Content Creation

… standing in the middle of nowhere

wondering how to begin

lost between tomorrow and yesterday

between now and then.

And now we’re back where we started

here we go ’round again

day after day I get up and I say

I better do it again.’

At the beginning of 2020 I set myself the challenge to read my way through my not-insignificant bookshelves (my Uncle Jim can verify that I have a few books) and donate those that no longer resonate or need to claim priority of place in my small-ish East York semi.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns (or #mockdowns – more on that later) meant that I have had the opportunity to spend way more time reading actual books than has been the usual norm for me in the last few years.

I love books – the tangible presence of the hardcopy of stories that engage and affect me, and the way in which I see the world have a personified aspect to them. It’s been hard, at times, making the decision to part with those who have travelled with me for so long.

A few months ago I started in on the re-read of the canon of my favourite Canadian author (actually, my favourite author full-stop) – Guy Gavriel Kay. His words have sustained and inspired me for decades and the awareness of his presence, somewhere in this city we both call home, has helped me cope in ways that are difficult to articulate.

He is a poet who writes novels and his knowledge of history (another of my true loves), incorporating his ‘quarter-turn to the fantastic’, has influenced a great deal of my own approach to the world.

I started in on his latest (A Brightness Long Ago), remembering him reading from its pages at the Reference Library on an evening that seems ridiculously long ago and, per usual, the re-read spoke to my state of mind as I cope with how things are, right now.

It is remarkable how a few words can hit you in the heart.

We want to sink into the tale, leave our own lives behind, find lives to encounter, even to enter for a time. We can resist being reminded of the artificer, the craft. We want to be immersed, lost, not remember what it is we are doing, having done to us, as we turn pages, look at a painting, hear a song, watch a dance.

Still, that is what is being done to us. It is.

Even so… we do turn the page, and can be lost again. And in that deep engagement we may find ourselves, or be changed, because the stories we are told become so much more of what we are, how we understand our own days.” (p. 242-243)

I admit that I ended last year, like so many people I know and love, with exhaustion and some existential angst about what is to come. I am enraged – ENRAGED – at the inaction of the provincial government in addressing the realities of the infections and the reactionary and false accusations levelled against our federal government in dealing with the pandemic as they abrogate their responsibilities in favour of pandering to their base of supporters. Politics played with lives. I have no words that are adequate to describe the wrongness of it all. Our current status – a colour-coded mockdown rather than a lockdown – and the incompetent vaccine roll-out while the third wave threatens to overwhelm our ICUs pushes me to the edge multiple times a day. Don’t even get me started on that budget – and the cuts to education that represent the continuing willful deconstruction of our public system (https://colemining.wordpress.com/2020/07/11/now-do-education/). Or the latest indication of the complicity of the right-wing press with the construction of the narrative that they are feeding to the public (loved waking up to that news this morning).

And, when taking time from focusing on the incompetence of our local ‘leadership’, all I see is the continuing attempts south of us to undermine all the checks and balances put into place to ensure that power is wielded with responsibility – even as those markers of power are restructured by movements that give voice to those who have been voiceless, historically. And the guns. And the unchecked rise of Xian Nationalism as the murderous rampages of white males are passed off as ‘bad days’.

It’s hard to stop the constant drone of the realities that pandemic time are exposing – to those of us who haven’t been screaming into the void about them for years, that is.

So, when I’m not tied to my laptop (work from home is fine and all, but the days are way longer than they were when I was going there and back on the TTC, and weekends don’t seem to be a thing at the moment) I want that immersion Guy wrote about. I’m not into the streaming – tv shows and movies aren’t my go-to escapes, in general -and the additional work-related screen time has made me eager to just turn it all off when I can.

So. The books have been the thing. I’ve made far more progress with the shelf-sorting than I would have in a different year, this is for sure. But, as I’m sure you know if we’ve met – IRL or otherwise – music is the other way I find engagement and attempt to understand our days through the stories that are told by that type of artist. And, along with all the stalwart favourites, I’ve been making new engagements – some of them outside of my usual zone.

Apparently I like Taylor Swift now. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always appreciated the charm of her voice and full and legitimate ownership of her evident talent, but, until recently, the songs haven’t really been my thing. I’m all about the singer-songwriters lately.

So imagine my surprise when, just before the release of her second album in less than a year, a friend introduced me to exile, from her first album of last year, and I have to admit that I’m a little obsessed. The melancholy overlap of her voice with Justin Vernon’s, added to the gut-punch of those lyrics is a little more than I can take, what with the current world situation and the types of examination and reflection I tend toward when things are emotionally unstable, but I can’t stop listening.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence. If a song really catches me I have a tendency to keep it on constant rotation – and that was one of the ones I had on most as the terrible, horrible, no good year wound down. It’s back on the playlist, what with the pandemiversary and all the self-reflection that is coming along with certain discoveries – about myself and about our society – that have happened since March 2020.

I realized back in December – on the 12th anniversary of my return to Toronto from my own period of exile in the Nation’s Capital – that one of the many reasons that I found it hard to get festive (in addition to lockdowns and inability to see family and rising cases and incompetent government) is that it’ll be the first time since moving home that there was no Skydiggers Xmas show to help me ease into the season.

I’ve written about the show a few times (It’s beginning to look a lot like…, for example), and I although I admit to still feeling some ambivalence about the change in venue as of last year (DMH is closer to home = good. Missing the history and feel of the ‘Shoe (and remembering it as the place/time I got to say my personal thank you and farewell to Gord = not so good), the fact that we didn’t get to have that experience in 2020 seems somehow right, if by “right” I mean in complete and total keeping with the way that the COVID year has shifted things for everyone.

We have all had to come up with coping mechanisms specific to our lives and personalities and the wherewithal we can command to distract and deal as best we can. I’m luckier than most – I would never argue otherwise. The Groundhog Day-ness of it all has been hardest on me – and, the overall scheme of COVID, that isn’t remotely comparable to the experiences of far too many people.

Jesse Malin continued his live-streams, and Lord Huron has been presenting monthly shows in their own beautifully eccentric style, so those have been a highlight and led me back to having their records on repeat much of the time. Both have new records coming out in the next while. Hopefully tours will follow.

It hasn’t escaped my notice how often I’ve talked about things being on repeat in these few hundred words. Once upon a time, Ray Davies’ 1984 (!) tune about the same-same of workaday life (their experiences while touring, in particular – not something musicians are able to do at the moment) was in keeping with the Kinks’ tendency to write songs that reflected the societal constructs that kept the working classes on a hamster wheel of monotony.

Amazing how clearly it reflects what so many of us are feeling right now. The topicality of the theme helps immerse us in the song, and put into perspective, if not understand fully, our own days, challenging and disruptive as they are right now.

I know I’ve written a few times about the importance of paying the artists who create the sparks that can lead to the development of our own fires (here, for example https://colemining.wordpress.com/2020/03/21/on-a-train-bound-for-nowhere/), but I’m not sure that message is getting the coverage it deserves.

Mikel Jollett wrote an interesting article about this, and about the need for change in the music industry, in particular. You can find it here https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/what-are-nfts-what-could-they-do-music-industry-artists-ncna1261205.

