Rehumanizing

Image result for dehumanize

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go

-The Killers

As one of my favourite troubadors/political commentators tweeted today (check him out on Twitter if you want some keen reflections on WTF is happening in the Bizarro World @Mikel_Jollett), “the idea that your political rivals are inhuman is the core idea of Nazism.” Responding to a criticism of that assertion, he also noted that “fascism is a PROCESS. Dehumanization of rivals is a step in that process. By the way, ignoring the SIGNS of fascism is also part of (the) process.”

Mikel Jollett (I’ve talked about him before. He wrote the single best song about regret ever. In all of history. You think I’m exaggerating, but listen to it and try to tell me otherwise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPoMjR6-Ao) was referencing the situation that is unfolding south of the border – specifically, on this occasion, the ignorant rantings of the son of the IMPOTUS, who suggested that those who stand in critical opposition to his father ‘aren’t even people’.

Yeah no.

So it seems that, once again, I must call attention to the myriad dystopia-creating patterns underlying the election of that guy to the highest office in the land (and to the former leadership of the Free World – I say ‘former’ since it was made clear-as-crystal, after his recent European holiday, that no one outside the US regards him as fit to lead anything at all), epitomized in that insidious little ‘Again’ that follows ‘Make America Great’.

That one word advocates for a return to something that those of us who know anything about history know wasn’t, in fact, the best of times – as such things can be determined by any sort of measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. Yet the perpetuation of such idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar now sitting in the IMPOTUS’ office.

Leaders like Trump (and Hitler) are allowed to rise to power because they legitimize ideologies that are ugly – and promotional of a group psychology that encourages complicity to ever-larger atrocity – by beginning with a mandate that reactionary simpletons can get behind. Trump’s uneducated (or self-serving) masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a gilded time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ types of people.

Essentially, the social identities of those who voted for him have been shaken by progressive movements advocating crazy things like social justice, equality and equity.

Othering is nothing new. I talk about it a lot (seriously. There are a lot of posts here in the wide world of colemining that deal with Us vs. Them, scapegoating, the personification of Inhuman Evil … I think I’m stuck on a theme). It is the basis of all institutionalized Western religions (and some that aren’t so institutionalized). It is the justification for the enslavement of those who are not identified – in a specific temporal or geographic context – as ‘one of us’. It is the manifestation of a pattern of dichotomy and polarization that permits the rise of fear-mongers and seekers of illicit power.

It is representative of a continuing trajectory of the legitimation of hatred.

I’m an historian. I know too much about that level of complacent culpability and othering, and the acceptance and/or dismissal of the banal wrongness that comes along with it.

Entire communities of people are still being told that they are less than – because of the colour of their skin, the place they left in search of a safer/better life, their gender, their sexual identity or orientation, or the fairy tale deity in which they choose to believe (in a country that, supposedly, trumpets the separation of Church and State).

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place in time is the mis-remembrance of history. The ‘Again’ word, as part of the IMPOTUS’ sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. It helped to create the false narrative that he presented throughout his campaign and persists in dictating now that he is in office.

Coincident to the mess that is unfolding in the US, I’m dealing, currently, with a situation that represents that whole inter-connectedness thing that I go on-and-on about. It’s kind of Platonic – ‘as above, so below’ – or representative of a demonstration of the whole micro-macro paradigm.  People in my little workaday world are being taken for granted and stretched to ever-increasing limits by unreasonable expectations driven by something that the higher-ups keep calling ‘resourcing issues’.

I hate what is happening for many reasons; there is a lot going wrong. But the key thing that is sticking in my craw today is the use of the term ‘resource’ to describe actual human beings. Commoditizing people is wrong on manymany levels (see above, especially that whole bit about enslavement). But, at its worst – in this context, anyway – it reduces inherent value and person-ness in support of fiscal/economic expediency/excuse-making.

Yet, for some reason that continues to escape me, this is common parlance in the world of so-called ‘human resourcing’. Humans, while resourceful, are not resources. They are people.

As of today, I am refusing its use and testing more acceptable alternatives. At the moment I’m going with ‘under-peopling’, as in, ‘a decline in the quality of the stakeholder engagement is a direct result of a continuing trend toward under-peopling.” We’ll see how that goes over.

The process of dehuminzation remains a surreptitious go-to that permits the villainization/dismissal/subjugation/murder of other people. We accept it, unthinkingly, in certain contexts – like the one at my day job. We have a human tendency to call people names that serve to keep separate those we perceive to be different from us, or to express displeasure at the thoughts/words/deeds of someone else.

I have a tendency to call the IMPOTUS by anything other than his name (since he loves that name so much, I take perverse pleasure in not contributing to any further development of his brand) but I do not deny his humanity when I do so. In fact, I frequently point to him as an exemplar of humanity. An exemplar of the worst of humanity, but still people.

Tomorrow should see the beginning of the end of this most recent failed experiment in regression and anachronism. Whatever comes out of the US Senate hearings (let’s hear it for impending impeachment!), we have to acknowledge that words matter. Engendered violence has no place in evolved society, and history has demonstrated, too many times to count, that dehumanization is, by definition, discriminatory, and the first step on the path to institutionalized injustice and genocide.

Time to start watching our language. And the ideologies that drive it.

 P.S. If you’re in need of some music therapy after Comey’s testimony, have a listen to The Airborne Toxic Event’s album ‘Songs of God and Whiskey. It’s wonderful.

‘Where were you hiding?’

I’m almost out of words. I hope it’s a temporary condition. I’ve been fighting some sort of infection for the past few weeks that seems to be mirroring the infection that is affecting all of us right now. It ebbs, somewhat – and we catch our collective breath and get back to watching award shows and football games – and then the flow of hatred and insidious lies returns in force, set upon the deconstruction of advances that we, as humanity, have made – at great cost, in almost all cases. Progressive change isn’t easy, is it? History (and CSNY) tells us that freedom comes at the cost of sacrifice. I feel like there are too many people out there right now who don’t seem aware of that demonstrable fact.

My persistent illness – like the one plaguing us all – is making it difficult to be constructive (definition: serving a useful purpose, tending to build up). Not that any analysis of the things that are happening at the behest of the IMPOTUS and his cadre of ill-educated and self-serving cronies is likely to fall into the category of constructive criticism. That would require finding something of salvageable value in the acts which they have undertaken in the past 10 days. There is none. None.

I have been trying to put together my own next steps. Words – ever my usual go-to, the vehicle of my voice (such as it is) – aren’t cutting it.

In response to the act of terror that happened yesterday in one of my favourite cities (an act that came on the heels of a Presidential act of terror that impacted our southern neighbours – like us, an immigrant-built nation), the Mayor of New York (with best intentions) reiterated that post-9/11 mantra: ‘If you see something, say something.’

There’s too much to see and I’m all out of things to say right now.

That might be the fever talking. And I’m sure the anxiety attacks that accompany the constant coughing and shortness of breath are being fueled, at least in part, by the fact that I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since some time back in November.

I am feeling like a broken record, though. Emphasis on the ‘broken’. Especially when I see posts by apologists – or those trying to justify and salve the feelings of those who leap to defend their choice of candidate. Even now.

I’m part of a Facebook group that does a fair bit of talking about women supporting women. Most of the time it does a pretty good job. It has certainly opened my eyes to some of the realities out there that differ, drastically, from my own. It’s been a good tool – helping to take me out of my ‘bubble’ – you know, the one we all create around ourselves that supports our every utterance and sense of personally-held rightness.

But there’s a hesitancy to call out those in the group who voted for the IMPOTUS – ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ and all that rot. Nope. You don’t get to justify having voted for that guy based on one of any number of fallacies. There is no justification. If your education and experience failed you so greatly that you truly believe he was the only option? If your individual self-interest overrides the rights and freedoms of entire populations and the betterment of society as a whole? We have nothing to talk about.

I’m a teacher, by nature and by training, but I’m all-too-well aware that you can’t fix stupid when it runs that deep.

I also have a number of American friends and acquaintances – to whom I’ve expressed my empathy and solidarity. But I’ve also stated that if they want to hang out with me anytime soon, they’ll have to head north to do so. I won’t be spending any money south of that border for the foreseeable future.

One person I know commented that avoiding the US allows ‘him’ to win. I disagree. It is one way among many that I can manifest the choice that I have made to oppose this man and his mouthpieces in all that they seek to accomplish. I refuse to normalize anything about his policies, decisions, words or actions. Visiting the US as if nothing was out of the ordinary? Not happening.

Besides. It’s our 150th Birthday. Lots to do around these parts this year as we both celebrate and reflect on what that century-and-a-half has brought – to those of us lucky enough to live here, and to the world as a whole. We’ve got our own work to do, if we want repair the inequities of our shared past and to prevent a similar uprising of nativistic and racist hatred that is incongruous with the Canadian values I know and love.

I’m no good to anyone at the moment – not feeling as lousy as I do. Once this bug is out of my system, though… I’ll get back to work. The immediate and total reclamation of facts and truths and history are the necessary bulwarks of the moral courage that is required to re-balance the world. Sometimes old tools are the best. Soundbites (as we’ve seen) are overrated (and often misspelled. Looking at you, Twitler-in-Chief). Time to get serious and force the dialogue forward.

Until then, a little bit of The Alarm – as prescient as they were in 1984 (they were talking about Margaret Thatcher, of course. Somehow, even the Iron Lady seems a walk in the park, comparatively). Mike Peters et al knew a thing or two about writing songs of freedom and protest. Let them stand, for the moment, as a placeholder for more to come.

After all time building up
Comes inevitable knocking down (one by one)
Comes receivers, liars, gamblers,
Pickpocket entourage (two by two)
Selling out is a cardinal sin
Sinning with a safety net
They say all things come in threes (three by three)
Here comes the third degree

Where were you hiding?
When the storm broke
When the rain began to fall
When the thunder and the lightning struck
And the rain and the four winds did howl

All cards are marked
All fates will collide
The truth is the truth
Or the truth is surely a lie
Get back in your shelter
If you can’t come down off the fence
And one more question
Where were you?

Where were you hiding?
When the storm broke
When the rain began to fall
When the thunder and the lightning struck
And the rain and the four winds did howl

There aren’t many places left to hide. As my mind screams for those unable to join family, or find the refuge from war and persecution that they’ve sought for months or years, my heart cries for the friends and families of the members of my Canadian family who lost loved ones as they joined together in community and peace last night.

Artificially constructed lines and designations and systems of belief cannot override our humanity any longer. Motivated self-interest and selfishness, touted as the birthright of a mythical American Dream, cannot be the legacy we leave those who come after us.

So for those who yet support the IMPOTUS, some advice (speaking into the void, though I am. Can’t say I didn’t try…): Best rethink the solidity and reliability of demagoguery as a facade behind which to hide. People who seek to lead for reasons of self-interest, who rely upon the twin ideological pillars of fear and discontent, are not, historically, the most stalwart of defenders.

