Monstering and #MeToo

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, it seems like an appropriate time to address something that has been bugging me for some time now. It’s a phenomenological extension of the ‘othering’ that is epidemic in the current climate of nativism and exclusionary rhetoric – things that have no basis in anything other than artificial constructs and institutions of power that belong in the past.

How’s about we stop calling people monsters?  Denying the humanness (detestable as that humanness might be) of actions while criticizing behaviours and/or worldviews abrogates the responsibility for those acts/beliefs. Attaching a supernatural element to the inimical suggests an inability to ensure its cessation.

Monsters are, by definition, MONSTROUS. Created (in our mythologies) by nature, by humans, by gods, to be inhuman scapegoats for all those crimes that we just can’t seem to acknowledge that we – us people – are capable of committing.

There has been a lot of monstering happening over the last week.

#MeToo is a powerful indicator of much that is broken in our societal system(s). The evidence – as presented by people who have been marginalized by our institutions and traditions – is reaching critical mass as we speak up and refuse to accept old adages about boys-being-boys while still being slut-shamed for having the audacity to wear whatever we want, when-and-wherever we want to wear such things.

The number of women responding through social media and identifying themselves with the hashtag started by Alyssa Milano (ETA – apparently the hashtag and movement was created – quite some time ago – by Tarana Burke) doesn’t – sadly – surprise me. Nor – again, sadly – do the instances of men leaping to condemn, using the same, tired, gaslighting that persists on university campuses, in workplaces, on city streets, and in darkened bedrooms during house parties. Everywhere, really.

That women experience harassment and assault on an ongoing basis is tautology. #AllofUs might be a better hashtag – if we’re trying to demonstrate the ubiquity of the issue. But that gets us into grey-areas of negation of the primary message (comparable to the offensive inanity of cries of ‘all lives matter’ when discussing systemic inequity and imbalance), and the primary message is important. Institutionalized abuse is not something that will be tolerated anymore.

Every #MeToo is representative of a lived experience – one that affected the humanity of the woman who experienced the abuse and/or assault. And each hashtag is deserving of respect and sensitivity to that personal – yet also universal – ordeal.

I applaud the awareness campaign – and the rapidity and comprehensiveness with which it has spread – yet I question the efficacy of the social media movement (of any such social media movement, really) since it sings, mainly, to the choir, while permitting the uneducable trolls to spread their vitriol, per usual.

Especially when we classify the humans (and let’s be real, here. We are, mainly, discussing men) as ‘monsters’, denying their culpability in mistreating their fellow-human beings.

We keep doing that.

As an example, since November of last year I’ve seen myriad and multiplying posts, essays and articles claiming that the IMPOTUS is a ‘monster’ for ignoring the circumstantial realities of the citizens over whom he claims leadership.

He is not a monster. He is an abhorrent and immoral and detestable human, who seeks nothing but the furtherance of his own selfish desires. A poor excuse for a human, to be sure, but denying his humanity serves no purpose in any discourse that will help to disempower him and his ilk.

Externalizing evil – and separating those who do evil from the rest of us – is the absolute best way to ensure that evil is allowed to continue. I’ve spent most of my adult life playing Devil’s Advocate (literally. It’s the premise of my forever-in-progress-novel, in fact) on this point.

I will defend to my dying day the assertion that the worst of the manymany crimes committed by the institutionalization of Xianity lies in the development of a supernatural entity designed to displace human responsibility for all the terrible crimes we commit against other humans.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that the Xians didn’t invent the concept, but man, did they run with it. Those early Fathers and Apologists had a whole lot of internalized darkness that needed external repositioning. SMDH.

Falsehood, assault, mistreatment, inequality and inequity – all these things are human behaviours linked to human-created concepts of power and privilege that are being brought to light in significant ways through media that were un-dreamt of even a decade ago. This illumination deserves and requires immediate action, but we cannot construct new modalities for our social interactions if we cling to archaic personifications and flippant descriptions that permit the evasion of knowing responsibility by those who choose to engage in behaviours that are anathema to progressive society.

If we don’t change our language, we permit the continuation of narratives that allow people who act in opposition to those ideals that we know demonstrate the right and proper ways of interacting and cohabiting on this planet to continue to abuse the privilege we, collectively, refuse to revoke.

Men are already aware of the magnitude of the problem. They are the problem. Do NOT ‘not all men’, me, here. The power imbalance lies now, as it has historically, in favour of the male of the species. That is one of the artificial constructs that we must keep working to change.

#MeToo, and other comparable awareness campaigns, are not about beings with supernatural or superhuman abilities. Abusers are not monsters. They are people – with, presumably, the ability to learn and grow and progress, developmentally, beyond a state that permits (and, too often, celebrates) abusive and anti-social behaviour as it is directed against their fellow-humans – regardless of gender.

Do they need numbers pointed out to them – through the impersonality of the social media screen – to understand the extent of the damage that is still being caused? Are those who enjoy the benefits of institutionalized power – and the permitted violations of other people supported by those institutions – likely to give any weight to the experiences of those who participate and identify themselves through campaigns like this one?

I’m not sure my faith in humanity runs quite that deep.

But. #MeToo is a powerful illustration and empowering acknowledgement of the problem, if nothing else.

Societal permissions are not going to change unless and until we stop vilifying the perpetrators as creatures outside of the parameters of humanity. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be vilified. All people who abuse their power (putative or realized) and behave in ways that negatively impact those around them must be held accountable for their actions.

But we need to check and define our terms. Language is, itself, powerful, and the words we use impact the ways in which we interact with the world. Labelling heinous human behaviours as ‘monstrous’ may make us, on some level, feel better about our own humanity and what that might mean – separating us from those who act in ways that seem incomprehensible and egregious – but it imparts a sense of invincibility, imbuing pathetic abusers with more dominion than is warranted, while attaching a strong sense of inevitability to their actions that is both deplorable and entirely unsupportable. No actions are inevitable. Anti-social behaviours are preventable.