This bit resonated: “there is a massive gulf in our culture between the value music brings to people’s lives and the price they currently pay for it — which has for years been kept artificially low by large corporations to prevent the so-called piracy that cut into their enormous profits far more than artists’ incomes.” That, and this: “these days, artists in the music industry receive an average of only 12 percent of all profits from the sales or streams of their music. The rest of the money goes to middlemen corporations (mostly streamers and labels).”

I’m not sure that NFT is the answer – I am lost in the concept of bitcoin and NFT is even more elusive as a potentiality, but something has to change. As Mikel points out, “a song which changes your life is worth more than a third of a cent per stream.”

Artists, regardless of art form, are not merely content creators (journalists shouldn’t be either, but that’s a rant for another day). They are not making superficial filler to help pass the hours and the repetition of daily tasks with click bait that distracts for a minute or two but is, ultimately, unsatisfying. They are not influencers, shilling unnecessary consumables to make a buck from the followers they have on whatever social media platform is most popular in a given year.

It’s shameful that we treat them as such. Especially now, when we need them so much. Pay the artists so we emerge from all of this with the assistance we need to come to an understanding of these days that will help us improve as we recover.

“A young man appears to be telling his story. Others are having their stories told.

There is a maker, a shaper, behind all of them. It is the same with art on a dome, or a portrait done on a wooden surface, with gesso and not oil, for a reason. It is the same with a sculpture of hands. Someone made this, made choices doing so.

A song remembers a home, another conjures fear that a home will fall to those who would destroy it. A poet places a wine glass on a fountain’s rim under stars. An artist sets his lost wife on a dome… amid stars. A dancer lets the music be what she is, until it stops. Someone made the music, someone plays it while she dances.” (p. 240)*

*This passage references my other best friends from among Guy’s works. It is like running into someone you haven’t seen in years in a place that is entirely out of context. One of countless times he’s brought me to tears.

Links to buy stuff:

Taylor Swift is one of the rare artists these days who doesn’t need a whole lot of help paying the bills right now, but if you love her stuff please buy it somewhere that ensures she gets more for her talent than the streaming services and/or industry people who didn’t have anything to do with that song you love. As for the some of the other stuff I’ve been enjoying – and paying for – lately, here are some links:

You can see – and link to buy – the Skydiggers merch and music – including the 30th(!) anniversary special edition of their first album here:https://www.merchmrkt.com/merchmrkt/QuickSearch?keyword=skydiggers

You can buy Jesse Malin’s latest single here: https://jessemalinwcr.bandcamp.com/album/the-way-we-used-to-roll

You can get a ticket to Lord Huron’s final streaming show, April 29, here: https://noonchorus.com/lord-huron/ and pre-order their upcoming record here: https://lordhuronstore.com/long-lost/

Mikel Jollett’s book, and The Airborne Toxic Event’s musical catalogue can all be purchased here: https://theairbornetoxicevent.com

Guy’s website is here: https://brightweavings.com/books/books/ His books are available where you buy books (please not from that Bezos guy). He is a huge supporter of local shops here in Toronto, promoting places like http://www.bookcity.ca/locations/ and https://www.bakkaphoenixbooks.com every chance he gets.

Before all the pandemic stuff started, I picked up Ray Davies’ book and record, Americana, at my favourite record store http://www.soundscapesmusic.com. Can’t wait to pay them a visit.

I realize I didn’t talk specifically about other forms of art – and the artists who are being challenged by pandemic shut downs and travel restrictions. Music and books are my particular addictions. But I am fortunate to call a remarkable visual artist my friend, and I am proud to be a collector of his outstanding work (I wrote about the very personal piece he created for me here: https://colemining.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/the-tools-we-have-to-hand/). His next show – which, hopefully, we will be able to attend in person happens this fall. Information about Brandon Steen’s upcoming show at the Elaine Fleck Gallery can be found here: https://elainefleckgallery.com/collections/brandon-steen

‘When everyone’s talking and no one is listening how can we decide?’

Four years, and too little has changed. My gratitude and sincere remembrance has not.

colemining

 

This is the week that we wear poppies and take time to remember the sacrifices made by all those who have fought to institute and maintain freedoms that we value pretty highly. November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada.

Our neighbours to the south call it by another name, and the messaging is also somewhat different. But we set aside the time to remember. Lest we forget.

That need for remembrance was brought home to me in a very real way on Tuesday – and again the following morning, when I realized that I hadn’t been imagining what was happening before I called it a night and shut off the tv at midnight. I didn’t sleep well – I’m not sure if it was my thoughts about what was happening or actual nightmares that were keeping me awake. Those two things became inextricable in the harsh…

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Four Long Years, or It’s the End of the World as We Know it, and I Feel Fine.

Back before the global pandemic, a group of us used to get together on Tuesdays (why Tuesdays? That’s a story in itself…) and four years ago we convened, per usual, in order to watch the election results come in from that country to the south of us.

I admit, I’d been complacent enough to believe that the result of the 2016 election was going to be straight-forward. I couldn’t imagine any circumstances that would give the leadership of the US to an accused sex-offender with a history of dubious business dealings, who most of us knew – almost exclusively – from his appearance on a reality TV show.

Suffice to say, things didn’t turn out as expected.

As we headed out into the streets of Toronto for the short walk home – a few hours into the counting and projections – I was stunned by the quiet apprehension that seemed to be hanging over the quiet streets.

I was numb. I was astonished. It might have been projection, but I don’t really think so. That night marked a shift – and I wasn’t confident that we’d survive it.

I’m an historian, but, other than a general awareness of the history of the US that comes with proximity and the fact that historians gonna history, I could not, then, understand how that result could possibly be a thing. A real thing. Something that was going to affect the world – in ways we couldn’t even imagine at that point.

Before trying to sleep that night I had a text exchange with a friend in which I expressed a growing sense of complete and utter dread. That the US – even with their ingrained mythos of exceptionality and holier-than-thou-ness – could slip into the darkness that would follow the election (I knew, even then) was beyond my comprehension, and, if I’m honest, beyond my naive belief in the desire of people to support their communities and the betterment of other human beings over the selfish needs of individuals.

In the last 4 years I’ve had the opportunity – and have accepted the necessity – to delve into the reasons why such a thing came to pass. It has involved a great deal of reading – and a new understanding of the history of the US in the years since WW2. Particularly the decades which saw the rise of the religious right and their usurping of the American political process.

That’s my wheelhouse, you see. Religion, and its effects on society and governance and the systems that support the ways in which we live together. A big part of that has to do with the rhetoric that religious movements create in order to assure dominance and social controls. It doesn’t matter – much – that the religious movements I spent most of my adulthood studying are centuries/millennia removed from the 21st century. The patterns and the manipulations of the discourse remain the same. Plus ca change, and etc.

It is facile to try to distill such things into a blog post – at least one of reasonable length and that’s all I’m up for tonight (I anticipate that tomorrow will be a late one) – but the overarching message I’ve been seeing, as Trump and his enablers persist in regressive actions and re-actions, is that we are, truly, at a point in history that is witness to the deconstruction of social realities that a minority of people have claimed – along with the benefits and privileges that accompany that societal structure.