 

 

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

Image result for poppy lest we forget

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 light of day, and that awareness isn’t getting any easier to handle.

Back in March I wrote this: https://colemining.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/no/. Even though it was not my circus, so the behaviour of its clowns shouldn’t have concerned me all that much, after too many months of nativistic, misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric I HAD to say something.

See, we went through a similar thing – on a much smaller scale – in my hometown too recently for comfort.

8 months ago I said:

Supporters of the ideology that drives the inflammatory rhetoric of people like Trump (and most of the other GOP contenders, for that matter) are the both the products and symptoms of a system that discourages progressive development and critical thinking.

THIS is what happens when you cut funding to education programs (especially those in the Humanities), while advertising a faulty ‘dream’ predicated on the drive to acquire meaningless stuff, while squandering individual benefits, without thought to the larger community.

THIS is what happens when history is treated as little more than a footnote in a perspective that is, increasingly, deemed ‘academic’ and, therefore, unimportant.

Imagine my surprise when my warnings about that particular path went unheeded and the world ended up with the distressing reality that the demagogue in question will be the 45th President of the United States of America.

What little history that most of us are taught is quickly forgotten once the test is passed, or the class dropped. Its relevance is under-emphasized to an almost-pathological degree. The idea that ‘what’s done is done’ is insidious in its ubiquity.

That attitude pains the entirety of my being. I’m an historian. The irrational and irresponsible ignorance of history is a fundamental concern that I have tried to address many times over the years here in my little WordPress world.

That fundamental concern – driven by the colossal failure of education and critical thinking skills-training – when combined with the ‘get over it’ rhetoric that I’m hearing all over the place this week has turned into something of an existential crisis for me.

Again, I get that I’m not a US citizen. Despite what some might think, I had no real horse in this race. There was one horse’s ass about whom I spoke quite vociferously and at length, when given an opening to do so, sure. That said, I did not want to see HRC ascend to the Presidency because she is a woman. Someone I work with suggested that that is the case as he was baiting me yesterday. I did leap to defend her record of public service when that was called into question by those who get the totality of their political insights from places like Fox ‘News’, but that defence was, and remains, sourced in an examination of her public history – drawn from evidence from multiple and varied sources.

Would it have been historically of note had she become the first female POTUS? Of course. And it would have demonstrated a necessary evolution in a milieu that has already been shaken up with the impressive eight-year tenure of an outstanding statesman and leader, who happens to be a person of colour.

Fortunately, we live in times that have seen women achieve positions of power and responsibility the world over (check out Ms. Merkel’s wonderful first message to the new President-elect, if you need a recent example). That the US is ridiculously behind the curve in this, isn’t of foremost concern to me. Not when you look at all the other things that were at stake in this particular election cycle.

Although I did, I admit, come close to throwing something when my colleague offered that dismissive suggestion, the unfortunate reality is that I’m used to that sort of nonsense. I’ve learned to roll with the punches as they are dealt from a place of that sort of latent-yet-apparent sexism. I spent a pretty big chunk of my adult life as a female academic in a male-dominated discipline. Been there, bought that t-shirt.

I don’t like it, I rail against it, but it’s just one of my life’s intersections, and I can hold my own in that particular sphere. I can work toward pay equity. I can emphasize the importance of participation in a modern-day feminism that acknowledges and welcomes all sorts of intersectionality. I can shout into the wilderness where those who are privileged enough to be okay with the status quo choose to live.

I haven’t been doing enough of those things lately. I was complacent in my certainty that the population of the United States was reasonable and rational enough to see the GOP nominee for what he is.

I was wrong. I watched with horror and disbelief as the results rolled in.

Pretty much all I’ve done over the past couple of days is read stuff. The accusations and apologetics and ‘suck it ups’ are pretty indicative of how we got here.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and lots of people willing to stand up and shout J’accuse! Whether or not they’d bothered to stand up and shout at any time before Tuesday night.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders are screaming about the ‘DNC machine’ – you know, the one that promised HRC the candidacy post-Obama – as they justify their protest votes for ridiculous and unviable third-party candidates. Or the fact that they didn’t vote at all.

While we’re desperately searching for scapegoats and denying our own varied roles in this outcome, it has to be said that the media is going to have to seriously check itself in the aftermath of having wrecked itself. Trump is, in large part, a creature of their willingness to abandon journalistic integrity in favour of ratings and advertising dollars. But that blame needs to be shared with a general population that is more interested in infotainment than in critical news reporting and legitimate, even-handed political analysis (I’m not talking about the proliferate paid pundits. Real political analysts).

Then there are the voters who insist that they aren’t racists/bigots/misogynists/xenophobes/unconscionably ignorant. They were just trying to take down the establishment that wasn’t working for them. Because jobs. Or ‘disenfranchisement’. Cry me a river of relativity, white folks. (Interestingly, they didn’t seem as concerned about changing the make-up of the House – that institution that consistency stalled progress during the last Administration. Not sure what that’s about…). As much as such people may assert that they don’t subscribe to the hatred that has been role-modeled as of Tuesday, they have clearly communicated the reality that their concerns about their achievement of their interpretation of the American Dream are more important than the basic human rights of their neighbours and fellow-citizens. Material concerns have trumped (how weird is it to use that word, now? We’re going to have a to create a new term that isn’t caught up in the negative baggage of its new associations) those of decency, equality, fairness… the list goes on and on.

In addition to all the assignments of culpability for the outcome, we are being told how we should feel. A lot of people are invalidating feelings of fear and alienation with insipid and insulting cliches like ‘the people have spoken’.

Know what? Don’t tell me how to feel. My opinions about this whole debacle are coming from a place of knowledge and understanding of history and its disasters. They are not hysterical and womanish (words we should probably get used to hearing again in this new reality) rantings that over-exaggerate the danger we, as collective humanity, have exacerbated with this insanity.

And, most definitely, don’t go telling those who feel directly threatened with imminent violence and further displacement in society that they are wrong to feel significantly concerned about the future – or the present, for that matter. In this situation, fear is the most reasonable and rational reaction to the hatred espoused and disseminated by the President-elect.

Think the danger isn’t real? Have a look at any news feed out there right now. The anecdotal indicators are coming in fast and strong, sure to be supported by statistical analyses once the pollsters regroup and opt to make that sort of reporting their new raison d’être.

Apologists might try to tell you that they don’t think he really means those things he says and does. And you know what? Maybe he doesn’t. Sure, the hatred and pandering to the lowest of the low of the commonest of denominators may just be all about expedient rhetoric, designed to shake up a system that, to be sure, needs overhauling (I will never understand the unnecessary complexities and inequities of the US system of election. Super Pacs? Popular vote vs. Electoral College??? W.T.F?). I don’t, personally, buy any of that, but then I’m one of the leftist elite, so that’s hardly surprising.

But his sincerity or lack thereof is not the totality of the problem. This election has validated hatred in a manner that is historical in its infamy. Anachronistic idea(l)s, hidden by a thin semblance of civility have been exposed in all their hideous shame. A putative war on ‘political correctness’ has permitted free reign for those who ‘tell it like it is’ – as they advocate for blatant, sanctioned returns to that fictional period in history when ‘America was great’.

What do we do with all those people who either bought into his pandering propaganda whole cloth (those who maintain that ‘he says the things I’m thinking’), or those who continue to deny that he is likely to really do all those things he said he was going to do? Or that he has actually done all the things he is accused of having done?

I don’t know. I truly don’t. I have a few people in my life (although the number is decreasing. I don’t have the time/energy/heart to debate irrationality these days) who refuse to read or attempt to understand opposing views. Intellectual laziness encourages things like cognitive dissonance and an extremity of complacency that permits soundbites and unsubstantiated statistics to drive opinions and decision-making processes.

This US election has demonstrated the disturbing prevalence of confirmation bias – and its sub-species: the halo- and horns-effect. Haters of HRC were supported in this opinion by everyone from the alt-right media to the FBI. They were likewise presented with myriad opportunities to see Trump as the saviour they require – the halo-effect permitting them to disregard any less-than-savoury aspects of the hero’s character.

As I said earlier, this is symptomatic of that which is driving my personal crisis in all of this noise. In addition to my fear for my fellow humans (that fear extends to a whole lot of people, but I’ll call out PoC, the LGBTQ+ community, and women), I despair at the failure of education that has made this debacle possible. Lack of understanding of the importance of context and the inability to think critically – when presented with more than one source/perspective of information – creates a culture in which the perfect storm of cognitive biases are permitted to flourish.

In the scientific world (a world that the President-elect doesn’t seem to acknowledge. ‘No such thing as climate change’, my ass), bias represents a systemic error.

We have just seen the end result of a systemic error that has been developing for far too long. We have to change the paradigm of this dialogue. After months of debates (and can we even call those things ‘debates’? None of them looked like any of the debates – with their rules of conduct and fair play – that I attended or in which I participated in High School) we need to approach this new reality with a different type of dialectic.

We know what is wrong. Partisan divisiveness is not going to mend any fences (and, since I live too close for comfort to the US, I reallyreally hold to be true what some American poet had to say about fences and neighbours). We seem to be coming at our communication problems from frames of reference that are incompatible in every conceivable way.

Those of us who still believe that education and openness and critical examination of situations and circumstances, alongside a knowledge of the history that has brought us – for better or for worse (right now it’s leaning heavily to the ‘worse’ side of things) – to this place in time, need to lead the change. And we need to do it loudly.

A lot more people are more afraid than ever (certainly more afraid than they were on Monday) to raise voices of dissent against ignorance and newly-validated systems of racism and sexism. Trump is okay with that. He has no problem with the thought of ruling by fear. Bullies love the rush that accompanies intimidation and misuse of power imbalance.

I’m not about to lose my access to health care, or the ability to control my own body and its reproductive functions. I’m very fortunate in that. My country may struggle with some pendulum-shifts from time-to-time, but I’m pretty confident (although never again will I be complacent – keeping my eye on that Kellie Leitch idiot, the one who thinks we need some more Trump-like stuff hereabouts. She will NOT be leader of the Conservative Party, let alone anything more. Not on my watch), that our current trajectory is one of progressive development and momentum.

The disaster across the border does threaten my way – and view – of life in significant ways, even if the repercussions might be less-direct than those that will begin to feel the effects down south as soon as the President-elect becomes POTUS. My Twitter feed indicates that the repercussions are ramping up in real time already.

The perceived right to assault – physically, emotionally, verbally, or otherwise – other humans has been validated through the choices that an all-too-significant portion of the electorate made (don’t even get me started on the fact that so freakin’ many white women voted for him. I can’t start to address that salient point now- this post is unwieldy as it is).