Calling atrocious humans ‘monsters’ makes them seem inexorable and impossible to beat back. They are not. Progressive evolution and education – and the discussion that can come out of effective and affecting social media campaigns – necessitates the putting away of childish stories about supernatural entities that ameliorate all those bad actions which illustrate the dark corners of our shared humanity.

Unless and until we truly understand and inculcate the reality that we are perpetuating a status quo that continues to support the abuse of our fellow humans as some sort of unfortunate but inevitable side-effect of maintaining a standard of living in the pursuit of some nebulous, exclusionary, materialistic dream (American or otherwise), nothing will change.

People that engage in destructive and anti-social behaviours are not monsters. They are humans. Bad humans, but humans none the less. We can fight against the wrongs perpetrated by other humans. It is our responsibility to do so. Acting in concert and tearing down the structures that permit the continuance of such unchecked behaviours is the only way to invalidate that which is monstrous in our societies. Part of that tearing down requires a definition of our terms.

We are collectively responsible for the monstrous people who walk among us. In order to call to accountability and punishment those who have been permitted to abuse others the rest of us need to ensure that the conditions that nurtured such behaviours and attitudes are irrevocably destroyed.

That said, #MeToo. Too many times to count – yet each indelible occurrence lives on with me, integrated into my brain and body and impacting the ways in which I interact with others.

#MeToo – because I am a woman, and because I live in this world that humans have created – one that supports the continued ascendency of anachronistic constructs that place men above women, people of one skin colour over others, humans from some parts of the world over those who live in our own hometowns.

And one that permitted the election, by humans, of an admitted sexual predator to one of the highest leadership roles on the planet. As important it is to talk about the rampancy of abuse and assault in general (as spurred by revelations, long-ignored, out of Hollywood), we need to address the fact that the IMPOTUS was elected with full knowledge that he committed those same crimes.

Removing him from office and revoking his entitlement and heretofore un-checked privilege is the best way to make manifest the comprehension of the message that has been spreading through social media over the past few days. With the din of cognitive dissonance growing ever-deafening, it might be the only way to do so.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

No.

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Hey strangers. Been a long time. Crazy doings hereabouts as I get sorted to move house and rethink my career path, all while taking some token stabs at working on a number of neglected writing projects that need attention.

Even with all these distractions, I’ve been bearing witness to some of the insanity that continues the world over. It’s been hard to miss. Especially south of our border.

What is going on down there? Seriously. The inexplicability of it all has had me holding my tongue, somewhat, per advice like that found in that meme up there ^^^^

But I got up this morning with a head full of steam, heightened by a couple of factors: Trevor Noah on the Daily Show last night (I didn’t think I was over Jon Stewart’s departure, but last night I really began to acknowledge that this kid is something else. He could charm the bees from the trees – and is consistently showing some substantial comedy and commentary chops. Consider me won over in toto), and a ‘discussion’ on a group thread on one of the Facebook pages I visit upon occasion.

All prepared to write a rant of epic proportions, I realized that a lot of what was running through my head seemed eerily familiar. So, before putting figurative pen to figurative paper, I checked the drafts folder. And there it was. Three months old and languishing. A post on the topic that is overwhelming my thoughts and every news channel in clicking distance.

That this even needs addressing, still, boggles my mind. Like a whole lot of other people, a big part of me assumed that this insanity was going to max out at some point. I mean really.

So. I have a question:

How is it remotely acceptable that a person who is running for the highest office in a pretty big place (geographically and in a global political sense) can spew hate and fear and still be considered as a contender for that office?

I’m beyond sickened.Especially by the complicity of (much of) the media in the sickening quagmire that reflects the bigotry and xenophobia and dangerous ‘othering’ of specific populations of the world.

I have to say ‘much of’ the media, because I ran across this (in a friend’s fb feed). I didn’t know who Shaun King was (I do now- Google is helpful, sometimes. Seems like he’s made sense in the past, as well), since I don’t regularly read the New York Daily News (though they seem to be leading the charge in speaking out against things that other news groups seem to be addressing only speculative or in the abstract).

And Mr. King’s Op-Ed makes a whole lot of sense. So does this one. And this one.

Othering isn’t only an American phenomenon. Unfortunately. We dealt with more than our share of it under the previous federal government, to be fair.

But, in October, we stood up, as a country, and voted that sort of thinking out of office, heralding a new day that sets us back on the world stage as a country that is proud of its diversity. That choice for change is bearing fruit already. Our new PM is leading with a positive example that makes me proud, once again, to be Canadian. I admit that I had my hesitations about him, and there’s a long road ahead to bring us back to where we should be, but he’s taking us in the right direction, after a too-long period of regression, fueled by fear and the silencing of dissenting voices.

Those neighbours of ours down there… “A man that most Americans saw as a punchline and reality television star soon surged to the top of the polls and has remained there for nearly half a year. Soon he declared that he would “round up” over 400,000 undocumented Mexican immigrants per month for 24 months and drop them off at an undisclosed location in Mexico. With stadiums and crowds coming out to hear Trump all across America, he seemed to find his sweet spot in a new form of white supremacy that degraded Mexicans, stereotyped African Americans and banned Muslims.

And it’s gotten worse in the last three months. Way worse.

In the US, institutionalized racism is being allowed to flourish, while, here in Toronto, we continue to fight about things like taxi cabs. And remain ridiculously concerned about the PM’s childcare.

Priorities are all out of whack. Everywhere.

Today we woke to the news of another horrific attack on a European city at the hands of radical adherents of an ideological system that is medieval (at best) in its thinking and application. I can’t say anything new about the events in Belgium. I can’t do anything but weep for the lives lost in the name of fairy tales and power games and othering.

So, again, I avoided the ‘news’ as best I could and, instead, caught up on some stuff I’ve had bookmarked for later perusal for months.

I was dismayed and heartened, both, to hear a discussion about the borderline-propagandist media coverage of that pernicious racist down south on The Current.

I also saw a story in The Globe that echoed a thought I’ve had many times – that the US sitch is essentially Rob Ford idiocy writ larger- and more dangerously.

“… please, don’t imagine that Mr. Trump will just dry up and blow away. Even if, as seems likely, he fails to win his party’s nomination, he can do great damage. He already has. His remarks about Mexicans and now Muslims have stirred the muddy sediment at the bottom of the pond where hate lies.