What we are witnessing is an ending – and, with hope and hard work – the potential for a new beginning.

Historians don’t write history, they interpret history. Human beings – for all their strengths – are not great eye-witnesses. Any forensic specialist can tell you that – and lawyers count on our inattention to detail when presenting arguments for the innocence of their clients. Our books of history – such as they are – generally rely on data that is removed from the first-hand. Even those who write about personal experiences of history do so through a lens of context. Their own reality shapes those things they see – and the perspective that that brings is unreliable – best efforts notwithstanding.

All history is story – and (I know this will get me comments) all history is fiction. Even the advent of on-the-spot reporting and cameras represent a particular perspective. News is reported by people. And people have agendas. Even if agendas aren’t de facto slanted to present misinformation (fake news) the voice of the author finds its way into every story told.

Think about it (and this may shock some of you): the historical mentions of Jesus of Nazareth can be counted on one hand, if we don’t include those accounts written in the generations that followed, by men who had never met the guy. Does that mean he didn’t exist? That his message wasn’t important? Not in the least. But it does demonstrate my point – that much-used tautology that history is written by the victors – and that it is interpretive and interpreted by those who will use its lessons to advance an agenda of power and submission.

The truth – and we are seeing it now, here at what is likely the end of things – is that ‘history’ isn’t worth more than the paper it is written upon. That other tautology – that those who do not know it are doomed to repeat it – misses a key element: that history is nothing more than story – and that it is in those stories that we need discover what to do and what to avoid. STORY, not history, is the key to understanding humanity – and ensuring its continuance. 

Nostalgia is treacherous – since it is rarely based in real history. The ‘good old days’ may have been good for the few – but the many would legit beg to differ. ’Fake news’ is a thing. I don’t discount that. I would add a caveat though – that most of that which is ‘fake’ is being created and spread by men who are out of time. 

And what does that mean, you ask? I mean those men who know that their time is ending. The stories they’ve been telling – that have allowed and secured their ascendancy in this world – are being challenged by other experiences of history – stories that speak against things like exceptionalism, and manifest destiny, and superiority based on human-constructed lines designating us vs. them.

THEY are out of time. And they are scared. Terrified. And grasping at whatever they can to ensure survival in a world that knows they are all but extinct.

Unfortunately – for all of the rest of us – though they may be next on that same universal hit-list that took out the dinosaurs, they are the ones who control most things (unlike the dinosaurs, who had few concepts of social order and hierarchy).

They have their followers – as has always been the case – and will not release that control willingly. Out of time, they will try to take the rest of us down with them if they cannot preserve their self-created carved-out place in the social order.

Fear is the father of hatred. Hatred comes from nothing other than fear. That’s another tautology for you. These men (and the women who stand by them) have been made deathly afraid by the reality that they are out of time. And deathly fear is always deadly. Always.

If I were to self-describe that place where my passion and my interests most lie I have to acknowledge that I’m a student of apocalypses. Gnostic apocalypses, to get really specific. No longer a ‘practising’ historian, I remain a gatherer. And the stories that I’ve been gathering over the past four years are stories of apocalypse and endings.

But. The studies I’ve done in the years I’ve had at my privileged disposal have made me understand that the stories that bring us to the end times also, when well-constructed, (and this is key) describe what could come after.

We are in the end times now. We can work together, and I will participate, where I can, to help shape what comes after. 

The present is no longer tenable. Genies won’t be stuffed back into darkened bottles. We are in an age in which all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun are seeing the light of day.

“Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.” 

Stands up, that does. And we’re here, at the end, because of that disconnect between expectation and reality. Qoheleth knew what he was seeing. And what we witnessing now, at a distance of 2500 years (or thereabouts).

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What do people gain from all the toil

    at which they toil under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

    but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun goes down,

    and hurries to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south,

    and goes around to the north;

round and round goes the wind,

    and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

    but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

    there they continue to flow.

All things are wearisome;

    more than one can express;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

    or the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,

    and what has been done is what will be done;

    there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

    “See, this is new”?

It has already been,

    in the ages before us.

The people of long ago are not remembered,

    nor will there be any remembrance

of people yet to come

    by those who come after them. 

Over the weekend I had backyard visits with a couple of friends. Interestingly, both spoke about interpretations of where we are and where we might be headed. One cited the Book of Revelation (It’s a cool story and all, but I remain much more partial to Ecclesiastes, as indicated by the descent into bible study up above) – and the ways in which we might be moving toward an apocalypse of biblical proportions (and now I’m quoting Ghostbusters. Can’t say I’m not diverse in my interests and textual recall…).

I’m staying far away from commenting on the application of Revelation to contemporary realities. There are far greater voices – with lived experience and scholarly-specifications – that can speak to the beliefs of the American Evangelicals who are driving so much of the reactionary politics at this point in history (I’ll include some people to follow, below, in case you’re interested in hearing some of those voices*).

I have my own contextual interpretations of the stuff that John of Patmos came up with – and they are all about how they are sourced in and in response to, the social issues of HIS day. But I get that people are going there. There are too many people whispering in the ears of those who hold power in this world to deny the legitimacy of such connections.

The other conversation I had centred around that ever-timely and somehow ageless tune by REM. It IS the end of the world as we know it. And, depending on how it all plays out south of our border tomorrow, I MIGHT, for the first time in 4 years, feel fine.

It’s remarkable, really, the way the lyrics still resonate. Or is it? Is the fact that the song is as impactful now as it was when it was written representative of the stuff I’ve been talking about? That we have been on a trajectory toward this end since they wrote the song in 1987.

World serves its own needs
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, representing seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light

It’s been coming for a long time, now.

We can stop those who seek to hold up their interpretation of history, and plot a path for a better, more equitable and inclusive future. I’ll be watching, tomorrow. And not just because of concern for my American friends. Parts of Canada – people in Canada – have been falling for the rhetoric that enables the illusion that outdated social constructs and social constructors aren’t out of time, but that a ‘return’ to something fictive is the way to be heading.

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

And then, once progressive order is asserted, we can address the systemic overhauls that are required to collectively create the new solutions and alternative that our stories tell us we can move toward.

*If you’re interested, these two Twitter accounts are a great place to start:

@C_Stroop

@mpgPhD

35 Years Ago Today

To diverge a bit from the subject matter that has been consuming my attention lately, I feel like I have to mark an important anniversary today. Admittedly, this impulse came about when a younger work friend said, in all innocence, “what’s Live Aid,” when I brought it up in conversation.

Children.

After I turned into ancient dust and blew away on a gust of 80’s wind, I revisited some of the performances of that day through the myriad posts I was seeing that presented the individual memories of other oldsters like me.

Once upon a time Bob Geldof was a songwriter and singer in a band from Dublin.  The Boomtown Rats spent a fair chunk of a couple of decades in the ‘all time favourite’ spot on my personal list, and even today I get a little overwhelmed when I hear songs like

or

(likely their best known song – and one of the first popular songs I learned to play on the piano).  ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ was about school violence in the US, specifically a school shooting in California.  The song hit number 1 in the UK, but was denied airplay in the US as radio stations feared lawsuits and negative reaction from the religious right (interesting that those things are still major concerns – backlash from the gun lobby and the religious right – and still dictate too many things in that country).