Children – all over the world – are afraid. They have been told that they, or their friends, or their family, are ‘other’ – and that they will be dealt with in ways that run counter to the ideas that most people had about what the United States, historically, claims to stand for.

Entire communities of people have been told that they are less than – because of the colour of their skin, the place they left in search of a promised better life, their gender, their sexual identity or orientation, or the fairy tale deity in which they choose to believe (in a country that, supposedly, trumpets the separation of Church and State).

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place is the mis-remembrance of history. The whole ‘again’ word, as part of Trump’s sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. And the false narrative that he has presented throughout the election period diminishes the progress that we have made.

At times of crisis, it may seem as though we haven’t done so well with the whole progress-thing. As an historian – one who studies history going back significantly farther than the institution of a New World that includes both my home and native land and that of our southern neighbours – I know that we have come a long way. And I also know that there have been periods in which we have backslid. When it seemed as though civilization’s crash would be irrecoverable (they didn’t call them the ‘Dark Ages’ for nothing).

We humans are pretty adaptable – recent events and decisions notwithstanding. And we also tend to be hopeful. We are, none of us, perfect. Our friends in the UK demonstrated a comparable struggle with some of the same issues as they made their own colossally bad decision. And us Canadians are not immune, either. We have a likely-proportional number of citizens who stand behind the ugliness that won the day in the US this week (the posters, encouraging support of the alt-right, that went up in my neighbourhood the other day are a distressing example).

We can do better. Those of us who know, who remember the lessons of history, need to ensure that the messages of the sacrifices and hard-won enlightenment aren’t lost to intellectual indolence. I hope, among other things, that we’re about to see the return, in force, of protest songs (how timely that Mr. Zimmerman is the newly-minted Nobel Laureate in Literature).

As we take time to reflect on those we have lost, in the name of freedom and equality and shared values, those remembrances can help bring us together in our common experience of mourning and deep appreciation for those who did the work and paid heavy costs for the betterment of future generations. We need to recall the lessons of generations past – and hold our leaders to the promise of positive progression that our collective history demonstrates.

Disregarding, dismissing and downplaying the realities of history have led us into another dark place. On today, of all days, set aside some time to remember – or learn, if you’ve never taken the time to do so before – just what this day is all about. That is where we will find the light – and the strength to move into a period of recovery or rebuilding or even revolution – if that was is required to continue our progressive, human evolution.

Daylight again
Following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago
How my fathers bled

I think I see a valley
Covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older
Been asking after you

Hear the past a’ calling
From Armageddon’s side
When everyone’s talking and no one is listening
How can we decide?

Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down

(Stephen Stills)

Some of us haven’t forgotten the past and its messages, its glories, and its misfortunes.

I remember. Je me souviens. 

To all those who have served the good and won those freedoms we value, thank you.

Increasing the Nones

Since I’ve been short on time and ideas and motivation to engage in the insanity of the world lately, I decided to peruse the drafts folder to see if there might be anything in there that could be polished enough that I’d be okay with it seeing the light of day.

In the course of my usual early morning reading (internet-driven though it may be) I kept coming back to articles about a white, American-born terrorist shooting up a women’s health clinic in which the media/government refused to use the appropriate terminology to describe the act- and the actor. Terror is terror is terror. And terrorists know no colour, nor any one specific, ridiculous and inhuman(e) ideology.

The fact that most of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President of those United States have been unwilling to remotely acknowledge their complicity in this act of terror- what with the recent Anti-Planned Parenthood propaganda campaigns that they have waged- makes me want to bite something. (If you haven’t seen it already, check out Valerie Tarico’s great post about stochastic terrorism).

And then it happened again, today. Another mass shooting in that place that insists on clinging to its might-as-well-be-religious fervor regarding its ‘right’ to have guns. And already we’re being hit with the early talk about ‘mental illness’ rather than acts of terror.

So when I came across this post in the folder, I figured what the hell. Let’s have another chat about putting away all the childish things that accompany blind adherence to misunderstood and misquoted Bronze Age stories and social pre/proscriptions for living. It mightn’t be the most festive of topics, but the irrationality of belief that too-often comes along with the season is sticking in my craw in a particularly offensive manner at the moment. The post’s original iteration dates waaaaaay back to June. Tellingly, I didn’t have to change it much to reflect my horror about the events of today.

Well over six months ago, while running out and about this town of mine (and that little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake- we had a visitor from across the Atlantic and a birthday being celebrated, so there has been much activity around these parts), I happened upon a street performer in the Distillery District. He was here as part of something called ‘Circus North’- and was one among a variety of performers who entertained the crowds on a lovely May day.

This is him: The Fireguy. In addition to the fire tossing and eating and that sort of stuff, he kept up a running dialogue with the crowd- largely tourists- and talked about his Circus-training days. One of his teachers, early on in his juggling career, advised him to choose one thing and learn to do it reallyreally well. Fireguy choose the Devil Sticks, and, after many years of honing his skills, counted himself a master.

The second element of the teaching came into play at that point. If you can learn to do one thing reallyreally well, then you can apply that same ability to learn to do things to other things you might like to get good at. Awesome, if simple, advice.

But it made me think. I’ve been suffering from a complete and total lack of focus lately. It’s been all but impossible to pick a subject and see it through to the end. Which means that my creativity has been somewhat stunted and that I’m not really being all that productive or progressive.

Which isn’t good.

In an attempt to re-focus, I’m going to try to shift things away from the one-note venting I’ve been stuck on in the recent past, and get back to my own, particular way of looking at the world and attempting to affect change through the application of those things I’ve learned reallyreally well.

Upon examination, I’ve realized that the main thing I know reallyreally well, is the thing I’ve spoken about least around here, lately. I’m talking about education the and effective and affective communication of the stories we tell ourselves and others. Caught up in that knowledge is my awareness of the insane level of  access to information that should lead us toward the path that will allow for complete and total secularization as we figure out that those human-constructed stories (and their starring characters) of division- religion, race, ethnicity- mean less-than-nothing when stacked up against our shared humanity and the answers we have figured out for ourselves.

Some of my more recently reblogged posts were prompted by the existence of something called ‘Openly Secular Day’- and were my reiterated shout-outs to the fact that I completely and absolutely KNOW that religion HAS to be removed from the business of politics and governance. The frequently-hypocritical double-speak of those who claim religiosity (of whatever stripe) as the only viable marker and maintainer of ‘ethical behaviour’ has to be shouted down once and for all.

It happened in Ireland in May. In the most wonderfully human way I have seen in a long time. Irish Ex-Pats (Ex-Padraigs?) flocked home to vote ‘yes’ to equality and fairness and the legal acknowledgement that everyone must be afforded the same rights and privileges in a fair and democratic society.

What a thing to behold.

Superstition and prejudice and spurious arguments in favour of ‘tradition’ and unchangeable ‘definitions’ were left in the dust of what is right and what is good. By the PEOPLE. Not as an act of government, but as an emphatic nod towards that which is undeniably the correct direction for the country and its citizens, by its citizens. Not its institutions- and certainly not that one that has held sway over too much policy-making in Ireland for far too long. There are still things that could do with some changing tout de suite, but wow. That was capital-C Cool.

You know what I know a whole lot about? I know that we need to enact similar scenarios whole-scale and worldwide. ASAP.

We need to update our stories and how we see our narratives. You know, those things that we tell ourselves to try to make sense of the often-inexplicable and -troublesome. It is happening- we saw that in Ireland- but those steps forward are also producing resulting inclinations toward extreme steps backward.

A while ago on q (note the move from the capitalized letter to the lower case- marking its new beginning with Shad taking the helm), Greg Proops was talking about his latest project, The Smartest Book in the World. An extension of his popular podcast, the book references all kinds of important information- and talks about why we so often take the easy way out and resort to believing/doing the stupid, rather than making the intelligent choices, or even acknowledging that there is better, more accurate information out there.

“Stupidity,” he says, “continues to be a big seller. It’s easy and it’s fun for people… We have people in this country who want to invade Iran- which is an extraordinary poor idea- and we’re mad at the President for making peace.”

He’s also vocally supportive of equality- and while some of the examples of the anti-women culture we take for granted might seem, to some (small) minds, innocuous, when he, with his comedic voice, points them out the inequity is made laughable in its extremity and has to be disconcerting to even the most delusional proponents of ‘men’s rights’. He believes that the lack of respect and equality afforded women around the world is the cause of all the world’s problems.

Cool. And hard to argue. In fact, one of my big heroes- there ARE still people worthy of the name- Jimmy Carter, has had a whole lot to say on this subject, himself. And he’s dedicating his remaining time to making sure that these issues get addressed.

Greg’s discussion of the Oxford comma? Not so much. I have to disagree with that bit.

Still. So very refreshing to hear any sort of encouragement of things that are smart.

Especially in light of nonsense like this. I know that there are bigger examples of cray-cray out there in this big ol’ world right now, but most of them are just too overwhelming for me to be wrapping my brain around addressing and/or I’m still trying to figure out a way to restructure my discussion of them (that whole C51 debacle, for example) so that I can aid in affecting a better overall outcome.

This one, I can handle. And it’s in keeping with my crusade to stop blaming the devil for all those things to which we refuse to accept our due culpability.

Seriously, Priest-dude? “There is no such thing as ‘innocently playing with demons’.” ?!?!?

Talk about playing to the stupid. And subscribing to the stupid. And demanding that others- over whom you hold some inexplicable influence- adhere to those same values of stupidity.

Fear-mongering. Again. It’s everywhere. If it’s not masses of ‘terrorists-disguised-as-refugees’ that should have us terrified, it’s supernatural beings that are waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children playing with pencils. (I do have to say that I was astonished to learn that any child might be able to access a pencil. I don’t think I’ve bought a pencil in years- and I still tend to write things in longhand- much to the dismay of those who have to decipher my handwriting).

Do I really need to re-rant about the absurdity of externalizing evil as a monster who has set himself against a deity that opts not to defeat said evil, but who would rather let the monster to continue to use his influence and god-given wiles to tempt the creation that the deity claims to love?

Do we really need to be reminded how ludicrous and repugnant it is to frighten children with stories about and threats of eternal damnation if they decide to play a game with pencils and paper? I, for one, am kind of nostalgically pleased to hear that children might be using something other than a tablet or an X-Box or a smartphone as a way to entertain themselves while learning how to play well with others.

Enough with the imaginary boogeymen. There are real ones to spare in this actual plane of existence (apparently in famous Quiverfull families who are given television shows, and people who shoot up concert halls, and women’s health centres, and places offering services to developmentally disabled children…). We needn’t be inventing non-human monsters as warnings. We can do enough damage without ascribed supernatural characteristics.

Propaganda trumping fact- its skillful employment is reaching ever more lofty and ever more dangerous heights.

No more hedging about- trying to sugar-coat reality and mollycoddle those who refuse to let go of the fictional stories that maintain a fictional status quo. It was never ‘better’ than now- unless, as Greg Proops noted, ‘you are a white guy named Gordon’.