It was the same way with Mr. Ford, who encouraged a certain kind of bottom dweller to come out in the open. If he could say it, why couldn’t they? When he boycotted the city’s gay pride parade, homophobes suddenly felt they had licence to say or post all those things they had been feeling. After all, they thought, Rob is on our side.

Looking back, Toronto took far too long to see Mr. Ford for what he was. Perhaps for fear of giving him another chance to say the elites were ganging up on him, leaders of the city’s establishment stood by aghast but mostly silent through much of the Ford era. They couldn’t see the breadth of his appeal. They failed to recognize the very real discontents that drove his rise.

Don’t make Toronto’s mistake. Don’t underestimate Donald Trump.”

Back when we were still in the thick of that four year stretch of self-imposed in(s)anity that was Ford’s tenure as our mayor, I wrote about evil (using the term with all my usual caveats) and the face of banality that it often wears. That little bit of a something was a bit too prophetic for my comfort. Change the names in the post – from Robbie F. to Donny T. – and I could have validly reposted the thing (I actually thought about it). The difference is one of scale – and scope. As the wannabe leader of the US, Donny T. (and that ‘unlikely’ prospect – winning his party’s nomination – draws closer to certainty) has clearly demonstrated that his ignorance and intolerance is something that needs checking. Now. Before it’s too late.

Hard on the heels of such thoughts, and wanting to find out some details about the federal Budget that was presented this afternoon (you know, the small stuff that might, actually, impact my life and the lives of those around me), I happened to catch a snippet that sucked me back to the media offerings. Robbie F. died this morning. While I’m sorry to hear of the passing of any young(ish) father, felled by a horrible disease at an age not far off my own, the mainstream media ’round these parts is demonstrating distressing lack of judgement and focusing all its attention in exactly the wrong places. Again.

On a day that saw horror and death in Europe and our new government’s plan for fiscal forward momentum, the 6:00 news spent most (and I really mean almost all) of its hour-long broadcast on the ‘story’ of the passing of a figure best left unheralded (Note that I don’t say ‘unacknowledged’ – he was a public figure and devoted at least part of his time to his version of public service). ‘Toronto Mourns’, they keep on headlining.

Like HELL it does.

Yet, once again, we the people are willingly drawn to a system of infotainment that persists in presenting the stories that they deem will garner the highest market-share – rather than those of greatest import and long-term impact.

Trevor spoke about it at length on the Daily Show last night – citing the president of one of the major network’s extreme glee that their excessive and unnecessary coverage of Donny T. is netting them a whole pile of cold, hard cash.

The bald admission turned my stomach. As did the sitch on the hometown network(s) – before I turned them off.

Instead of balanced examination, and critical analysis of things like policy and long-term plans, the media (once-upon-a-time the voice of – and for – us regular folks) is leaving such things up to other voices- like George Takei, in performance on Broadway with his own story of being on the receiving end of institutionalized racism (I’d love to see Allegiance – unfortunately I’ve issued a moratorium on all travel to the US until they deal with their racists and their gun nuts. In other words, I’ll be waiting for the touring show to come to town… ). These voices are speaking out against the insidiousness of levels of racism that are, somehow, accepted as some kind of inevitable status quo by media outlets (those that aren’t locked in denial that the racism exists), and supported by political leaders and wannabe political leaders alike.

The ‘Otherers’ are re-gaining momentum. I can see it – in comments sections of social media groups I follow, for example. One such group (a mommy blog, actually. Although I am not a mommy, the originator of the group is a successful blogging friend-of-a-friend, and, I have to admit, that the ‘Merican-ness of the group keeps me morbidly intrigued. TBH, I feel like an anthropologist at times – as the posts and comments are usually so far outside of my ken that I am frequently aghast by the discussions that go on) featured a post about Donny T. and his ‘ideas’.

At first I kept paying attention due to a Schadenfreude of which I’m not entirely proud. There has been some hope that we’ve, just lately, escaped our racist, anti-intellectual, sexist overlord(s) – so it was sort of perversely entertaining to witness the discussions about it happening somewhere other than my own backyard.

Most comments on the page, it should be said, expressed disgust/dismay/anger at the guy’s proposed ‘policies’, but there were more than a few ‘everyone is entitled to their opinions’ that set the conversations down paths of hostility and into unsupported ‘arguments’ that made me want to bite something.

Entitlement is a concept we need to get over. FFS. You can have an opinion. Sure. If that opinion happens to be ignorance, fear and hatred made manifest in ugliness, then I don’t have to sit by and let you express said ‘opinion’. I do not. I will not.

There is no justification – NONE – for supporting a misogynistic, racist, fear-and-violence-mongering reality television performer for POTUS.

Support of the guy is, as Ricky Jones noted, nothing more or less than an acknowledgment that issues of race and class remain an every-day reality in the United States. And, although Trump is a reprehensible human being, to be sure, it is the voting population that supports him that needs to draw our focus.

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.

I’ve seen a fair number of memes and GIFs and such that equate Trump with other despotic leaders from our recent history. While I appreciate that any sort of nod is being paid to the lessons of the past, the reality of the danger in ignoring such parallels is being lost in the superficiality of the media in which they are being transmitted.

The rage that Paul Krugman referenced in his post cannot be understated or misunderstood for what it is. The rage is exemplified by one word associated with Trump’s campaign – 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 can be determined by any accurate measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. That sort of idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar seeking to lead the country.

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 the ‘simple’ can get behind. Trump’s ‘uneducated’ masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a mythical time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ type of person. The ‘social identity’ of Trump’s followers has been shaken by progressive movements advocating social justice and equity.

The reality is that people like Trump are not ‘making America racist again’ – America never stopped being racist.

If this trajectory of the legitimation of hatred continues I’m concerned that there mightn’t be a wall high enough to keep the infection of such thinking south of the border (regardless of who ends up paying for said wall). We’re seeing it here, writ smaller to be sure, in the outpouring of ‘grief’ for a man who embodied racist, homophobic and misogynistic ignorance – and who impeded the progress of this city that I love for too many years.