They appeared in a fantastic ‘To Sir With Love’ spoof on SCTV:

I can remember madly searching for a blank VHS tape when it popped up on my television.  I still have the tape.

Their songs were largely ‘story songs’ – telling tales of people and places, slices of life in particular environments at particular times.  It’s interesting that they hardly seem dated or out of comprehensible context, despite the fact that they were mainly referring to characters in places like Dublin or London in the 1970’s and 19080’s.

The songs had elements of social criticism wrapped up in the lyrics – often about the lousy lot of the working class in the ‘Banana Republic’ that was Ireland at the time.  A ‘septic isle’ under the thumb of politicians, police and priests.  A place that was rapidly losing its young people to emigration – or the ongoing conflicts in the North.  It was a place that had banned the band from performances due to their outspoken critique of the nationalism, influence of the church and corrupt politicians that they felt were destroying their native land (again, the fact that this is still a thing should be concerning).

‘Banana Republic’ is a fantastic example of how social commentary can be voiced in an articulate yet entertaining manner.  Bob’s lyrics were often biting, but they demonstrated an incredibly clever mastery of language and turn of phrase.  The songs of the Rats always said something, and they said it in a tuneful, and often playful, way.

“The purple and the pinstripe mutely shake their heads

A silence shrieking volumes, a violence worse than they condemn

Stab you in the back yeah, laughing in your face

Glad to see the place again – it’s a pity nothing’s changed.’

There’s something entirely Irish about the lyrics.

In 1984 Bob saw a BBC news report about the drought and famine in Ethiopia.  Out of his horror at the images he saw came this:

He and Midge Ure wrote a song and started a movement to raise money as a response to perceived inaction on the part of world leaders to intervene in the tragedy that was unfolding in Africa.  It was the impetus for other musicians to take up the battle cry, and it brought extensive coverage to the issue.

Bob visited Ethiopia to see the extent of the tragedy for himself and realized that a large part of the reason that African nations were in such states of emergency was due to the repayments of loans to Western banks.  The song wasn’t going to be enough to even scratch the surface. Even when Americans and Canadians came up with their own songs, in response.

So he and Midge got back to work and planned and executed an unprecedented stage show that would join the world together for one day in a desperate and despairing plea for action in the face of incredible need.  By July 13, Bob was exhausted and in pain with a back injury, but his intensity over the course of the day and through the entirety of the live broadcast is palpable.

He continually reminded the audience why we were all there.  It wasn’t just the greatest rock show ever staged, there was an underlying purpose that made the trappings and egos of popular music irrelevant and ridiculous (the day that ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ was recorded he famously admonished all the participants to ‘leave egos at the door’).

The recordings from that day demonstrate just how far we’ve come – technology- and communications-wise, anyway.  These days a simple electronic money transfer in support of hurricane victims can be completed in a matter of seconds.  In 1985 there was more involved, and Bob knew that he had to drive the message home and maintain the intensity of the purpose so that people would get off  their butts and DO something to help.

It was a day of spectacle and excess (Phil Collins hopping the Concorde to play both Wembley and Philadelphia, comes to mind) – and, in addition to the incredible performances (check out Queen. Freddie held that crowd in his hands and revivified Queen in the hearts of many. The DVD highlights the contributions from other countries – INXS’s concert from Australia is still one of my favourites among their live performances), musicians found that their voices – raised together – could impact world events in a positive way.

Over the course of that day, the way we thought about popular music and its ability to affect social change was forever altered and a new standard was set.

A lot of people have done similar things since then.  They have used their celebrity in ways that benefit others (Bono started on his path to real political involvement after Live Aid) and raised money and petitioned governments on behalf of many people in need of aid and intervention.  But Bob was the first to see the worldwide possibilities that could come with the exploitation of love of music.  No one has used music and story as a means of communication as earth-shatteringly as did Sir Bob Geldof.

He has continued his charitable movements for Africa and global peace, achieving success – and his share of critics – over the subsequent decades.  His caustic straightforwardness has earned him derision and some enemies.  He can be an insufferable jerk. He has amassed a fairly vast personal fortune – and may or may not have paid taxes on some of it.  His personal life has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs and negative publicity.  He is an unlikely hero in many ways.

That said, Bob used the tools that he had to hand – his background as a songwriter/musician, his connections in the music and music journalism industries, and a seemingly endless supply of energy and passion – to start a worldwide movement that is still resonating in our popular culture.  He was recognized, at 34, with an honorary knighthood by the Queen, yet refused to sit on his laurels.  He continues to fight for social justice and reform in a number of spheres.

The Rats’ new album is really good (although its exposure has been hampered, as has the great output of so many artists, in the times as they are, right now) – and is reflective of that same drive, even after the passage of the ensuing decades.

On this, the 35th anniversary of the day that changed me – as I learned that those things I love best can help to change those things that needs changing – please remember that there are many contemporary artists who are doing their part to make manifest the lesson I learned 35 years ago today. Art, when wielded well, can do more than bring pleasure and comfort – it can change the world. Listen to what they have to say – and support them however you can.

P.S. If you didn’t get to experience it when it happened, definitely take the time to watch Live Aid in its entirety.  Over and above the significance of the day, it featured some incredible – and some never-to-be-repeated – performances.  It was truly a day of wonder. 

‘Now do education’

My post from the other day – calling for an end to the model that permits long-term care homes to be privately owned and administered by profiteering and shareholder dividends rather than care and quality of life – hit a few nerves here-and-there. Not nearly enough, in my opinion (working on expanding the reach – there will be letters and phone calls going out this weekend), but it’s a start.

In that post, I mentioned that I’m trying to focus on my particular wheelhouses as we figure out how best to move forward in this unprecedented time – and that statement led to some inquiries about education – and the obvious moves this provincial government is making toward its privatization.

I’m shuddering with anger right now.

The Minister of Education is continuing his campaign of obfuscation and hurdle-tossing as he outlines the ever-increasing nonsense that he wants us to call his ‘plan’ for the re-opening of schools come September.

I’ve been watching Cult 45 down south, and its leader (and his head of miseducation) is demanding the complete reopening of public schools. Failure to comply will lead to the full withdrawal of funding for those schools who place the health and safety of students and educators above the demands of ‘leadership’ that has demonstrated that they aren’t particularly concerned about anyone’s health and safety. Not really.

This ‘policy’ follows hard on the heels of the revelation that the US federal government’s Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) – aimed at ‘small businesses’ gave a whole lot of churches (don’t get me started on Kanye and Trump-affiliated companies…) a whole lot of money to ‘survive’ through the pandemic shut-down(s).

It is no secret that Betsy DeVos has no love of public schools. She tends to favour private schools that have greater freedom to force religious education on students. With increased public school closures, those who remain unable to access the private system(s) will be forced to resort to other options – such as homeschooling – to allow their children access to the education that should be a basic right in a civilized society.