I’m not ‘angry’. I’m not ‘militant’. I’m done being ‘reactionary’.

I am fed up, though. And I’m done with letting people get away with using ancient stories and supernatural characters to justify inequity and abuse, while attempting to control the bodies and minds of other people. I’m done up with politicians who uncreate the stories we are being told by those scientists who examine and seek to understand our world as they move forward with their own agendas as means of maintaining control over the credulous population.

I study people- and the stories we tell. There are narratives that should be expressed. Stories needing to be told. I’m not a politician (thank goodness). I’m not interested in the compromise of policy-making and bureaucratic maneouvering required to make things happen on an implementation level. Especially since that level rarely represents the best interests of the people, en masse, who will deal with the implementations once they are enacted.

Lawrence Krauss accepted the Humanist of the Year award earlier this year, and delivered this speech in response. It is one of the most important things I’ve read in a long time.

“I want to argue here that it is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition, and its chokehold on supposed morality. And it is possible to imagine such a future soon. We are never more than a generation away from change. The key is reaching the next generation when they are young… The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything, to not be satisfied with unsubstantiated claims, and to be skeptical of a priori beliefs, either their own, their parents’, or their teachers’.  Encouraging skeptical thinking in this way, as well as directing a process by which questions may be answered—the process of empirical investigation followed by logical reasoning—helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.”

Contrary to what some believers- of whatever stripe might say- us atheist-types do not lack meaning and purpose- and we certainly don’t want for moral centres and empathetic understanding of our fellow humans.

Gleb Tsipursky, PhD,  has made this reality a focus of his research- as both an historian and as part of his interest in modernity and popular culture.

“My research, and that of others, illustrates how secularly-oriented societies provide social institutions that offer a source of meaning and purpose. The focus on religion as the primary source of life purpose in the United States is a historical contingency, one that may shift over time. Indeed, there is a growing number of “nones,” people without any religious affiliation in American society, especially among younger adults. Many nones, and especially college aged youth, are seeking for answers to the question of life purpose that do not necessarily include a G/god as part of the equation. Likewise, there are growing numbers of secularly-oriented venues through which they might  find the answers to their questions.”

It’s important to remember that the reality that is the “contingency” of history is also, by definition, the opposite of “inevitability”. In addition to the faulty assertion that the US is a ‘Christian Nation’ (that is pretty clearly against the writings/purposes of the Founding Fathers, the way I read the history) the many contingencies of US history, thus far, have led to the belief that gun ownership is a ‘right’- and something that is to be held to with all the fastness of stubborn, deity-given ideals about freedom.

But the contingencies (those things that are liable to happen as results of what is happening/what has happened) of NOW, in almost-20-freakin-16– are things like education and rational thinking and the ability to collect and widely communicate statistics and other pertinent information and use them all together to further our understanding about things like an individual’s ‘right’ to possess firearms. One of the takeaways we need to absorb from the events of the last couple of weeks? The knowledge that historically out-of-context assertions should not cannot do not take priority over human lives. One person’s perceived right to own a gun is not more important than another person’s life.

We need to change the narratives. Which means knowing the past and seeing how it got us here- to the present- while letting the exigencies of our current societal and political and morally humanistic realities help us to determine appropriate future courses.

We are seeing some positive strides. As I write this, people across my City on the Lake- and across this country that I love- are getting ready to open their homes and hearts to other humans- in defiance of those who would rule by fear and have us continue to view them as ‘other’ and, therefore, dangerous.

The fact that people are collecting resources to help them transition, and planning committees to welcome them with open arms, is far more in keeping with my understanding of what this season is supposed to symbolize. A little different than fighting (literally) for a ‘great deal’ on a piece of merchandise that we’ve been told we HAVE to have. ‘Stupid’ isn’t the only thing we’re continuing to buy. And it’s A LOT different than watching yet another community picking up the pieces after yet another example of ideology-based violence run amok.

If we are going to tell ourselves stories, why can’t they be ones like the first example, rather than the other two?

Being an honest student of humanity, I’m not confident that we can do all that much to further expedite increasing the nones across the world. (Although I sososo sincerely wish that wasn’t the case. But we should, at the least, be leaving the outdated characters of the stories of yore back in the bad old days from whence they came. They have no place in our politics or our human dialectic. We will find answers- better answers- among ourselves, the real live people of this world, to help us respond to our contemporary contingencies and responsibly address the demands of our societies.

Money, power, holy roads
Freedom puts my faith in none of the above

If there’s a time, that we ever see
The nature of life in reality
‘Cause I want to be there
To kick at the answer 

Apatheism

I learned a new word recently. That doesn’t happen all that often- although it is occurring more frequently since I moved into a job significantly outside my regular wheelhouse of history, literature, religion, myth, story, music and etc.

I was watching a TEDTalk (have I mentioned how I’m hooked on these things? No wait. That discussion is in a post that is still languishing in the drafts folder. I need to stop being so easily distracted…) by Dr. Ben Goldacre.

This TEDTalk here:

I was watching it for a couple of reasons- I am working in the healthcare industry at the moment, so the subject matter is relevant to my day-to-day involvement in scientific, evidence-based research and the public policies that are informed by this research.

Mainly, though, I decided to check it out because there has been a whole lot of irresponsible let’s call it ‘journalism’, for lack of a better word, out there lately, further inflaming the public’s inclination to buy into ‘facts’ that support a previously-held worldview. Like those worldviews informed by ‘celebrity’ doctors (and the shills who follow them) that encourage different types of supplements as a requirement for good health. Or those that claim that vaccines cause autism. Or death.

Recently, the Toronto Star, a news organization that, in general, I tend to support in its measured reporting, presented a front page ‘exposé’ of the ‘dangers’ of the HPV vaccine. The irresponsibility of the ‘journalism’ behind the piece was staggering. Enraging, actually.

But this isn’t about that.

I did a little background searching after watching Dr. Goldacre. His name was familiar- and he is undeniably engaging. The Wikipedia (my old friend Pythia- Source of Quick Wisdom) told me that I recognized his name because of discussions I’ve seen ’round his recent book Bad Pharma, and the earlier Bad Science.

He’s a guy after my own heart- stating, in his science-y way, a number of the things that I tend to talk/think about. He’s a cool dude- a self-described ‘nerd evangelist’ and critic of pseudoscience, ‘alternative’ medicine and, generally, irrationality. That last extends to those scientific institutions (like pharmaceutical companies) that have a tendency to forgo good science for the purpose of economic expedience.

The Pythia also informed me that Dr. Goldacre is a contributor to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas (a volume I haven’t read, yet one that I can picture sitting on a friend’s bookshelf- I meant to borrow it quite some time ago. Note to self…) and also a self-described apatheist.

There’s the word that gave me pause.

I can break down its constituent parts and figure out what it’s all about, but, until I looked up Dr. Goldacre, I honestly didn’t know that this was a thing.

From first glance, I wasn’t a big fan. I don’t like apathy. It’s lazy. And symptomatic of a wasteful lack of engagement in the world. It’s all about lack – of interest, of enthusiasm, of concern. I can’t advocate for any of those things as an approach to life.

Interestingly, the word originally stems from the Greek word apatheia– ‘without (a) suffering/passion (pathos)’- that was used by the Stoics to describe an admirable state of acceptance of the lack of control one has over things that are exterior to oneself. This sense of the word was picked up by later early Xian monastics as a virtue.

As a distinction, the Greek word apathes (‘without feeling’) came to be associated with the Xian concept of denial of the good god and his works, associated with that laziest of the 7 Deadlies, Sloth.

I concur, very strongly, with the opposition to laziness bit. The denial of the good god stuff? With that I am okay.

Still, this concept of apatheism has some intriguing aspects. It sees itself as pragmatic, or practical, atheism with the following characteristics:

  • Absence of religious motivation—belief in gods does not motivate moral action, religious action, or any other form of action;
  • Active exclusion of the problem of gods and religion from intellectual pursuit and practical action;
  • Indifference—the absence of any interest in the problems of gods and religion; or
  • Unawareness of the concept of a deity

Essentially? Apatheists don’t care about religion. At all.

I get it. Particularly from the perspective of Science. Philosophical mindsets that suggest that the existence (or non-existence) of a god (or bunch of them) matters not at all in an evidence-based, scientific methodologically-sourced way of approaching the natural world/universe are pretty resonant, generally speaking, with the way that I approach this here existence of ours.

All gods, and all religions, are equal in ‘value’- and, as such, equally irrelevant. Especially since moralistic societies need not rely on religions for their foundations. They might be nice as sources of childlike comfort, but there’s no real call for them in an educated, incredulous and secularized society. This, however, remains a minority view here on Planet Earth.

Historically, practical atheists/apatheists were regarded as immoral embracers of hedonism and vice.

Like my Gnostics. And anyone else who disagrees with the institutions of the religious status quo.

Shockingly/disgustingly/terrifyingly this was news this morning. I’ve written before about some of my feelings about my own atheism – how I’ve tended to remain quiet about it unless challenged, and how the whole ‘live-and-let-live’ mantra has stood me fairly steadfast for some time now, but also how I’m being forced to rethink that way of approaching the world.

With the rise of the Reactionary Right- in all its forms (political, religious et al)- remaining quietly assured in my evidence-based beliefs about the world is no longer enough. Atheism shouldn’t require ideological defence. Not in this day and age. It certainly shouldn’t be something that ends with a death sentence at the hands of credulous individuals who assert the dominance of their fairy tale view of the world – although using ‘fairy tale’ as a descriptor in this case connotes a worldview that is far less indelibly stained by violence than is historically demonstrable.

The distance between those shouldn’ts and the way things are is becoming alarmingly disparate.

There has always- in my experience of the academic discipline- been discussion about the connection between religion and violence. I read René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred as part of a dialectic-based course I took with one of my mentors- a philosopher of religion who had a profound influence on my way of approaching religious studies, and the world in general.

The discussion is on-going- even outside of the halls of the academy- these days. There’s a whole lot of name-calling and finger-pointing and claims about the violent tendencies of ‘Other’ groups, Ironically, that finger-pointing and name-calling generally leads to suggestions for ‘initiatives’ to counter that violence with violence- sourced in and supported by ‘Our’ religious beliefs- directed back at the ‘Other’.

There’s also a whole lot of apologist literature out there defending religion- generally heralding one religion over another- that speaks to the need to shore up our morality by returning to one credulous fold or another.

While I respect some of Karen Armstrong’s work, and very much respect her as a person- her compassionate view of the world with all its variety is really quite wonderful- she’s missed the boat with her latest comparative survey of the world’s religions.