 Canadian politesse (and the values taught to me by my parents) warns against things like speaking ill of the dead and suggests that the better course is saying nothing at all if niceties can’t be expressed.

Sorry Mum and Dad. Sitting by while the ‘news’ media spins tales of validity out of ineptitude and supposed-plain-speaking is symptomatic of dangerous complacency that supports epidemics of ignorance and wrong-doing. I’m an historian. I know what that level of complacency, and othering, and the acceptance of banality can do.

Unchecked, it can bring down civilizations.

The discontent that permits the rise of supposed-leaders like Donny T. and Robbie F. needs to be addressed, yes. We need to do so by rewriting the systemic inequities and lack of education that permits the persistence of othering. Our collective NOs – voiced in concert against the self-serving politicians, corporations, and media organizations – need to out-shout the manufacturers of fear and hatred that have become a shameful stock-in-trade of those who purport to lead.

So.

No.

Just no.

‘You know it’s dark…’

Photo: Toronto Star

That’s what the big, pointy thing in my backyard looked like last night.

I’ve turned off the television and I’m avoiding social media as best I can. Once again, hatred is coming to the fore and demonstrating the depravity and delusional depths to which we, as humans, can sink. I can’t handle the speculation and the voyeurism that is the norm when things like this happen. I’m not sure that I have anything at all that I can add to any sort of dialogue about why we, as humans, continue to do these things to each other. This blog is full of posts (here’s one), and my life is full of ghosts of discussions-past, that strive to address underlying causes and the nonsensical clinging to anachronistic and out-of-context ideologies that suborn these types of horrors. I’m exhausted from re-hashing my dialectic around why we must address- and enact- the complete separation of world statecraft and politics from any and all mindless adherence to mythologies and social controls that are out of place and time.

If you really want to, you can search back through the catalogue and find far too many reactionary posts that arose out of tragedies of this sort. Before the first indicators of the events of yesterday started in my feed, I was toying with an idea for a post- a break from the fiction I’ve been trying to write lately- in the form of a belated experiential slice-of-life sort of a thing that spoke about the goodness of the life I enjoy. Given that it was going to be a post about a music show, in a local music hall, the subject’s poignancy has taken on a new dimension. Going out of an evening to share the connection that music brings to those of us who value such things above the irrelevancies of constructed divisions and preconceptions is something that I hold to be a sacred (for lack of a more appropriate term. Yes, I get the irony) part of being a human that shares this planet with other humans.

So I’m writing it anyway. I’ll take comfort in memories of some of the real, tangible, good to which I have been a privileged party. I welcome anyone who might like to join me, but I understand that many of you are glued to the incoming messages and the pain associated with the images and realities of the situation. I will return to despairing over the crimes we commit against each other when we have more than speculation and in-the-moment reactions with which to deal. Especially since, once again, the soundbites and commentaries are fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia and demonstrating, yet again, wrong-headed thinking that stems from positions of privilege. If you want to read some excellent insights into that reality, have a look at this op-ed. Totally jibes with my thoughts on the subject of the day-presented more clearly than I can manage at this point.

Outrage and grief are understandable, and certainly warranted. I’d be the last to suggest otherwise. But what is, per usual, missing (for the most part- the essay linked above is a welcome exception) is perspective, and rational response. Enough. On to some regularly-scheduled programming…

——————————- 

For Canadians, Thanksgiving comes early (relative to our neighbours down south, that is). I had booked some vacation time around the October holiday- hoping to get some things done and have a bit of a break from the workaday normalcy. Those Blue Jays were still in the running and providing us all with some awesome post-season excitement. It was a warm weekend in this City by the Lake, and, after a lovely dinner with the fam, I’d arranged to meet an old friend up at Lee’s Palace (not the ‘Shoe, but probably my second-fave live venue in town) to see a guy who feels like an old friend.

The Wheat Sheaf Tavern had set up tvs outside- for smokers, people passing on the street and those, like me, waiting for streetcars. I witnessed another of those amazing Kevin Superman Pillar catches before the Red Rocket whisked me north. As I walked over from Bathurst, every bar on Bloor was playing the baseball game, and I was reassured that we were solidly in control of the game. Since all was good with the Boys in Blue, I was ready for some high octane rocking and rolling (admittedly, there were text updates throughout the evening- no disrespect to the star of the show at all, but it had been 22 years since the Jays were in the post-season. 22. Long. Years).

Jesse Malin has come up in my WordPressWorld discussions a time or two- he’s one of the most engaging live artists I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few) and he never fails to entertain. The holiday and the Jays’ game pretty much validated my concerns about the timing of the show- there weren’t a whole lot of people on hand. But my friend had rearranged his family dinner plans to make the show, and we tend to celebrate big dinners early in the day, anyway, so we were there, wearing our proverbial bells and hoping to make enough noise to make up for the poor turn-out.

We got there in time to see most of the opening act- Matthew Ryan, a dude out of Philly who writes and plays solid story-songs that offered important messages that were lovely, lyrically and musically, both. Between songs, he spoke of the importance of engagement- political or otherwise- words that rang especially vividly leading up, as we were, to that federal election. We got to have a quick chat with him- and snap a few pictures- between sets. Always a bonus to meet the person behind newly-discovered music.

By the time Jesse hit the stage the crowd hadn’t grown significantly, but it didn’t take long for him to entice us all down to the dance floor for a sing-and-dance-a-long that turned into one of my favourite nights of live music, ever.

In the last year he has released two albums of new music (yes, I said TWO). The most recent, Outsiders, had dropped the previous week. I admit that I hadn’t had much of a chance to listen to the newest stuff (the lack of real computer means that I remain hesitant to download the albums- and I like, whenever possible, buying CDs from merch tables at shows- so I’d relied on streams from various sources and some YouTube viewing to catch myself up), but, having seen the guy three times previously, I knew that the live versions of the new stuff would be the stuff of which memories are made.

I was right.