I don’t love homeschooling for a few reasons:

  1. Homeschooling demands that one parent be in the home to provide the schooling – which is fine, provided that it is something the family can afford.
  2. Most homeschool curricula – especially those in the US – are created by Evangelical groups and are, unsurprisingly, not what would call educationally well-balanced.
  3. Even those curricula that aren’t religiously-based, tend to be created by those who live – and teach – in particular echo-chambers that permit the flourishing of ideologies that are out-of-step with those of the wider society (looking at you anti-vaxxers).

I also believe that socialization is a vital element in effective pedagogy – and exposure to different teaching styles and the wider perspectives that are present in adequately-funded public schools are the best environments to foster responsible citizens.

The situation in the States is clearly contrived to ensure that public schools are forced into closure – and opening the field for partisan education that will perpetuate the final stab at the absolute institution of conservative values that the religious right has been setting into place for the past few decades.

The goals of this provincial government are not dissimilar. As with our health care system, the privatization of the education system in Ontario is part of their agenda. We have seen it in the push to implement (pre-COVID) untested e-learning platforms (all designed in the US, BTW), the increase in class sizes, while cuts are made to Education Assistants and those who focus on learners with special needs – most obviously those children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

By forcing parents to decide to send their children back into classrooms without adequate safeguards in place or to stay home and continue the haphazard online schooling that has been the (necessary) result of the initial pandemic shut-down, puts us solidly on the same slippery slope as we are seeing in the States.

Again, as is the case with health care, Ontarians will be forced to pay to ensure access to education – one way or another. Homeschooling (even with public Board-produced curricula) again requires the presence of one parent – and the reality of this society dictates that that will be, in the main, mothers, who are forced to leave jobs due to lack of childcare/viable options for safe school.

Those who are forced to resort to all-online options – if they are not comfortable with sending their children to class – need the wherewithal for connectivity and the accoutrements that go along with online learning.

Families who can afford private schools will rush to get places in those facilities that offer, as a matter of course, smaller class sizes. Parents who can’t will have to make hard decisions about returning to work or managing the education of their children in a home-setting – often without access to home-schooling programs and curricula that aren’t produced by and for specific religions/ideologies.

It is increasingly evident that the US is a cautionary tale that the rest of the world ignores at its peril. Now that the height of the first wave of COVID is over here in Ontario, this government is reiterating its agenda to provide its corporate sponsors with opportunities to cash-in by getting in on the ground floor – or continuation – of its plans to privatize vital public programs and services.

We need to stop it before it before they can bring more of these plans to fruition – and we end up with the ideological divide that we are seeing in the States. That divide is here – there is no doubt about that – but it is not yet the gaping wound we are seeing south of the border (a border which must remain closed for the foreseeable future). I know everyone is very focused on coping and getting through the current lockdown/reopening scenarios as best they can, but it is vitally important that we actively call upon our leaders to ensure that our public programs and services – education and health care topping that list, right now – aren’t stolen out from under us as we are otherwise distracted with the realities of this time of pandemic.

Please write your representatives – at all levels of government – and let them know where you stand on the insidious creep toward the conservative-led privatization of our most valued institutions.

 

NOT for profit

In attempting to find an appropriate way in which to share my voice as more and more are raised in protest and demands for change, it can be tricky to stay in one’s lane while also acting as an ally and advocate of those with differing experiences to my own.

As such, I feel that the best way to participate is to magnify those voices who know about the things outside of my ken, while leading discussions about those things that fall into my wheelhouse/s.

So.

I’ve been trying to list out the potential positive new directions that might come out of this pandemic and the changes we will have to welcome in society as we begin to move forward to establish new norms that will protect the population AND permit it to thrive and work safely and effectively.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen cited over and over is the shift from conspicuous consumption that has been the go-to for as long as I can remember. ‘Needs’ are being redefined all over the place – and the inability to just buy for the sake of buying has been nipped in the bud. Those people we call ‘influencers’ are having a more difficult time finding an audience that has any level of ‘disposable income’, and I feel like a lot of people are thinking more carefully about what they do with their money.

This is good. Keeping up with nebulous Joneses needn’t be a thing anymore.

We are looking at all things differently as we weather the changes – and taking the time to learn about the lack of equity and equality that permeates our social systems. To my mind that’s a much better use of time than binge-shopping because a pseudo-celeb being paid to promote a particular product (and now one’s husband is running for POTUS? Save me Jebus…).

If we extend that thinking out into the public sphere, we can start to look at the ways in which our public spending must change as well. This pandemic as demonstrated the incredibly poor ways in which necessary programs and facilities are funded and operated – to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable populations in our communities.

Institutions that are run for-profit off the backs of people who require their services for survival cannot be permitted to survive the necessary rejigging of our public economies. Any services having to do with the care and keeping of human beings should not be run according to a model that ensures stakeholder profiteering.

I could cite multiple examples of this egregious practice, but the one that I can’t let go of right now needs to be addressed immediately in this province.

Long-term Care.

CanNOT. Should NOT be for the enrichment of shareholders. The institution of this model (and the refusal of subsequent governments to repeal its institution – there is more than enough blame to go around on this issues) was the first step on the slippery slope to privatized health care. DoFo’s government is insuring that the incline of that slope is getting steeper and faster.

He has repeatedly cut funding to our most vulnerable populations – the autism community, those who relied on basic income, students, citizens with developmental disabilities…

I was hopeful – if you can call any change coming out of the reality of thousands of deaths – that this faulty model and its inherent bad message would be heavily scrutinized and overturned at the earliest opportunity.

It doesn’t seem like that is happening. A few days ago he was talking about the imperative need to get to the source of corruption in the tow truck industry and ensure its complete eradication.

This cannot be allowed to stand. We know – WE KNOW – that the industry is heavily supported by Conservatives, who sit on boards that direct these things. Hardly surprising, given that the for-profit model was supported – arguably, created – by the former premier of this province whose damage is (as yet) unparalleled. He now makes well over $200 000/year sitting on the board (plus the stocks he owns in the company) of Chartwell – one of these shareholder-driven profit-generating ‘care’ home organizations.

I won’t even begin to discuss the pitiful pay that is provided to the workers in these places – often part-time (to save the shareholders having to pay out their pockets for things like benefits – including time off for illness) contracts that mean that the workers have to work in multiple locations in order to eke out a living.

The Boards of these places do not have health care specialists among their numbers. They are made up of bankers, real estate agents, investment corporations (hedge funds) – and lack seniors advocates or anyone who has any background in oversight and accountability – let alone gerontology or social work.

They describe themselves as a ‘real estate’ trust. They aren’t even trying to disguise the fact that seniors’ care is not top of their agenda.

How is this permissible? How is this a functional model that permits us, as a society, to ensure the best possible care – that permits the maintenance of privacy and dignity – for our family members as they age?

I didn’t want to live in a room with three other people when I was in university. My stint as a camp counsellor, sharing a tent for two months, ended when I was a teenager – and that sort of togetherness is not something I look forward to recreating when I’m in my 80s.

Oh these companies have great PR. Spin-people who create the glossy pamphlets that highlight the advantages of communal living for those who require additional care. Hired guns who set up photo-ops in which the underpaid staff wave to passing family members not permitted into the facility over the course of the pandemic for which they will ill-prepared. Vultures, all of them.