As is succinctly noted in this response to her response to the charge that religion is causally inseparable from violence, in attempting to defend religion against all comers (primarily us atheist-types), to ‘exonerate’ religion (something that isn’t, in my academic opinion, possible) Armstrong ‘muddies the water’ of an otherwise ‘academic intervention in an ongoing but oversimplified and disheartening “debate”.

This is a common fallacy found in the arguments of apologists. Who are, by definition, credulous.

In the face of such discussions- and their worldwide implications- it isn’t enough for the incredulous, evidence-based thinkers among us to claim indifference to the problem of gods and their existence. How wonderful it would be if we were able to ‘actively exclude the problem of gods and religion from intellectual pursuit and practical action.’

How wonderful indeed.

Somehow, I doubt we’ll get there any time soon.

Until we have worldwide consensus that ‘the belief in gods does not motivate moral action, religious action, or any other form of action’, we have to acknowledge that such beliefs are going to colour our discussions about how we can all get along and share this planet. Unfortunately, I don’t see that consensus on any visible horizon.

Which means that eliminating the reality of the opposing perspective smacks of the intellectual laziness suggested by the apathy part of apatheism.

Intellectual laziness- from all sides- is pissing me off. The fact that the main ‘news’ of the day seems to be an ongoing discussion about the colour of some randomly-posted dress is kinda messing with my expectations as to the proper order of things.

I’m thinking that my embracing of a wee dram this evening will be anything but apathetic. I will enjoy my Scotch with real enthusiasm and interest. Believe me.

So- a little song about apathy, with a very special, much beloved, guest star in the video.

I’m going down to Liverpool to do nothing
I’m going down to Liverpool to do nothing
All the days of my life
All the days of my life.

Farewell, Leonard. I can’t imagine a world without you. Strong characters enchant and endure- and only truly strong people can imbue such characters with real humanity. That Vulcan- and the human who brought him to life- were examples of the best that humanity has to offer. Go gently, Mr. Spock.

 

‘I Won’t Back Down’

 

70 years ago yesterday, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviets. We now mark the date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

An important thing to remember, indeed. All of us. In all the nations of the world.

Indifference, antisemitism, silence. Fear of, contempt for, lack of understanding the ‘other’. These are among the things that enabled Auschwitz -and the other concentration and extermination camps that were at the heart of the Final Solution that the Nazis saw as the response to the Jewish Question.

Contrary to what too many of us might like to think, the Jewish Question was an ongoing subject of discussion in much of Europe from as early as 1750.

You read that correctly. 1750.

It was first used, according to Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz, as “a neutral expression for the negative attitude toward the apparent and persistent singularity of the Jews as a people against the background of the rising political nationalisms.” (from the Wikipedia) Essentially, the nations of Europe were trying to suss out the specific status of Jews as minority micro-communities in the the social order of the nation-states of Europe. The question arose and developed under the influence of such things as the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

In discussing how integration of these differing cultures might work, a fair bit of time was spent on a back-and-forth debate about whether or not religious belief had any role to play in secular societies- and therefore whether or not Jews should be required to relinquish their religious beliefs in order to attain full citizenship.

Then, from the 1860’s onward, the ‘question’, in many places, took on increasingly antisemitic tendencies that reached their peak in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Their Final Solution was enacted through persecutions, the revocation of citizenship under the Nuremberg Laws and then the state-mandated internment and murder of Jews in the concentration and extermination camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But. At its origin, the Jewish Question began a discussion of assimilation versus separation in increasingly multicultural societies (however colonial and Xian-centric those societies may have been at the time).

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The ‘melting pot’ or the ‘cultural mosaic’? How should we shape a community in which people from different cultural backgrounds, with different religious beliefs, seek to live together under laws and standards that might govern us all?

Here in Canada, we’ve opted for the latter- as a matter of government policy. Does it work? Imperfectly- like most other governments policies. Is is better than the assimilation of the melting pot that countries like the US favour?

Given that neither we nor the US can boast a completely harmonious relationship with all of our constituent parts, I think the jury is still out. The question lies at the heart of what happened a couple of weeks ago in Paris. The social anomie experienced by immigrant populations can lead to radicalization- and we are seeing examples of this in any number of places- local and not-so-local.  Do we accept and embrace the cultural differences, or do we demand full assimilation?

Can we even expect assimilation- when we’re dealing with something as closely and deeply held as religious belief and practice?

This is one of the sociological questions being discussed in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo– specifically as it pertains to France and their claims of secularization. And it’s happening closer to home…

A clear, current and North American example of how religion can interfere with the smooth running of secular societies? They are in the process of choosing a jury for the trial of the accused in the Boston Marathon bombings- and running into issues with RCs in the jurist pool who might have an issue with the death penalty. In Boston. A town that has a pretty substantial RC population.

My bottom line: Belief does not trump law. It CANNOT. Not in a democratic society in which the laws were arrived at through evidence-based discussion and the application of policies that are meant to ensure the maintenance of just and equitable social order. A social order that allows that laws can be challenged- and changed- as required when we have new and better information. Like when we realize that gender equality is, in fact, a thing. Or that a superficial thing like ‘race’ means not a whit in terms of the freedoms or rights of all us members of the human race.

I’ve said before that I’m a little concerned about my past inclination to just accept that others believe different stuff from what I believe- that I know that I see the world differently than many others do- and that I’ve always been ‘okay’ with that. My perspective comes out of specific set of contextual criteria- that differ from the contextual criteria of the next person.

That inclination- which I share(d) with a whole lot of people who call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’- has been permitted to run amok. Pandering to the lesser freedoms is messing with our larger ones.

We need to use our larger freedoms to speak up when people are violating- or re-writing- the higher laws of the land in favour of laws that respond directly to interpretations of this or that ‘sacred’ scripture.

Lawrence Krauss, groovy Canadian science-dude and vocal atheist, wrote a little bit o’ something about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. While I disagree with his point that Judaism and Xianity- unlike Islam- have ‘had the time’ to look at their sacred scriptures and develop a ‘thicker skin’ when it comes to criticism and questions regarding who really wrote the things and to what purpose (if he were correct, there wouldn’t be nearly as many biblical apologists about- and I’m not even speaking about the literalists…), I very much agree with his point about hate speech involving people, not ideas.

He says: “No idea should be sacred in the modern world. Instead, in order for us to progress as a species, every claim, every idea should be subject to debate, intelligent discussion, and, when necessary, ridicule.” 

And:

“The biggest threat to the peaceful and sustainable progress of human civilization in the 21st century, with challenges ranging from global climate change, to energy and water shortages, and the oppression of women throughout the world, is a refusal to accept the empirical evidence of reality as a basis for action. Those who feel they know the truth in advance, and therefore cannot even listen to alternative arguments, are not just part of the problem, they are the problem.

This is the reason that religion is, in my opinion, on the whole a negative force in the world. In spite of the charity and empathy it may generate among many, because it asserts as true notions that clearly are incompatible with the evidence of reality, it inevitably engenders actions that are irrational. These range from the innocuous to the deadly.”

I had a very different post in mind when I started this one last evening. I have a growing number of bits and pieces in the drafts folder that need attention if they are ever to see the light of day.

Trying for a lightening of subjects, my eye was drawn to the whole Sam Smith/Tom Petty exchange of royalties sitch. You know I love Tom. And Jeff Lynne, who was his writing partner on the solo album that included ‘I Won’t Back Down’.

The Sam Smith thing is really just another example of our human tendency towards repetition of theme/recurrence of concepts.

I hadn’t really heard of Sam (full disclosure- last week a colleague attended his local show and raved about his performance. I had to admit to not having first clue who he was. Finding out that he was ripping off Tom didn’t much ingratiate him to me, tbh). When I read the article I was a little defensive of Tom (and Jeff) even before I listened to the song that ‘borrowed’ from them.

Evidently, it’s something that happens to Tom a lot.

I’m not surprised, really. He has written some pretty awesome tunes (alone, with the Heartbreakers and with super-cool dudes like Jeff). Which is all the more reason to grant credit where it’s due.

Once I listened to the songs back-to-back, I heard the resemblance, and I appreciate the amicability with which the issue was apparently resolved. Still, the original, as is often the case, is by far the better song.

I admit that I’m biased. And that the video features 50% of the Beatles and that Jeff Lynne-guy. So it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. No new kid is going to be able to compete with the chops of those who were present for the original ditty (although Ringo didn’t really play on the track- he’s nothing but eye-candy, assuming you can call Ringo ‘eye candy’…).

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground and I won’t back down

Well, I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

The song was politicized following 9/11- as it became a rallying call about standing up in the face of terrorism.

Interesting that it’s popped back into our popular attention at this particular moment in time…

The things I took away from watching the Memorial from Auschwitz yesterday? That the prison- and what happened there- remain as a scar on our shared humanity. The past is always present- and it often isn’t pretty. Yet humanity endures- even in the face of extermination and ideologically-driven hatred and horror. That hate can never be permitted to win. Ideas that suborn hatred and violence cannot be allowed to flourish.

There ain’t no easy way out of this quagmire of culture clashing. We’ve been talking about it for almost 300 years. THREE HUNDRED. But it’s a conversation we need to continue. We need to prevent comparable ‘solutions’ from seeing the light of day.

Vilifying the ‘other’- based on things like religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability- this is never going to be acceptable. Not with the empirical evidence of reality we can access. All ideas- and laws- must be subjected to rigorous examination, and we must remain accountable for the responsibilities that come with participation in the societies we create.

We have the scars- ever-present and always remembered- from the last time the world failed to stop an idea based in hatred.

We must revisit that lesson- and re-learn it, as required- as we reexamine the realities of multicultural and globalized communities.

We got just one life.

Stand your ground for what is right.

Tolerance vs. Acceptance

 

I’m having another word crisis, of sorts.

I continue to stand by my assertion that blasphemy isn’t a word that has any practical use or value in a secular society, so it is, therefore, one that we needn’t use any longer.

There have been a lot of editorials/opinion pieces/proclamations in the press since #jesuischarlie trended in the aftermath of the terror attack in Paris- and the aftermath of the aftermath. Il Papa weighed in- and got it completely wrong. As have a lot of people who are speaking out against the cartoons produced by Charlie Hebdo.

I’ve said before (in response to some of the wonderful comments I received on the ant-blasphemy post) that the humour- and even the satirical value- of the magazine is pretty much lost on me. It’s not my type of thing. I tend to be more thoughtful, less in-your-face about my satire/political commentary.

But. My impression of the humour- or lack thereof- in magazines like Charlie Hebdo– is not the point.

Personal preference isn’t remotely the point. Not even a little bit. Except in the fact that I can choose not to purchase said magazine if the images offend.

In free, democratic and secular societies we get to make such choices. And we get to challenge the ideas of those who set themselves against the values of our free, democratic and secular societies.