Jesse’s been at his craft for a few years decades now (he started performing at CBGBs when he was 12. Yes, that says 12), and his live shows are things of beauty. He’s a consummate professional- the voice, the backing band, the energy… and the lack of crowd deterred him not-at-all. Within a couple of songs he had joined us on the dance floor- belting out his new material (with a few older standbys in the mix) and showing just how classy working musicians can be. A few people came close to being clothes-lined by his mic cord as he moved among us, but great music- and its appreciation- is about taking chances, and should be riddled with the potential for a little danger.

Man.

I’ve tried to isolate some of the highlights in my mind. It’s difficult, though. His shows (even the one that packed the ‘Shoe because the TIFF glitterati thought the Boss might show up- I wrote about that one here) always seem more like a kitchen ceilidh- hanging with friends, sharing some stories and dancing ’til your feet hurt and your cheeks ache from the smiling and singing along.

I visited the merch table- of course- and bought both New York Before the War and Outsiders. Since the show I’ve had them both on repeat pretty constantly.

Hard as it is to choose favourites, this one stands out from New York Before the War:

I love the references to Dee Dee Ramone (clarification: turns out I got my musical allusions wrong. I checked out a YouTube clip, ‘Live at Vintage Vinyl’, today, and Jesse provided some background on the tune. In Addicted he’s actually referencing the life and death of Arturo Vega- the close friend and artistic director of the Ramones, who, among other things, designed that iconic logo of theirs. LOVE the stories this guy tells about his experiences and travels. Check out the performance if you have an hour- his story about Shane MacGowan- as a lead-in to his version of If I Should Fall from Grace with God… so awesome)- who has to be a personal hero of Jesse’s (he pops up in earlier tunes, as well), and the NYC atmosphere that resonates throughout. The themes of tearing things down (bookstores for condos, for example) and moving on- or being forced to move on- are visited throughout the album, which is a working-out of all kinds of things that have been floating around his head since 2010’s Love it to Life. It’s about how quickly things are changing, without requisite time or sensitization to get used to all the dramatic shifts in paradigm that we experience nowadays. The album reflects on the disposable culture we’ve created, the prevalent apathy and mindless following of trends, and addresses the realities of having to deal with horrible, terrible things- but still manages to find a spark of positivity that keeps us keeping on. And dancing while we do so.

Outsiders is darker, but also playful and full of tongue-in-cheek humour than demonstrates his masterful use of language and lyric.

At Lee’s, he talked a little about filming the video for this one. About how it was sweltering that day in New Orleans as they made their way around town to gather the images to accompany the lyrics- capturing NOLAs ‘away-ness’ in his song about the eventual return to his home- where his heart remains.

I can’t stop listening to it. Seriously. Non-stop. It’s my new  get-up-and-deal-with-the-day tune. Naturally, the title resonated quite personally. Sort of foregone, conclusion-wise, that I’d be intrigued. The song is so full of allusions and references and well-connected turns-of-phrase… I’m gushing, I realize. And if it doesn’t make you feel like dancing… you might want to get that looked at.

After the show wound up, still feeling kind of breathless, I thanked Jesse, as he passed on the way to merch, for coming to see us again, and for giving us such a fantastic night. He signed my new CDs, and posed for some photos with us, while chatting away about past shows at the ‘Shoe and other visits to TO.

Loved it. All of it. (Many thanks again to Mr. G- for the company, and the ticket, and the long-ago intro to Jesse’s music).

Nights like that demonstrate the best of us human-types. People making art, sharing art, connecting with strangers and reinforcing the reality that those things we create to share with love are much more important than the things we create to feed divisiveness and hatred.

We need that message on days like yesterday- and today. Thank you, Jesse, for your long-term and ever-developing role as messenger.

——————————-

“Hey man, whatcha doing,

All along the road to ruin

You know it’s dark when atheists start to pray.”

The crimes committed in France yesterday are bringing out the hashtags and the superficial demonstrations of engagement and encouragement. One of them, #prayforparis, is generating backlash, as others post things about there being too much prayer- and asserting that prayer is the origin of the problem. While I understand the sentiment behind the hashtag, I have to concur with the naysayers who are pointing out that fighting against hateful ideology- supported by religions and political systems, both- is what we should be doing.

Charlie Hebdo’s message to the world (cartoon by Joann Sfar)

As a concept, I’ve always thought that prayer, the way it’s generally defined by western religions- as an intransitive verb that addresses god(s) with adoration, supplication, thanksgiving or confession- is the ultimate cop-out. Asking a deity- any deity- to intervene in problems of our own making, horrific acts performed by humans against other humans, removes us, in a way that is criminal, from taking responsibility and proactively working to make things better.

It is dark. In the City of Light, in Lebanon, in Kenya, in too many other places on this globe.

But there’s another definition of the term- one that is distanced from overtones of religion and belief- and the abrogation of human culpability. As a transitive verb, ‘to pray’ means ‘to entreat or implore’, often used as an introduction to a question, request or plea.

I can get behind that last bit. Pleading. With all of us, as human beings, to mourn, to punish the guilty who seek to end or disrupt the lives of others for reasons that can never suffice. But vilifying and scapegoating entire groups while blaming and further victimizing those who are fleeing the terror… I implore us all to think before we act/react/speak.

That’s how this atheist prays.

Nomenclature

Image result for picture worth a thousand words quote

There’s an old nugget of wisdom that talks about a picture being worth a whole bunch o’ words. Its origins are disputed- claims of historical (that it originated with the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, for example) and religious (Confucius) authority have been attempted to lend weight to its message- but it first showed up in the context of journalism and/or publicity (Frederick R. Barnard used it to convey the importance of graphics in advertising). Overall, that’s unsurprising.

I don’t know a whole lot about PR and/or marketing. Not my wheelhouse- and I find the concept behind such things uncomfortable, to say the least, what with their raisons d’être of manipulation and control.

A lot of us saw a picture last month. That picture rendered many of us speechless. With shock, with sorrow, with the reality of a tiny face given to millions of people who have been, for years now, fleeing chaos in their homeland.

