied that, in any post-apartheid South Africa, the men who had imposed and sustained the system would still be there and would have to be ‘part of the solution’…In Mandela’s perspective, this was not mere transactionalism; it was respect and honour for the ultimate worth of every human.


One of the most frightening aspects of AI, and its insertion into our political life, according to forensic Artificial Intelligence scholars, is that political actors will be able to say literally anything, without worry about having to defend, validate or authenticate it. And they will then defer to the now infamous “it is fake” defence which has already showed its indelible ‘face’ on our screens. Similarly, by infecting our public consciousness, and the concomitant public debates, with ‘a frame of ‘tolerance/intolerance’ those who are responsible (or at least were) for researching the back stories to the public issues they wish to champion, or oppose, and then arming themselves with the most relevant and applicable ‘data’ and then attempting to form a legitimate, if debatable theory that embraces those facts, have been freed from all of that ‘dirty work’ of the intellectual. Public rhetoric on steroids, that fires character assassination word-bullets, or burns a political operative over a specific and heinous failure, whether on the public or private/personal stage, imitates a scorched-earth battlefield.

Free speech, especially in the American context, has become a ‘wild west’ of not merely tolerance but actual totem heroism. Hate speech has been slaughtered, dismembered and buried in the dust-bin of archives along with shame, responsibility, decency and respect for one’s public and political and ideational opponents. And along with that funeral, buried in the same columbarium, is collaboration, co-operation, compromise and shared responsibility, irrespective of ideology, for the public good. Some will argue that capitalism has become cancerous, and that may be true. Others will argue that the capacity for and the will to engage in critical thought has withered on the vine of ‘Facebook, Twitter (X), tik-tok and other social media platforms. Others will note a growing chasm between those with post-secondary education and those without, owing to a divide in thought, perceptions, values and aspiration.

In the current public discourse around the upcoming presidential election, the phrase, “I don’t like the man, but I do like his guts, his courage, and the fact that he gets things done!” is repeated frequently in reference to the twice-impeached, multiply-indicted, ex-president. “I don’t like his mouth but I do like what he accomplished!” is another rationalization for their intent to vote for him again. “God chooses unlikely people to do his work, and God has chosen him to do His work in our time!” is another of the bandied-about simplifications, all of them echoes of that ‘either-or,’ ‘black-white,’ reductionism that has come to characterize the culture. Indeed, this one man, through the most nefarious, heinous, historically-embedded strategies and tactics of the worst kind of dissembling and propaganda, under the most repressive regimes in history, has somehow catapulted his ‘straw-man,’ feet-of-clay’ embodiment of Eliot’s Hollow Men to the top of the U.S. political-entertainment-fake-manipulative-pseudo-saved public opinion polls, and as of this date, stands ready and likely to win another election to the Oval Office.

And the world shudders at the prospect! As it and we all should!

Personal, narcissistic unbridled ambition, for whatever one’s ego demands, has, like trump, become an engraving on the totem pole of the culture, the ethos, even the theology. Some have written that class becomes a kind of theology for those whose inheritance includes privilege, superiority, even supremacy. And such ‘status’ is not and cannot be isolated as ‘white supremacy’. Indeed, we have all witnessed a kind of privileged superiority (and oppression, repression rejection etc.) in our lives, not all of it attributable to Caucasian or European, or Catholic of Protestant, Muslim or Jew, educated or illiterate, wealthy or even poor. Whether it is a human defence against perceived inadequacy, worthlessness, abandonment, alienation, separation, sin or evil, or the judgements of others on various projected perceptions, Eric Berne’s, Games People Play, one of which quarters assigns the epithet, “I’m not OK you’re not OK” and another “I’m not OK,” your’re OK” are still relevant, if out of favour and fashion in our vernacular.

A human fear, distaste, even revulsion at ‘looking inside’ and finding the ‘gold’ of our deepest wounds, fears, inadequacies, uncertainties, may well be a part of the ‘soil’ of our individual ‘soul’s identity and perception. And such fears know no boundaries, of any kind. Our eagerness to detach and analyse, in some kind of ‘objectivity’ that seems (we believe) to keep us safe from being ‘uncovered’, offers numerous opportunities for engagement with others, with some vague notion of the ‘rules of engagement’ in which to feel safe. The private, personal ‘Shadows’ of our lives, however, continue to remain both mysterious and thereby somewhat frightening. On the other hand, the tradition of diplo-speak, so highly valued among nations, courtrooms, lecture halls, science labs, and sadly seminary seminars, offers a kind of veneer of protection.

We can, however, continue to honour and to embrace our ‘Mask’ (Persona) without devolving into a personality deconstruction mentality or culture, while keeping a diligent training program for our critical thinking capacity. We are all ‘tolerance and intolerant’ to and for ourselves, at various times, (simultaneously?); and yet we are not and must not be reduced to either polarity, as a final ‘sentence’. Neither can the issues we face, including especially the human agents and actors with whom we will engage in search of solutions and resolutions (the latter may have to precede the former), become polarized as ‘tolerable or intolerable’ if we seek not merely to survive but to thrive.