Failure to do so allows for the flourishing of things like totalitarianism. And for the ascension and maintenance of despotic regimes- political or religious- that seek to hold their power and control over the lives and freedoms of everyone else. That those living under such conditions continue to support that type of status quo… well, that’s more of a head-scratcher. We can talk about social conditioning, about Stockholm Syndrome, about not knowing anything else. We can take into account things like anomie and the inability of certain people to integrate into the norms of society. Those are some of the things we need to be looking into, certainly.

What it really comes down to is our idiotic human need to divide ourselves into two groups. Us and Them.

This particular idiocy may not have originated in the Big Book o’ Western Myths (since the concept pre-dates biblical times), but it certainly got a leg-up when one, then another, group of people began insisting on their chosenness- and their separation from and better-than-ness of others.

So. The newest words in question that are causing me trouble?

1) Tolerance. Right off the bat let me say that I’ve always felt that there was a definite underpinning of patronizing apology in the way in which this word is generally used. We ‘tolerate’ those things we must– even if we find them tiresome or uncomfortable. For example- I ‘tolerate’ the occasional Smiths song – when one is heard at a party- or the Monster Music my SO so enjoys- all in the name of friendship and/or fair-shakes in the compromising-department.

‘Tolerating’ someone’s beliefs? It’s so colonial. And politically correct. Like a pat on the head. Which isn’t something that most adults- whether or not they have given much thought and/or insight into those beliefs- are likely to appreciate all that much.

It’s irritating as hell, is what it is. I’d prefer that you tell me straight out that you think I’m completely wrong in my assessment of something than to passively ‘tolerate’ my opinion- and my right to hold said opinion. It’s such a reductive word. Perhaps it hasn’t always been so- but, honestly, I rarely hear it used without that distinctive note of begrudging obligation creeping in.

Most of the time, it makes my skin crawl. There is a perception of power inherent in the term- if one ‘grants’ that something is to be ‘tolerated’, the one doing the tolerating seems to have more authority than the one being tolerated. Stephen Colbert, in his satirical persona, ‘tolerates’ those of other races- by saying he ‘doesn’t see colour’.

Ick. Don’t like it. Never have. It’s one of those words that has ceased to mean what best intentions, once upon a time might have meant it to mean.

2) Acceptance. This one is more my style. There’s an evenness to the playing field when someone accepts what you are saying. Or doing. Or believing. There’s less resignation and imposed adherence to a perceived moral imperative.

One of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors has a line that describes the meeting of two old friends- a man and his dog, who had been separated by lifetimes- and, as they played together, wrestling in the snow, they offered little growls of reunion and “acceptance- as of like-to-like”. Much better word.

Acceptance suggests acknowledgment and thought given to opinions offered- even if that opinion is not, necessarily, shared. I, for example, can generally accept that others have beliefs that differ from my own, and that they participate in the sharing and/or furtherance of those beliefs in appropriate forums. Like in churches. Or synagogues. Or mosques. Or temples. Or in their own homes and family groups.

I can accept that these beliefs can live in concert with mine- and with the values of of our larger society- if they do not impact our educational, judiciary or political system. As long as they are not forced upon me- or anyone else- I can accept that they exist and that people find value and comfort and solace in them. As long as they are not used- overtly or covertly- to influence public policy or office, go ahead and keep your beliefs sacred in your own, individual sphere of existence.

I cannot- and will not, and SHOULD not- accept beliefs that DO, in any way, impact those things that impact our secular system of governance and community engagement.

Religions, it has to be remembered, are ideas. Some may argue that they are amalgams of good ideas. Others may disagree. We can, and should, demonstrate sensitivity and acceptance of the fact that one religion or another might well have things to say, or practices to enact, or things to ban and call blasphemous, with which we might disagree.

When those words or practices or calls of blasphemy run contrary to our larger freedoms as secular societies? Yeah no. That we don’t tolerate. We SHOULD NOT tolerate.

If a group happens to believe that polygamy and forced marriage of girls under the age of 15 is okay, we have larger, societal markers that dispute that. We have the legal recourse- and moral obligation- to put a stop to such things if we are made aware of them.

If an extreme segment of Islam calls for the murder of writers and artists over a perceived slight against the personification of an idea, we need be charged with ensuring that the same legality and obligation are upheld.

We must enact our righteous responsibility for the legitimate and logical protection of people– not ideas, actual human beings. There is no ‘fine line’ between free speech and the offence of ‘sensibilities’ that are associated with ideas. Especially if those ideas are patently and demonstrably wrong-footed and anachronistic. Some things may, admittedly, be relative. Violence and abuse of one another in the name of ideologies based in divisiveness are not.

It is not enough to condemn the actions of those who act out in purported defense of these ideas- whether the defense is supported by one or by many. If we do not actively demonstrate that these ideas must not be valued above our humanity and inherent connection to one another, then the terrorists and the power mongers will keep on winning.

That the terrorists and the right-wing power mongers are seeking the dissolution of consensus and direction from those of us who claim to be progressive is a given. Both extremes are manipulating our emotions and reactions to the suggested triumph of one idea over another. If we don’t cease the liberal knee-jerk ‘tolerance’ of all things and work toward true acceptance (and with it, understanding)- across the board and across the world- we will continue down the path of playing to the extremes- both those who claim to be Islamist and those who seek to eradicate all those who subscribe to or find connection with Islamic beliefs and practices.

Tolerance has become an ‘apologetic’ word. We tend to use it uniformly and unthinkingly to describe liberal feelings towards those things that we may have been less than nice about in the past. Things like race. Or difference in religion. Or gender.

We have misused it to such an extent that it is damaging us- and interfering with our real need to understand one another. If we manage to convince ourselves that we ‘tolerate’ something, we tend to figure that the thing in question requires no further thought or input on our parts. We dismiss it as ‘solved’, as ‘done’, and move on.

I’ve read a number of articles on both sides of the argument- those that advocated publishing the images from Charlie Hebdo and those that supported those publications that refused to do so. There are those who say that if we demonstrate our ‘tolerance’ by not insulting the ideas of more than a billion people we are doing the right thing.

That particular argument sounds a little too much like the comments that Francis made. Using as faulty an analogy as I’ve heard recently, he equated ‘faith’ to his mother- and noted that insulting Il Mama would end with a  ‘punch in the nose’. “One cannot make fun of faith” he said. To do so will inevitably incite violence. Even from the guy who is supposed to be the earthly mouthpiece of the Prince of Peace.

I’ve said before that this Pope keeps surprising me with his (relative) progressiveness. So I have to say that this reaction disappointed me terribly. Not only did he realize an intangible (faith) as something concrete, he placed its sacredness above the human that challenged the idea.

We MUST be free to make fun- of faith, of science-denying political ideology, of anti-vaccination nincompoops, of those who think that the earth is flat- of any and all ideas that can’t be supported through reasoned discussion and evidential proof. We have to be free to question and constantly challenge those ideas that threaten other humans.

People always trump ideas. Nothing can be more sacred than our shared humanity. NO-thing. So ‘cultural sensitivity’ and ‘tolerance’ don’t get to supersede the freedom to question and poke fun at human-created ideological constructs.

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the States. I’m a little unclear as to whether or not it’s a statutory holiday (SNL had a satirical sketch about this very question on the weekend), but, regardless, it’s a day that people can use to demonstrate their ‘tolerance’ of the ideas that this great man- and proponent of peaceful action toward social justice- expressed decades ago.

Of the many pieces of quotable wisdom he left as part of his legacy, the one up there ^^^^ certainly applies to this discussion. There may be some irony, perhaps, in bringing Dr. King into a rant about doing away with the concept of tolerance. I’d argue that he wouldn’t recognize the uses to which we put the word these days- and the lackadaisical definition that now represents a once-proud concept.

I accept that his beliefs about religion- and the existence of and need for a god- differ from mine. I accept that his beliefs- and his cultural and temporal and geographical context- shaped his wisdom and provided a great deal of its continuing resonance. I also accept that his life experience was very different from my own- and that his ability to express his ideas about inequality and injustice have been pivotal in the shaping of changing political and social mores South of the Border (and, arguably, North of the Border, as well).

He is, deservedly, oft-cited. My very faves?

This one is also, actually, quite appropriate to this discussion. Different innocents, same concerns regarding the murderers.

We can’t possibly begin to do that if we ignore the reality that there are systems, in this world of ours, that are fostering the growth of philosophies- of ideas- that suggest that murder is an acceptable reaction to hurt sensibilities and offence taken when mythological figureheads are held up to criticism and satirical examination.

As a race, we humans are a pretty creative bunch. We industriously come up with ideas and theories- to which we grow attached and cling. It has been part of our continuing evolution as we seek to understand ourselves and our world. Our ideas define us- and some of them have, historically and practically, been pretty great.

Those ideas worth sharing, discussing and adopting are the ideas on which we should be focused. The ideas that are worthy of acceptance are those that speak to the fact that we are all the same. Playing at superficial tolerance, however sincere- without any attempt at real understanding- will only increase the body count and lessen our humanity.

 

Know Thyself

I’ve posted about self-reflection before. It’s something I try to do often- with positive intent, rather than as an impulse to self-criticize. This time of year, especially, seems to bring it out. The longer nights somehow induce a whole pile of inward-turned thinking.

I tend to see the holiday season as a good opportunity to engage in some reflecting and a little bit of analysis as I check in- with friends and family, certainly- but also, and perhaps most importantly, with the person I see in the mirror every day.

This wasn’t my favourite year of all time. 2014 started with Dad in the hospital- and we lost him a few, very long, months later. I’m not sure I’ve really encompassed that loss, to be honest. It hits me at peculiar times- when I find myself picking up the phone to give him a call, for instance.

That keeps happening because there has been a fair amount of positive stuff going on, as well. And Dad was the first guy I’d call when something great was going on. I’m working at a job that, while it’s outside of my ‘regular’ wheelhouse in many ways, challenges me and makes me feel that I’m contributing something of value. Something bigger than me- and something that benefits a whole lot of people.

And my team is pretty freakin’ phenomenal- so the fact that I come to a place 5 days a week and get to hang out with people I like and respect… well, that’s a damn sight more than I was able to say this time last year.

I haven’t been nearly as prolific as I’d like to be, writing-wise, either here in the WordPressWorld or with the creative projects that I have on the go. This is partly due to serious computer issues- Abe (my heretofore trusty MacBook) has given up the ghost well-and-truly, and you couldn’t pay me enough to set foot anywhere near an Apple Store until the consumptive consumerism of the season has settled somewhat. The SO’s laptop is filling the void as best it can, but, really, I need my own tools in order to work most effectively. I’m a creature of habit- and I like the comfort of my settings and keyboard set-up.

More than the technical issues, though, the world-as-it-is continues to cause me enough existential stress that I am completely and constitutionally unable to figure out where to start. I ruminate and seek response/reply for some of the insanity I see out there, and I just cannot do it.