I have my thoughts about how we, in the west, have been dealing with the issues that have created and exacerbated the strife in that area of the world. I’ve grieved for the people, as I’ve mourned the loss of their personal histories and the loss of the collective history of all of us humans as precious monuments are destroyed alongside lives yet uncounted.

Visuals are important- and it’s impossible to imagine our current (popular) culture without them. My generation was the first to see a war on the television- and the images of that war helped shape a response- from our parents and communities and governments- when the refugee crisis it prompted hit our shores, far away from South East Asia, in the form of people seeking asylum and relief from the chaos.

Pictures are invaluable- and can be, as we’ve seen this week, the tipping point toward enough awareness that change may actually be effected.

But me? I deal in words (I don’t even have a camera, tbh)- I find comfort and strength and expression through their effective use.

Something that has been bugging me for the past while has become uncomfortably blatant with all of the press coverage and political rhetoric that stemmed from the fallout after that picture appeared. Even weeks on, it’s framing our dialogue about what is happening overseas.

Since April or so the media has been talking about something called the ‘European Migrant Crisis’. Not that there was all that much real dialogue about it out there- but, when the news outlets chose to mention the influx of people into Europe everyone referred to them as migrants.

I have a problem with that. There are connotations associated with that particular term’s definition that belie the reality of what has been happening. In its common usage, there is an implied sense of choice associated with the word. Migrant workers, for example, have opted- for a variety of reasons- to work outside of their home region or country.

Here in Canada, we have temporary, seasonal agricultural workers who come from places like the Caribbean and Mexico to help farmers during periods of planting, cultivating and harvesting. And, once the harvest is in, they head back where they came from.

Migrant, as a categorizing term, implies an eventual return to the home country/region. A ‘temporary foreign worker‘ by another name.

Migration- in human terms- is simply defined as physical movement from one place to another with the intention of settling elsewhere- either temporarily or permanently. When they move, voluntarily, into a new area they are called immigrants. Sometimes they are called illegal immigrants (I’ll set aside the absurdity of applying a descriptor such as ‘illegal’ to human beings for another day. Acts are illegal. People should not be categorized as such)- when the country to which they migrate isn’t particularly open-arms-welcoming of them.

Involuntary human migration usually involves horrific things like human trafficking and slave trading: people who are taken, against their will, elsewhere for the economic benefit of other people.

It seems that, thankfully, I’m not completely alone in my distress about the irresponsible use of inflammatory language when we’re dealing with human beings in crisis. This morning I found this article, emphasizing the need for “accurate and well reported media coverage (that) will contribute to a balanced debate and will assist in fostering real respect and calmness in the face of deep human suffering. Refugees – all people actually – deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; in our public discourse as well as through our actions.”

There has been response from politicians and editorial writers (I found that opinion piece in the facebook feed of one of my childhood- and now, adulthood- heroes, Raffi), and, of course those journalists who have found evidence aplenty to lay the blame for our continued national inaction at the feet of our former federal government. Now the conversation is turning toward assessments of whether or not our new PM-elect can fulfill his promises to expedite the process of accepting refugees into the country.

They’re callin’ all the shots, they’ll call and say they phoned
They’ll call us lonely when we’re really just alone
Like a funny film, it’s kinda cute
They’ve bought the bullets and there’s no one left to shoot

Watching the local news channel this morning as I breakfasted, the anchor spoke repeatedly of the ‘refugee crisis’ and how awareness has increased since the photo appeared. At the same time, the teletype headline below her referred to violence between migrants and guards at railway and bus stations in various places in Eastern Europe.

We seem to be in a period of extreme dissociative identity disorder. But with the voices that found government-sanctioned support of their racism and irrational prejudices tempered (for the moment, anyway) by the election of representatives that promise to end such detestable divisiveness, perhaps we can make the conversations- and actions- more in keeping with the human rights concerns of the majority of this county.

Hope for a new day.

(I actually kept this post to 1000 words!)

I fear we won’t see her like again…

 

Strange how it happens- that synchronicity thing. A-M and I were just talking about her the other day

As I started my Saturday with a catch-up of some of the news of the week I might have missed as other things took precedence, the news of Maureen O’Hara’s death, in her sleep, at 95, popped into the feed.

I love Maureen O’Hara. There was so much to admire- her beauty (obvious as it was) to be certain, but the spirit and intelligence of the characters she brought to life… that strength and no-nonsense facet of her personality shone through every performance and interview I ever saw.

Although a woman of her times (despite my enduring love for The Quiet Man, there are bits of that- and McLintock!, too- that make me cringe a little. But I can acknowledge the time/place in which those wonderful romps were created, and allow the license that saw her dragged through town and/or paddled by her exasperated husband- John Wayne having shown remarkable restraint up until that point in each story- in full sight of all the townspeople), it always seemed as if she chose, consciously, to always play the strong woman.

No shrinking violet roles for Maureen. Whether she was a divorced single mother who also managed to juggle a position of importance at Macy’s, or a Boston matron taking charge of her children and herself (looking back, how very bizarre was the concept behind The Parent Trap– but I digress), she was a pretty solid role model, or a frontier wife who stood up for herself and her homestead.

She first caught my attention when I was but a wean watching The Wonderful World of Disney, and her role as Hayley Mills’ mother placed her pretty solidly in my childhood orbit. But the character of Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street is the one that continues to resonate with me- regardless of the number of times I’ve seen the film and her performance.

As a single mother, Doris was all practicality- hardworking, caring practicality. No time for fairy tales as she taught her daughter, Susan (how wonderful was Natalie Wood, in that role?), to ignore the vagaries of life in favour of the sometimes-harsh realities. And yet, when presented with evidence of the need to hang onto the wonderful, she embraced and encouraged those fancies while maintaining the requisite intelligence and pragmatism necessary to make things work in the real world.

I think that’s a big part of why the story endures, and why the film is still broadcast each year (I admit I’ve never seen the remake. Why mess with perfection?). The adaptability, romanticism, and good sense displayed, makes the story- and its characters- pretty unique. Especially when held up against the two-dimensional characters we are faced with these days- both in film and IRL (no names mentioned, but I could cite a whole family of them that have television shows, for some inexplicable reason).