The prices commanded are exorbitant – and out of reach for significant portions of the population, who are then left to be claimed by the public system (such as it) which is even more under-staffed, under-funded and under-inspected under this government.

Their answer seems to be to be to permit MORE privatization in the space – without addressing the lack of oversight that led to the horrific situations in the LTC homes as the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the province.

I feel VERY strongly about this. My Dad spent much of his time in his last years working on advancing access and improvements to long-term care for older people . He would be appalled at the state of things – and would point to the abject failure of the current model that commodifies the lives of people – often those who are most vulnerable and in need of intervention.

In addition to the inherent crimes in a system that monetizes and profiteers from the care of our elders, for-profit long-term care is solid shove down that slippery slope toward privatized health care – a goal of Conservative governments across the board (check out what’s happening this week in Alberta, if you need an example).

The evident, complete and utter failure of private health care that is playing itself out to the south of us is the cautionary tale WE need to take on board. While this current government is not, right now, making progress with their mandate of privatization (in health care, anyway – education is another story – and another post) since the pandemic is slowing down the move to two-tier health care, LTC needs to be the canary in the coal mine that ensures that it is not permitted to happen.

In order to ensure the integrity of our public health care, we need to begin with the re-institution of integrity in LTC. We must deconstruct and rebuild the model so that oversight and standardization and equitable pay and quality of life are the elements of care brought into focus. Not the profit-margins of shareholders.

LTC should NOT be for-profit. Ever.

 

*I should add, here, that this blog in general, and this post in particular, in no way represents the opinion/s of my employer or anyone but me – and those who can see that people are not commodities.

 

 

 

 

Ain’t no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christianity’. Theo-idiocy? Yeah, THAT’s a thing.

Seems like all I’m doing lately is calling out the IMPOTUS for inherent ignorance and institutionally-supported nonsense. It’s a holiday down south and that guy gave another scripted (yet poorly read) speech, part of which claimed that the US is ‘proud of the fact that the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.’

Given my current job, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that I spent a fair bit of time completing a Ph.D in something wholly and completely outside of the wheelhouse in which I now toil. At times the memory comes back in a rush that can knock me back quite significantly as I rage at the popular usage of terms that have zero basis in substantive reality.

‘Judeo-Christianity’ is one of those terms. It’s an illegitimate and dismissively conflated descriptor of nothing.

But, like many illegitimate descriptors, it has a history – sourced in US politics and the development of the concept of an American civil religion that deifies things like the specific interpretations of the Constitution and the Stars and Stripes – to the exclusion of things like human rights and racial equality.

So no. Let’s not use this term at all. I do not accept – let alone embrace – the misplaced nationalism that has led to the divisive rhetoric that has exploded under the current ‘administration’.

Judaism does not exist solely as an antecedent of Christianity. I cannot say this loudly enough.  Which people would know, if they ever bothered to read the books. ALL the books. ALL of ALL of the books.

Like other artificial constructs – race is a biggie – the concept of Judeo-Christianity is a conceit that has long passed its time and putative usefulness. It is not helpful to describe any human activities in (created) terms that conflate anachronistic ideologies in service of societal statuses quo.

Yeah. Apparently that’s not a realistic expectation. My bad thinking that humanity has grown out of the need to support crimes and criminals based in archaic worldviews that illustrate de-evolution of rational thought and evidential insight.

A while back, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in the US, the rhetoric – driven, largely, by that terrorist organization that controls Congress (I’m talking about you NRA), gun ‘hobbyists’, and demagogues who will use whatever language (‘holy’ or otherwise) that serves the furtherance of their continued power-mongering – reached a new low in one particular ‘opinion’ piece I read. I was led to the link through the Twitter feed of Mikel Jollett (again, I know. But the guy is really on top on most of what is going wrong with things down south of our border. With the proliferation of nonsense out there these days, I’m grateful for the filter he provides. He’s more than an incredible singer-songwriter).

I hesitate to link the article and its reprehensible idiocy. But context is vital, so, if you wish, you can find it here: http://thefederalist.com/2017/11/06/saints-first-baptist-church-murdered-god-answering-prayers/

To summarize (TA:DR = Too abhorrent, didn’t read): the author, a Lutheran pastor, seems to think that those who were murdered at that Sunday gathering had their prayers answered when they were gunned down by a person who should never had had access to weapons of mass-destruction. Not in any society that makes claims about its progressiveness and supposed-leadership, anyway.

The publisher of the ‘news’letter responded to Mikel’s understandable disgust with a snarky comment, suggesting that a googling of ‘theodicy’ – and an understanding of Dostoevsky – was required for a real appreciation of the offensive idiocy that the pastor was spouting.

If I’m honest, I’m not a fan of (depressing) Russian writers (been there, read that, moved on), especially when they are co-opted to support some twisted Ayn Randian libertarian agenda. So I’ll leave that bit of it alone.

But you want to talk theodicy? Them’s fighting words. Bring. It.

Seriously.

I dare you.

The ways in which people have attempted to justify the unjustifiable while still positing the existence of a beneficent deity has been a significant focus of my adult life. I’m exhausted with repeated readings of the bodies of literature that seek to understand the ‘minds’ of made-up beings who claim to have governance and judgement over our lives and deaths.

This enraged me:

“When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.” 

Even copying and pasting that bit of ugliness made me retch. After decades of immersion in the texts and histories and experiential accounts that support views like this one, I cannot get beyond the repugnancy and abrogation of responsibility that is represented in the cognitive dissonance that permits such beliefs to persist, still, anywhere in this world.

Even more enraging? That people who publish platforms that permit the dissemination of such excuses for human wrong-doing do so in an age of social media saturation that permits the spreading of credulous inanity without recourse or rebuttal – at least none that is presented in more than 140 characters.

The irrevocable damage that this causes is evident in the comments section of the original article. I despair.

The narrative that is being spun in the States (and elsewhere – it’s just too in-our-collective-faces to avoid concentrating on what’s happening as that dotard is allowed, somehow, to continue his reign of ignorance) is one of a contrived and dangerous story that promulgates the spread of ideas that seek to forgive the unforgivable in the name of a unsupportable theodicy and idiocracy, both. The combination of those two things is leading us in a direction that might have no turn-off.

The events of the past months – and the on-going reality of the pandemic – have demonstrated that we CAN change the narrative. Confederate statues are coming down (don’t get me started on said statues being ‘history’. Really. Just don’t). Black Lives Matter protests and articles and brave voices are having positive, visible effects. First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada are speaking out – and demanding that engagement and action (as promised by the federal government – remember the TRC, PM Trudeau? A few years have passed since 2015) actually happens. Racists are running scared and their reactions are telling on them more-and-more (be they Karens, Kyles or otherwise).

Which isn’t to say the work is anywhere near being complete.

Max Weber saw theodicy – the justification for a ‘good’ god permitting bad things – as a social problem – a struggle with meaning. In these times – which are a-changing, regardless of those delusions held by the racist and Evangelical dinosaurs – that struggle is very much an attempt to order chaos – hence all the apocalyptic visions and promises. Right-wing religious types have no choice but to cling to their various theodicies (the prosperity gospels are one facet of the straws at which they grasp). Without them, their concept of a god of goodness vanishes – along with their perceived inherent privilege.