That a disproportionate deal of the insanity arises out of the implementation of unthinking, anti-intellectual applications of outdated and irrelevant religious ideology, is a truth that is as evident as it is hard to swallow.

The other day, this article, by John G. Messerly, showed up on one of the newsgroups I read fairly regularly. I perused it with interest, and with something like alacrity, a couple of days after Xmas. I admit that my thoughts tend in that direction all the time- but when there is in-your-face evidence of credulity at every single turn, questions of belief seem to surface even more frequently.

I don’t get it. Truly, I don’t. How seemingly-intelligent people can subscribe to blindness of belief in fairy tale figures- however wonderful the myths may be- and societal controls that are millennia-old.

I can suspend my disbelief for long enough- at this time of year, at least- to allow for some wonder and child-like innocence to show up. When I watch the original Miracle on 34th Street, or It’s a Wonderful Life or, even, Elf, I get the need to believe in the supernatural. The realities of life can be so stark and shocking in comparison that the potential presence in the world of Kris Kringle, or Clarence (or George Bailey and all the residents of Bedford Falls, for that matter), or Buddy the Elf (and his adopted Papa Elf- how do you not love Bob Newhart- and Lou Grant as Santa?) can take a bit of an edge off of the harshness of the realities of this world.

And the world can be a pretty harsh place.

Messerly notes:

” …a significant body of scientific evidence suggests that popular religion results from social dysfunction. Religion may be a coping mechanism for the stress caused by the lack of a good social safety net—hence the vast disparity between religious belief in Western Europe and the United States.

There is also a strong correlation between religious belief and various measures of social dysfunction including homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births, abortions, corruption, income inequality and more. While no causal relationship has been established, a United Nations list of the 20 best countries to live in shows the least religious nations generally at the top.”

The fideism about which he speaks- the idea that faith is independent of reason- isn’t an epistemological theory I can understand. In any way.

I’ve read a whole lot of William James- I’ve included him, and his theories about religious experience, in course syllabi, in fact- but I just can’t get the justification behind his ‘will to believe’. It involves such circular reasoning that even thinking about it for too long makes me nauseated with the motion sickness.

Pascal’s Wager is even more inexplicable. The inherent intellectual and rational cop-out– that it ‘costs’ nothing to believe that (a) god exists, so why not believe in that god, since it might be beneficial in the long-run (forgive the paraphrase and over-simplification for the purpose of succinctness)- makes me grind my teeth in frustration.

Kierkegaard’s ‘leap of (or, more correctly, to) faith’, an attempt at apologizing for the inherent paradoxes and contradictions in Xianity, flies in the face of everything I know about the need for rational examination and discourse among human beings.

(Okay, his concept of the personal, individual interaction with the god, and the need to translate the values espoused by religions into positive, exemplary actions– as opposed to theoretical imaginings, used in judgment but without acknowledgement of context, relativity or relevance- may have some dialectical merit, but isn’t, unfortunately, the go-to impulse of most institutionalized religions.)

The presuppositions required for such (and, really, all) apologetics don’t hold water. They can’t hold water, in my pragmatic (I do get the problem with using that word/philosophical ideology, associated as it is with the foundational theories of Mr. James, especially after taking him to task for the irrationality of his fideism. Just goes to show that he was a man of his time and context, in my opinion. I’m not convinced that he’d defend that ‘will to believe’ stuff so much, were he around today. He was, after all, a scientist.), humanistic understanding of the world.

I’ve always tried to approach my interactions with others with a ‘live-and-let-live’ sort of mindset. I’ve said before that I don’t understand militant atheist types who run down their ideological opponents with personal slurs and the very-public questioning of their mental capabilities. Even when I agree with them. Wholeheartedly.

My years spent teaching the historical, social and literary origins of many of the world’s religions led me, I thought, to a level of ‘tolerance’ for the views of others- a hope that because the basic impulse underlying the construction of all religious belief stems from a need to understand and order the world around us, that we might, as we continue to evolve, come to the awareness that we have other, less-polarizing and -polemical ways of answering these questions.

The realities of the world are causing me to challenge that particular propensity. As I witness what seems to be a rising tide of ideology-over-equity, of belief-over-justice, I’m starting to feel as if indulging any such unexamined and irrational beliefs (an indulgence that is, admittedly, a wee bit patronizing) makes me complicit in the epidemic of anti-intellectualism that is rampant the world over.

That’s one of the very personal not-so-fabulous realities I’m having difficulty comprehending, let alone, assimilating right now.

“Religion may help us in the way that whiskey helps a drunk, but we don’t want to go through life drunk.”

One of the manymany generous gifts I received this holiday season was a bottle of the Irish whiskey pictured up there ^^^^. Since my travels in Scotland this autumn turned me into a Scotch drinker, my littlest sister thought it prudent to enlighten me about the wonders of the Irish Water of Life, in order to acknowledge our familial heritage and give the distilleries of the Emerald Isle their fair due. There might be a bit of an implied dig there as well- at my lack of productivity in the writing department of late, but I’m assuming best intentions all around.

In any case, the whiskey is quite lovely (my first experience of a blend) and the message on the bottle is even more poignant. It describes the ages-old remedy that Irish scribblers of all ilks have applied to break the back of that most insidious and terrifying of beasts- Writer’s Block.

I’m not prepared to hit the bottle that hard for the inspiration/clarity I seem to be lacking these days, but a dram or two of an evening certainly won’t go amiss as I try to figure out the avenues down (up?) which my thoughts and insights and reactions to the world seem to be traveling.

The ancient Greek aphorism know thyself – apparently originating with the sun god, himself – has been associated with any number of philosophers. Like other such pithy sayings/admonitions (there are Ten, specifically, I can call to mind quite readily), this best known of the maxims (there are over 100 of them) recorded on Apollo’s Temple at Delphi, is interpreted in a number of ways.

Some suggest that it is a commandment to leave the things of the gods in the hands of the gods- to avoid overreaching and seeking that which the human mind is incapable of understanding. To know one’s place, in the universal scheme of things, and not look to ascribe meaning to those things outside of human purview.

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates uses this particular edict to explain why he has no time to think about mythology/the gods or the nature of other ‘irrelevant things’. Since he has not yet achieved the self-knowledge the Oracle demands, he thinks it ridiculous to investigate the obscure, when the obvious remains misunderstood.

My interpretation of this Platonic wisdom says that in order to even begin an approach to understanding the elusive, one must focus on first comprehending oneself and one’s immediate physical– and temporal- environment. Postulating the origins or nature of something entirely supernatural and hypothetical without any sort of demonstrable proof while ignoring/failing to understand the evidence that speaks to the natural order of things is folly– in the truest, oldest and most complete senses of the word.

(Folly: from the Old French for “madness”. Also: evil, wickedness, mental weakness, unwise conduct).

In my quest for equity and respect and ‘tolerance’ I have always maintained that belief in the next/other world- and the god(s) who rule(s) it- is fine. No skin off my nose if people want to continue playing make believe long past the point of rationality and reason. To each their own, and all that.

Until it isn’t fine. Until those beliefs creep into our political and social and educational systems and permit the deterioration of the strides we have made in understanding and defining the real world. Strides toward knowing ourselves as humans- imperfect but adaptable and evolving people with the ability to shape our own individual and communal destinies- rather than as subordinate creatures of a created creator with an unknowable ‘plan’ for our future.

As I continue my self-reflection into the New Year, this new awareness is likely to be the biggest bit o’ something with which I’ll be wrestling.

Tolerance = complicity… that’s a tough one.

While belief may the easy answer for some, elenchus and dialectic are hard for everyone.

Freakin’ Socrates.

Perhaps I’ll need more of the whiskey than first thought.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable.
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table.
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya’
‘Bout the raising of the wrist.
SOCRATES, HIMSELF, WAS PERMANENTLY PISSED…

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
Plato, they say, could stick it away;
Half a crate of whiskey every day.
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
Hobbes was fond of his dram,
And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: “I drink, therefore I am”
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;
A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed!

‘Who Told Tomorrow Tuesday’s Dead?’

I think that’s one of my favourite lyrics ever.

No, not the words in the nursery poem, the words in the title.

I know. It’s Wednesday, but I was thinking about that song, and the guy who wrote it, a lot today .

I’ve talked about him before – in the context of another song. A song that helped to set the story of my life, thus far. Truly. It helped to put me on my own particular Road to Find Out in ways both conscious and un-.

And given the crap that’s been going on around here the past while, and the results of yesterday’s election in the States, I really feel like I need an interlude of Cat.

Seriously, neighbours? What’s going on down there?

Not being an American, you’d think that the results shouldn’t be bugging me so much. To be honest, I didn’t pay the midterm election all that much mind. We have had a fair bit going on north of the border, and, honestly, I’m sort of out of sorts about the whole reactionary-engagement-with-politics-thing that seems to be epidemic (and more problematic, on this side of the Atlantic anyway, than a particular virus I could name) lately.

But I just. Don’t. Get. It.

So. Let’s intermezzo, shall we? (yes, I used intermezzo as a verb).

Yusuf Islam is out and about on his Peace Train… Late Again tour (forever the most dexterous of wordsmiths. How GREAT a name is that for Cat/Yusuf tour?). I wanted ever-so-much to go and see him when he comes to town- he’s playing Massey Hall, which is certainly one of my very fave venues for live-and-intimate shows in my hometown.

But… tickets went on sale just as I was boarding a train headed for his hometown, so I wasn’t really in a place or position to be online and looking to buy. The show sold out in a matter of minutes.

This is partly because, other than brief television or special appearances, he hasn’t toured North America since 1976. Yes, I said 1976. So I’d imagine that there are a whole lot of people like me desperate to see him and say hello. Since I was six the last time he hopped the pond to play shows, it kind of goes without saying that I’ve never had the pleasure of his company.

And I’ll be missing him again. He has, rightfully and rather impressively, made sure that scalpers and those crummy and criminal ticket resale companies won’t be able to (easily) get their hands on tickets and fleece his fans, so there aren’t even any tickets floating around on Craig’s List or the like.

I admit that I’ve been creeping his fb page and checking out the set lists as he plays to his first North American audiences in almost four decades, and living a little vicariously through those who will have the privilege of hanging with him for an evening.

The Road to Find Out and Tuesday’s Dead aren’t (so far) in the rotation.

It’s understandable- he has such an incredible and extensive body of work that includes bigger hits and better-known songs from the eleven albums that he recorded as Cat, back in the day, and he is also playing selections from his 2006 and 2008 albums, An Other Cup and Roadsinger, and his brand new offering, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.

But. Those songs.

One of the many beautiful things about music is its accessibility. I can go back and listen to the songs any time I want- or, for that matter, sing them to myself when tuning in (and tuning out) with the Shuffle Daemon isn’t appropriate.

The lyrics have been written on my heart- and they are in my head when I need to call them up for a listen.