I’m finding her death- after a well-lived life- yet another example of that synchronicity thing I’ve talked about a time or two, for a couple of reasons.

It’s a melancholy kind of day, here in my City by the Lake. After fighting the good fight- which ended in yet another odd game (that Caleb kid had best not be planning any trips to Toronto any time soon)- my Blue Jays have left the playing field for another year. It was a quite a ride, to be sure, and my gratitude and honest affection for this group of guys is undimmed by their inability to take it all the way. But I woke up feeling a little bereft, this morning, with no baseball left to watch (yes, I realize there’s still a World Series to be played- but it’s not of much interest without the engagement with the players- and I can’t see that happening in the next couple of days…) and a rainy Saturday stretching ahead of me.

Another of my blogging besties, Beth, wrote, yesterday, about her frustrations with the gender gap that remains evident- in politics, in business, in education, in every-freakin-day life- that coincide with the way my mind has been working of late.

Pre-the sad news about Maureen, a random piece of click-bait I saw discussed the gender bias that is embedded and inculcated in Hollywood. Daniel Craig- that most awesome of 007s- minced no words when discussing its ridiculous and insidious double standards. That he also spoke about the inherent misogyny of James Bond? Icing on the cake (Don’t get me wrong- I love 007- in most of his incarnations. Craig is the fave, thus far, though. I’ll be seeing Spectre in a couple of weeks. Definitely).

I’d love to think that the fact that these sorts of topics seem to be everywhere these days is indicative of the fact that things are changing. But I’m becoming increasingly less sure that that’s the case.

Another article that popped up in my feed this morning, by a writer I admire, greatly, Valerie Tarico, discusses the prevalence of blatant and rampant attempts to dis-empower women, and the ways in which certain factions of society are doing so.

As she does so often, Valerie has given me pause and caused me to think about the way we use language- and the dangers in doing so, unthinkingly. Her brief article has significantly shifted my way of referencing- both in my head and aloud- the manner in which conservative factions (including our own, unlamented, former PM) shape ‘discussions’ surrounding issues that directly impact women.

In thinking about the ways in which we communicate (always at the forefront of my mind, given my day job and my constitutional inclinations), I’m increasingly frustrated by the unconscious acceptance we have developed for the improper usage of words and terms as descriptors of phenomena that influence pivotal aspects of our lives.

There are a number of posts in the drafts folder on just that very topic. As we support the decline of our language(s), we blindly accept the ways in which the media, lobbyists, politicians, religious leaders, adapt certain terms to suit their take on particular issues.

It is something that we need to keep in mind, as we sit on rainy Saturdays flipping through the virtual papers to stay up-to-date about what it happening in our world(s).

I’d like to think that Maureen O’Hara- and any of the characters she played over the course of her celebrated life- would agree that if even dialogue about the treacherous undermining of women’s rights is couched in terminology evoking war and assault, then we’d best be arming ourselves with like weaponry in our defence.

She was beautiful, she was classy, she was intelligent, she was savvy, and she was one tough broad.

Although I’ve never seen it confirmed, I’ve always understood that the short story (by Maurice Walsh) that inspired John Ford’s film, was based on the Irish saying: Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde.

‘Beware the anger of the patient (quiet) man.’

Or woman.

Another of my favourites? Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

‘Three things that are difficult to understand: the mind of a woman, the work of bees, and the coming and going of the tide.’

Saturday thoughts. Go in peace, but as you lived, Ms. O’Hara. With fire and determination. I thank you- for the entertainment and for the example. xo

What’s it worth to you?

I am reallyreally angry that I’m having to write this. Really.

As of this afternoon I am officially on ‘staycation’- some time off work that was booked ages ago, before the Canadian dollar started its slide downdowndown and made us re-think a US holiday, at this time. Even though I’ll be taking some work home with me, it’s the first more-than-an-extra-long weekend I’ve had off since last years’ trip to the UK (which included my meet-up with the incomparable Anne-Marie, who lovingly and poetically remembered our pub night last week).

I’m okay with the ‘stay’ part. Especially since at 3:37 this afternoon my home team began its ‘Hunt for Blue October’ (whatever ad company came up with that little gem deserves a round of applause) and 3rd run at becoming World Series Champs. Some might think I’m jumping the gun, since they still have to win the AL, but if the atmosphere in this town has any effect on the Boys in Blue then they’re going all the way. All. The. Way.

It’s electric around here. You can feel it in the streets. And, apparently all across the country, as even those who purport to hate Toronto (obviously people who have never spent any time here. Obviously.) rally behind our one Canadian Major League ball team.

It was a rough and scary Game 1- Josh Donaldson (soon to be known as ‘MVP Josh Donaldson’) got knocked in the noggin on his way into second, and Joey B- after a lovely home run- left the game with a strained hamstring- but we will rally and come back in full force tomorrow (Josh WILL be medically cleared and good to go- keeping the faith).

Baseball angst notwithstanding, here I was, looking forward to a bit of a break from dealing with the day-to-day, serious stuff, while watching my Jays and getting some things done ’round the house and ’round the town. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so there will be time with family, and one of my favourite musical dudes is paying us a visit on Sunday night at Lee’s (unfortunately conflicting with a Jays game, but I’ll miss that one to hang with Jesse – interesting that I first wrote about him in the context of some concerns I had with the federal bureaucracy), some spa time, a little wandering around and enjoying the change of the season (and storing up memories of relative warmth before the horrors of winter set in. I don’t like the cold, have I mentioned that before?).

I talked a bit about our federal election last week – and emphasized the importance of everyone getting out there to cast a vote. Preferably a vote against our incumbent government and its leader. I thought I was done with yelling about the dangers of maintaining this particular status quo.

Yeah no. Evidently not.

In the realm of dirty politics- a place that is a second home to our current PM- he is hitting new and ever-more egregious lows. I’m not being rhetorical or alarmist when I use that word- or any of its synonyms. Words like shocking, appalling, abhorrent, terrible… All of the above are applicable.