Although the struggle is found throughout (hello Prophets) the Hebrew Scriptures’ most obvious attempt at god-vindication is found in the Book of Job. Millennia of exegetes have discussed the theodicy of Job – and the suffering the righteous man was made to endure (as the result of challenge between god and his right-hand dude, the satan). Cole’s Coles’ Notes version? God does what he does because he does it – and us tiny humans don’t have the capacity to understand the workings of the universe or those things that are required to keep it all in order. Order, again. As far as question-and-answer literature goes, the response is a little thin IMHO (not unlike the edited version of that book by Qoheleth). “Because I said so” tends to be something resorted to when real justification can’t be sourced or explained. Regardless, the sufferings of Job – despite his goodness and obedience – are echoed in the trials of the Jews in their persecutions, exiles and disaspora. They well knew that their god was a jealous, demanding god.

Christian interpretations of  Job tend to over-emphasize his patience and obedience – skipping over the obvious frustration and anger he demonstrates in the conversations he had with his persecutor. It took a whole lot of reading of Christian exegesis for me to get a handle on how anyone could be said to have ‘the patience of Job.’ The guy didn’t strike me as particularly uncomplaining (nor should he have been). Later theologies – again, emphasizing a complete and total subjugation to the will of god – suggest Job as an OT parallel to Jesus.  The NT Epistle of James suggests that Christians should emulate the quiet perserverance of  Job as all he values is stripped from him – lands, belongings, children.

One doesn’t have to look far to hear contemporary Evangelicals echoing the emptiness of this perspective. The willfully-blind followers Cult 45 seem to have fully embraced this interpretation. Not one among them would dare to question the leader/god in his proclamations – never thinking to rage against the imposition of suffering and loss.

Admittedly, this reading of Job is a surface summary of the many papers I’ve written on the problem of evil in biblical traditions. I know my posts tend to be wordy, but even I need to draw the line somewhere. Suffice it to say that theodicy – the emphasis on the goodness of god in a world that holds evil – appears very differently in Jewish traditions than it does in Christian readings of the same Scriptures. Judeo-Christian is NOT. A. THING.

Suffice it to say, also, that Evangelical Cult 45 (‘literal’) readings of the biblical writings are used to support and suborn the actions of the current US leadership and those with vested interests in maintaining the state of affairs that continues to benefit a minority of the population.

As we change the narrative – re/learning history as it happened – we need also check our nomenclature. Theodicy has been used to justify the unjustifiable for far too long. Privilege – and the texts and traditions that support an inequitable status quo – needs examining. As do the imperatives behind the constant cries of ‘LAW AND ORDER’ by a wanna-be king who sees himself as untouchable – because he says he is – and all those who maintain the inherent justice and ‘rightness’ of his role.

#WearAMask

Virology

Something sort of weird happened yesterday. I responded to a tweet – on @Mikel_Jollett’s twitter feed. Reflecting on the the rally about to happen in Tulsa, he commented that it smacked of cultic activity – and he cited his own history having been raised in, and then escaping from an actual cult – Synanon – a story he tells in his recently-released novel Hollywood Park (check it out if you want a heart-rending read – and add to the experience by reading the book while listening to the accompanying album of the same name by The Airborne Toxic Event).

He said:

I’ve spent a lot of my life studying cults. I was born in one, we escaped when I was very young. We witnessed mass denial, magical thinking, abuse, violence. And I just want to say for the record there is a cult gathering happening in Tulsa today.

This is a screenshot of my reply and his response:

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 12.44.36 PM

In addition to being a remarkable writer – of songs and articles and, now, his first memoir – Mikel shares his strong voice with his many followers on twitter. My comment –  referencing my days in academia, has now been seen by closing in on 100 000 people – and liked more than 2300 times.

I know that those numbers aren’t particularly high in the relative scheme of the social media world/s, but in my little corner of twitter, with my 300-some followers it’s a pretty significant jump in the number of interactions I usually get.

But this isn’t about my 15-minutes of (relative) fame in the twitterverse. A couple of things have come out of some reflection on the response to an observatory tweet drawn from my experience and research in that former academic life.

I touched on the subject of cults and charismatic leaders a couple of posts ago. Cults come from the same place that births apocalyptic thinking.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better scenario to come at some future date – if things are fulfilled as prescribed.

In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.

Cults gather followings out of this same feeling of social anomie – and the same promises made that are found in historical apocalypses. A charismatic leader plays upon the discontent and disconnect of people and promises better things as long as they follow and obey.

The demands of the leaders don’t start off as extreme. Most humans do not seek out opportunities to do harm and violence. Soon though, the blind allegiance that is demanded escalates until abuse (of self and others) and violence become ‘reasonable’ if such things will permit the restoration of rightful place in a society that has rejected them.

Many of Trump’s followers feel threatened by a progressive move away from the guarantee of their privilege based in the colour of their skin. He is a figurehead who promises a return to the days in which they held their ‘rightful place.’

Some who cling to the idea of the feasibility of the current GOP are simply protecting their own interests – ensuring that their wealth remains untaxed, and their investments in health care for-profit, private education for-profit and fossil fuels (obvs for-profit), to name a few examples, are unthreatened. (And also that their places of worship don’t have to pay taxes – and can exert as much influence over politicians-for-sale as possible, despite what Jefferson had to say about ‘separation between Church and State’ and mis/interpretations of that First Amendment thing – which is taking a beating these days. But that’s a rant for another day).

But many of the followers of Trump’s messaging and movement are just trying to fit somewhere in a world which is leaving them behind. This messaging and movement are destined to fail – they just aren’t tenable. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, too many bells have been rung to permit any real unringing. It doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the path to social change will be easy in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but I’m really starting to believe that this backslide movement is running on fumes.

Trump’s Tulsa rally, which, as we know today, was incredibly poorly attended – despite early reports of 100s of thousands of tickets having been purchased (bravo all you young folk who bought tickets with no intention of attending) – smacks of the last gasps of desperate people. After 3 1/2 years his followers aren’t, actually, seeing a reversion back to their perceived golden age when they lived high off the hog. Or were, at least, ‘better’ than those Black folks over on the other side of town.

Despite the Jones-esque attempt to lead thousands to death-by-COVID-infection, the fact that the turnout to what was supposed to be the reopening of the campaign to continue the cult was so sad and pathetic makes me feel that even the cultists are starting to get it. That guy is all about that guy. Not the little guy. No matter what the propaganda says.

The other thing that offers a bit of hope in these exhausting times is that for all the views and likes on my viral-ish comment of yesterday, there were only a handful that were violent and hateful in nature. And those few that were got handled quickly and comprehensively by others in the threads – I did not have to feed many trolls at all. I muted a few – and reported a couple of obvious bots, but for the most part the discussions were polite and, seemingly, legitimately interested.

There were also some positive interactions – and sincere questions – that are making me think that people out there are doing more than just reacting. I had a brief discussion with a woman whose bio says she is a former Senator – a former GOP Senator – who wanted to know how to ‘deprogram’ these followers once a new government is installed after next November. She was gracious and respectful in her questions and responses.