Two of his albums, Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971) are among my all-time favourite records. Of his, certainly, but by anyone, really. I grew up with them- and still know the lyrics to all the songs.

I have a bit of an uncanny (for lack of a better word) knack for remembering lyrics (and the accompanying tunes, of course- but the words are paramount, for me). Some of my old friends still bug me about this ability for recall- but I don’t see anything all that peculiar about it, myself.

It’s part and parcel of my way of engaging with the world- concentrating on those things I find important, or beautiful, or educational, or fun. Or any combination of any and all of those things. It is the primary way that I attempt to be mindful of my context and present in my life. There are distractions aplenty, but focusing on something and really appreciating it? It leads me toward gratitude and appreciation of the relevance and reliability of my fellow human beings, usually when I most need to be reminded of these things.

Great words deserve remembrance. Whether they are shaped like stories or speeches or songs (or poem- which are songs without music), they carry power and retain import that speaks to both their specific contexts and, in the case of the best of them, to their timelessness. The ones that hold the most wisdom transcend temporal settings and retain the ability to impart vital imagery.

If I make a mark in time, I can’t say the mark is mine.
I’m only the underline of the word.
Yes, I’m like him, just like you, I can’t tell you what to do.
Like everybody else I’m searching thru what I’ve heard.

Whoa, Where do you go? When you don’t want no one to know?
Who told tomorrow Tuesday’s dead

Oh preacher won’t you paint my dream, won’t you show me where you’ve been
Show me what I haven’t seen to ease my mind.
Cause I will learn to understand, if I have a helping hand.
I wouldn’t make another demand all my life.

What’s my sex, what’s my name, all in all it’s all the same.
Everybody plays a different game, that is all.
Now, man may live, man may die searching for the question why.
But if he tries to rule the sky he must fall.

Now every second on the nose, the humdrum of the city grows.
Reaching out beyond the throes of our time.
We must try to shake it down. Do our best to break the ground.
Try to turn the world around one more time.

Tuesday’s Dead is something of a thematic follow-up to, or continuation of, the examination of his quest for meaning and understanding of the world he sang about in On the Road to Find Out. Crazy love for both these tunes.

A number of interpretations point to Xian imagery contained in the song (as is the case with Road, as well), but, like my readings of pretty much everything else, I see the themes as being without specificity of creed, denomination or over-arching system of belief. They are human lyrics- that acknowledge the wisdom of the past, the movement toward the future and our ability to work toward change.

There are those who have suggested that the whole thing about ‘Tuesday being dead’ has to do with that old fortune-telling nursery rhyme up there ^^^^^

If Tuesday=Grace, a possible exegesis of the line thus follows that the biblical concept of Grace is that thing that isn’t dead.

I get that interpretation. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. We all make connections that resonate and make sense and create meaning for us. If Xian exegetes want to appropriate the song, it’s all good. My interpretation is far more humanistic (go figure).

The rhyme, recorded as early as 1838, but with traditional versions going back far longer, had a dual- to describe the personalities and help to set the destiny of children born on each particular day of the week. Its later iterations have changed up the characteristics, moving them about in accordance with specificity of interpretation and association.

One version switches up Wednesday and Friday’s characteristics- based in the Xian superstitions regarding bad luck and Fridays (originating with a story about a crucifixion). Being a Wednesday myself, and not especially woe-full, I tend to prefer that one…

Yusuf has said that he’s not entirely sure exactly where he was going (coming from?) having some unknown individual telling ‘tomorrow’ about the death of Tuesday. It’s one of those random lyrics that just fit. Which makes it all the better, as far as I’m concerned.

We don’t always know what we’re talking about. And that’s okay. It’s part of the whole human-thing. We hash it out as best we can- and, in so doing, often come up with the wildly wonderful in the process.

So.

One more time.

Let’s keep trying to turn the world around. In spite of those who attempt to rule- the sky, the earth, the people- based in fear and misinformation and polarizing politics.

I’m not saying anything new here. But allow me to underline his underline, and the underlines of all those who came before him. And continue to echo the mark of his voice- 43 years- and counting- after the fact.

Safe, and peaceful, travels, Cat/Yusuf. Better late than never. Please come back and visit again soon.

Bonus (not-at-all-woeful) Wednesday feel-good tune? THIS one, by my beloved Monkees (written by David Gates- of Bread). It mixes up the days even further- and I’m not sure I like the ‘you’ll live your life apart, now’ as Wednesday’s foretold fortune found here- but hey. It’s all in the interpretation…

… here again

Incredulous.  

One of my favourite words, and certainly something I appreciate in others.  Mainly because its opposite- credulous– just isn’t something I get.

At all.

I’ve talked about it before.  Most recently in recounting my reread of Dr. Sagan‘s The Demon Haunted World.

And one of my all time go-to books of profound influence is all about credulity.

In Umberto Eco’s incredible Foucault’s Pendulum, its narrator, Casaubon, after years of education and experience, opted to become credulous for a time.  As we meet the various nefarious characters- those involved in the conspiracy theories and elaborate tales of the survival of the Templars, the Rosicrucians and immortal characters like the Comte de Saint-Germain, we grow, along with Casaubon, in the realization that credulity is among the most dangerous of human vices.

Casaubon was named after the classical scholar Isaac Casaubon- the ‘most learned man of his time’ (1159-1614), who challenged the ‘common wisdom’ of the day with his research into texts and historical writings- but also referenced his son, Méric Casaubon, the author of (among other things) On Credulity and Incredulity in Things natural, civil and divine (1668).  In that work, as a man of his times, he argued (again, among other things) that witches must exist- since everyone believed in them.

Eco’s Casaubon is a melding of the father and the son- learned, yet willfully credulous.  Why not?  Everyone else seems to be.  He remains one of my favourite literary characters.

I first read this book when I was at something of a crossroads (those crossroads again…).  I had taken a year off from my undergrad while I attempted to figure out just what direction I wanted to be taking with my studies.  I had decided that journalism wasn’t for me, Medieval Studies was too limited in time-frame, English wasn’t interdisciplinary enough… What to do?

I remember sitting in a favourite tiny hole-in-the-wall in Ottawa (the Ozon Cafe on Charlotte at Rideau- LOVED that place- the chef would eventually become one of my dearest friends) and reading about the damage credulity can wreak if allowed to run unchecked, and thinking to myself that I’d reallyreally love to DO something about making sure that we become less credulous and more discriminating- in what we believe and why we believe it.

The ‘Diabolicals’- so named by the three literary co-conspirators Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon, with patronizing disdain- created flimsy connections between historical events to support their theories about the occult secrets of the world.  In creating their own conspiracy theory and contriving to have it fall into the hands of the Diabolicals, the creators let credulity overtake their lives and, ultimately, ended up either dead or deluded as a result of their imaginary/constructed Plan.

I can honestly and legitimately say that Umberto Eco- and Foucault’s Pendulum, specifically- was one of the driving forces that landed me in Religious Studies (there were others- Dad was reading all kinds of interesting things about de-institutionalizing religions that gave me some food for thought, and I’ve always been intrigued by our collective stories).  But the terrifying prospect, illustrated in Foucault’s Pendulum, of credulity run amok was too much for me to face.  I had to start learning about how and why people would choose to willingly and blindly follow the prescriptions/proscriptions of cultures that disappeared millennia ago.

Generally speaking, I am predisposed to trust people and the fact that sofreakinmany remain willing to be trapped and stunted by credulity is still- even after so very many years of studying and, at times, participating in experiential communities- inexplicable to me.  Generally speaking.

Of course, credulity isn’t something that it restricted to religion(s) and religious/spiritual belief(s).  The gullible/unwilling to do the research can be found in other spheres.  Ones just as influential and potentially dangerous.

Government conspiracy theorists are high up there on my list of people I really don’t want to engage in ‘conversation’ at the mo’.  I’m not suggesting that we should ever sit by, complacently, and let our leaders run roughshod over our democracy.  Never that.  We have responsibilities as citizens of democratic nations.

The primary duty is to actually get out there and participate in the process- by voting- after examining the issues and the response and proposed solutions in order to choose our best possible leaders.  So you voted and still don’t like the way things are going?  Get more involved- volunteer, start a grass-roots movement, write a blog post…

But believing that our elected governing bodies are ALL working- ceaselessly and with contemptuous greed- to deceive the voting public about everything?  C’mon now.

Communicating and articulating informed perceptions of our realities is the only way out of the quagmire of superstition and credulity in which we seem to be trapped.  Buying the line of chatter offered by a talking head that is likely on the payroll of an institution with a self-serving mandate ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

As humans we see connections between things- that’s one of the many ways in which we attempt to make sense of the inexplicable.  I do that.  A lot.  The back catalogue (such as it is) hereabouts demonstrates that little fact quite clearly.  We create meaning from the bits and pieces of things that surround us.

I get it.  I do.  But I don’t structure my life according to these perceived connections.

Just because a bunch of people (or Fox News) tell me that the POTUS wasn’t born in Hawaii doesn’t mean it’s true.   A few radical racist anti-semites tell us that the Holocaust never happened?  Not according to the historical and human experiential records we have available to us.

Millions of people are willing to accept that a book of stories and social strictures is the divinely dictated word of a deity?  I’m not one of them.  I did that homework, and drew different conclusions- based in evidential research that says something else.

Last weekend (last weekend?  Really?  It’s Friday again already?  Where is the summer going?) I took a road trip to our Nation’s Capital to help celebrate the wedding of one of my dearest friends in the world.  On the long drive, I let the Shuffle Daemon have its head and set the playlist.

This one came up as we drove:

I seem to be living my life in placeholders these days.  There just aren’t enough hours…

Matt Johnson.  I don’t throw the word genius around lightly, but this guy… Brilliance.  Embodied.  He will be revisited at some point.

For now…

Recorded between 1988 and 1989, Mind Bomb is an album heavy on the politics and religion- and the politics of religion.  That ^^^ little ditty is profound and prophetic in so very many ways- and the introduction (Are you ready Jesus?  Buddha?  Mohammad?), with its allusion to The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz (a song about another sort of chaos) is just sososo clever.

 ‘The world is on its elbows and knees, it’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds…’

Yep.  Why?  Because ‘they’ tell us to do so.

Did you catch the news this week?  Have you seen what is blowing up, again, in the ‘Holy Land’?  And the political maneuvering that is happening as a result?

It’s past time to stop listening to ‘them’ in our credulous intellectual laziness.

 Informed rationality.  That’s what it has to be about.

Heavy thoughts for a beautiful Friday evening in my City on the Lake.    Going to shake off the week, and I’m thinking that, perhaps, I’ll let Matt’s reference lead me into my weekend- which will involve the usual chores and catch-up and some reading (and maybe even some writing) that I’ve been meaning to get at…

But for now…

‘My dreams are getting so strange, I’d like to tell you everything I see…’

Happy Friday!