Unfortunately ‘deprogramming’ isn’t a thing. And there will be no quick fix. This is going to require generational change, based in equitable access to education that teaches actual history – not the narrative that most were raised to believe. Willful, selfish ignorance has been the norm for too long.

The narrative that has been shared in public school curricula has significant gaps in information that is required for people to think independently and critically. They can’t do so with a redacted history. We need to ensure that those who set the curricula don’t get to leave out the bits that make them personally uncomfortable – things like genocide, and systemic anti-Black racism. We need to emphasize the reality that both race and religion are human-created constructs – and, as such, can and should be deconstructed.

The Wikipedia says ‘virology’ is the study of viruses – particularly their “structure, classification and evolution, their ways to infect and exploit host cells for reproduction, their interaction with host organism physiology and immunity, the diseases they cause, the techniques to isolate and culture them, and their use in research and therapy.”

Cults and viruses share a lot of characteristics – which makes right now a particularly appropriate time to examine the structures, classifications, evolution, exploitation and interactions of both. Doing so will help us see through to the other side of both this pandemic and the cultic subversion of humanistic values that promote progress and equity.

Rooting out and overcoming disease takes time and investment – and listening to those who are experts at isolating the causes of infection and using the findings to produce the therapies needed to overcome the virus. I’m optimistic – cautiously, but optimistic nonetheless – that we are beginning to have the conversations and take in the in-and output of those who are expert and experienced in the ways to affect significant and positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virology

Something sort of weird happened yesterday. I responded to a tweet – on @Mikel_Jollett’s twitter feed. Reflecting on the the rally about to happen in Tulsa, he commented that it smacked of cultic activity – and he cited his own history having been raised in, and then escaping from an actual cult – Synanon – a story he tells in his recently-released novel Hollywood Park (check it out if you want a heart-rending read – and add to the experience by reading the book while listening to the accompanying album of the same name by The Airborne Toxic Event).

He said:

I’ve spent a lot of my life studying cults. I was born in one, we escaped when I was very young. We witnessed mass denial, magical thinking, abuse, violence. And I just want to say for the record there is a cult gathering happening in Tulsa today.

This is a screenshot of my reply and his response:

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In addition to being a remarkable writer – of songs and articles and, now, his first memoir – Mikel shares his strong voice with his many followers on twitter. My comment –  referencing my days in academia, has now been seen by closing in on 100 000 people – and liked more than 2300 times.

I know that those numbers aren’t particularly high in the relative scheme of the social media world/s, but in my little corner of twitter, with my 300-some followers it’s a pretty significant jump in the number of interactions I usually get.

But this isn’t about my 15-minutes of (relative) fame in the twitterverse. A couple of things have come out of some reflection on the response to an observatory tweet drawn from my experience and research in that former academic life.

I touched on the subject of cults and charismatic leaders a couple of posts ago. Cults come from the same place that births apocalyptic thinking.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better scenario to come at some future date – if things are fulfilled as prescribed.

In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.

Cults gather followings out of this same feeling of social anomie – and the same promises made that are found in historical apocalypses. A charismatic leader plays upon the discontent and disconnect of people and promises better things as long as they follow and obey.

The demands of the leaders don’t start off as extreme. Most humans do not seek out opportunities to do harm and violence. Soon though, the blind allegiance that is demanded escalates until abuse (of self and others) and violence become ‘reasonable’ if such things will permit the restoration of rightful place in a society that has rejected them.

Many of Trump’s followers feel threatened by a progressive move away from the guarantee of their privilege based in the colour of their skin. He is a figurehead who promises a return to the days in which they held their ‘rightful place.’

Some who cling to the idea of the feasibility of the current GOP are simply protecting their own interests – ensuring that their wealth remains untaxed, and their investments in health care for-profit, private education for-profit and fossil fuels (obvs for-profit), to name a few examples, are unthreatened. (And also that their places of worship don’t have to pay taxes – and can exert as much influence over politicians-for-sale as possible, despite what Jefferson had to say about ‘separation between Church and State’ and mis/interpretations of that First Amendment thing – which is taking a beating these days. But that’s a rant for another day).

But many of the followers of Trump’s messaging and movement are just trying to fit somewhere in a world which is leaving them behind. This messaging and movement are destined to fail – they just aren’t tenable. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, too many bells have been rung to permit any real unringing. It doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the path to social change will be easy in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but I’m really starting to believe that this backslide movement is running on fumes.

Trump’s Tulsa rally, which, as we know today, was incredibly poorly attended – despite early reports of 100s of thousands of tickets having been purchased (bravo all you young folk who bought tickets with no intention of attending) – smacks of the last gasps of desperate people. After 3 1/2 years his followers aren’t, actually, seeing a reversion back to their perceived golden age when they lived high off the hog. Or were, at least, ‘better’ than those Black folks over on the other side of town.

Despite the Jones-esque attempt to lead thousands to death-by-COVID-infection, the fact that the turnout to what was supposed to be the reopening of the campaign to continue the cult was so sad and pathetic makes me feel that even the cultists are starting to get it. That guy is all about that guy. Not the little guy. No matter what the propaganda says.

The other thing that offers a bit of hope in these exhausting times is that for all the views and likes on my viral-ish comment of yesterday, there were only a handful that were violent and hateful in nature. And those few that were got handled quickly and comprehensively by others in the threads – I did not have to feed many trolls at all. I muted a few – and reported a couple of obvious bots, but for the most part the discussions were polite and, seemingly, legitimately interested.

There were also some positive interactions – and sincere questions – that are making me think that people out there are doing more than just reacting. I had a brief discussion with a woman whose bio says she is a former Senator – a former GOP Senator – who wanted to know how to ‘deprogram’ these followers once a new government is installed after next November. She was gracious and respectful in her questions and responses.

Unfortunately ‘deprogramming’ isn’t a thing. And there will be no quick fix. This is going to require generational change, based in equitable access to education that teaches actual history – not the narrative that most were raised to believe. Willful, selfish ignorance has been the norm for too long.

The narrative that has been shared in public school curricula has significant gaps in information that is required for people to think independently and critically. They can’t do so with a redacted history. We need to ensure that those who set the curricula don’t get to leave out the bits that make them personally uncomfortable – things like genocide, and systemic anti-Black racism. We need to emphasize the reality that both race and religion are human-created constructs – and, as such, can and should be deconstructed.

The Wikipedia says ‘virology’ is the study of viruses – particularly their “structure, classification and evolution, their ways to infect and exploit host cells for reproduction, their interaction with host organism physiology and immunity, the diseases they cause, the techniques to isolate and culture them, and their use in research and therapy.”

Cults and viruses share a lot of characteristics – which makes right now a particularly appropriate time to examine the structures, classifications, evolution, exploitation and interactions of both. Doing so will help us see through to the other side of both this pandemic and the cultic subversion of humanistic values that promote progress and equity.

Rooting out and overcoming disease takes time and investment – and listening to those who are experts at isolating the causes of infection and using the findings to produce the therapies needed to overcome the virus. I’m optimistic – cautiously, but optimistic nonetheless – that we are beginning to have the conversations and take in the in-and output of those who are expert and experienced in the ways to affect significant and positive change.