His always-borderline misogyny, racism and xenophobia has crossed the border. He is vocally demonstrating that he lives in the heartland of overt racism and elitism, now. He can’t even see the border any more. And I say that as someone who is pretty ‘old stock’ (4th generation Torontonian, on Dad‘s side).

I’m not even talking about C-51, or his unwillingness to investigate the disappearances and deaths of scores of indigenous women in this country (and I certainly won’t mention the former Tory MP who said that they had it coming), or his inexplicable hesitancy reevaluate his policies about refugees – even in light of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in Europe (that is a whole other rant in itself- one that sits, temporarily languishing, in the drafts folder until I can achieve some level of relative coherence about it all).

With indicators that his ‘popularity’ is sliding (hard to measure the true popular vote in our outrageously out-dated ‘first past the post’ electoral process- THAT’S something that needs to be overhauled by our next government… but I digress), Harper is looking to reiterate and maximize his politics of division- especially in parts of Quebec, which, as we have seen, has its own issues with xenophobic and racist policies.

He is focusing his attentions on an issue that affects such a small proportion of the population that I’m amazed (and, frankly, dismayed) that it is being given any airtime at all. Yet, for some reason, his ongoing emphasis on wearing the niqab is dominating discussions and has escalated to the extent that he has declared that, if he is re-elected (avert!), choosing to do so would not be permissible for federal employees. Even though it has never been raised as an issue in the public service. Ever.

Didn’t work so well in Quebec, but hey, I’m the last person to suggest that he not shoot himself in the foot by alienating more members of the public. His proposed ‘rat on your neighbours‘ policy? THAT should go over well…

As Justin Trudeau said in the preamble to the Current, women are being attacked in this country for wearing the hijab and niqab. ‘This is not Canada,’ he said. You know I’ve had my issues with Mr. Trudeau, at times, but that point is indisputable.

Especially since women don’t have to be wearing an outward manifestation of their faith in order to come under attack, apparently. This reality became personal to me this week, as my dear friend, Farah, was subjected to an Islamophobic verbal attack in our city’s main downtown mall. In, irony of ironies, that most-quintessential of Canadian stores, Roots.

In addition to being a brilliant and caring friend, Farah is an inspirational social activist with an impressive history of using her powerful voice in support and effective aid of those who are, often, voiceless. She also has a pretty big Twitter following. That social media presence- active since her quest to have the Iranian government release her friends from illegal captivity – and her fearlessness, shine a light on the disturbing effects of Harper’s policies and rhetoric- including the ‘uptick in anti-Islam sentiment since the niqab became an election buzzword.’

Ya’ll know I love Stevie Stills. I write about him a fair bit. Back when he was with a band called Buffalo Springfield he penned a little ditty.

The title is taken from an idiomatic statement that is, generally, used to moderate an opinion that may differ from the opinion of its audience, and to emphasize humility while prompting the audience to provide their judgement of worth against the statement being made (my thanks to Wikiwords for helping to parse the phrase and its origins).

A whole lot of people- myself included, once upon a time- thought that the song was sourced in anti-war sentiments. It was certainly adopted by those who protested American involvement in Vietnam, and it became inextricably linked with the events at Kent State in 1970 (odd, since the song was written and recorded in 1966. I’d be the last to argue that Stephen isn’t prescient, but I don’t think he’s quite that good).

It was about civil disobedience in the face of prejudicial lobbying and ordinances against a portion of the population. Young people, who regularly gathered on the Sunset Strip (where Buffalo Springfield were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go) protested the actions of local residents and business groups who successfully worked to have curfew laws imposed, in what began as a series of peaceful rallies. As is too often the case, the unrest became violent as clashes between the protesters and police escalated.

It’s an assessment of a lack of social justice.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

Perhaps Stephen (Stills, not that other guy) is more prescient than I credited, earlier. His song transcends time and is as applicable now (sadly) as it was in 1966. Harper’s Conservatives are drawing battle lines, inciting paranoia and repeatedly telling us we need to beware. Of our fellow citizens.

None of that has a place in MY Canada.

So. In the midst of celebrating- Thanksgiving AND Blue Jay wins (I’ve got your backs, lads)- we need to take the time to stop, listen and look at what’s going down.

Rick Mercer came back from his summer holidays this week and, unsurprisingly, had a few things to say about this election campaign. The words of the immortal Sam Gamgee stand true, and, as Rick said, the main job we have, as Canadians, is to show up and vote for those good things we want to see enacted.

Which doesn’t include men coming to take us away if we step out of line. Especially since that line, as they draw it and cross it, is becoming increasingly un-Canadian, in the way in which I measure such things.

It certainly doesn’t include a PM whose leadership example encourages racist and xenophobic behaviours that destroy safe spaces for all Canadians. Instead, I will follow the example of one I’m privileged to call friend and use my voice to shout, without breaking for ‘vacation’ if necessary, in order to ensure that we preserve and enhance that which is good.

For what it’s worth.

Time and Place

 

Context.

In my years teaching undergrads about ancient religions, history and literature, I spent a good amount of time talking about the relativity of origins of belief, doctrine and social norms. When I was, myself, an undergrad and then grad student, one of my beloved mentors, Kaz, had a distinctive way of using the German term Sitz im Leben as a way of emphasizing that we cannot- CAN. NOT.- begin to read or understand a text- let alone try to do anything as tricky as interpret the thing- without a thorough knowledge of the time/place/situation in life in which it was produced.

Context.

I’m starting to think we’ve completely lost this vital awareness. Assuming that we, as a connected grouping of human beings, ever really realized its importance.

What the Hell, people? Come on. We are rapidly ceasing to act in ways that demonstrate the beautiful and limitless potentiality of humanity. We are focusing so much on the divisiveness that keeps us tied to a status quo- one that is nostalgic-yet-fictional, at best, and deliberately-and-maliciously-constructed, at worst. And one that benefits the veryvery small proportion of our population that wields the political and/or economic power and doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

Petty* clerks who refuse to do their jobs (a job to which she was elected) because of a narrow, context-less, rote, and erroneous reading of a series of social controls written for a Bronze Age civilization?!?!?!

As much as I’d love to say that that particular episode of willful idiocy is symptomatic of a seeming US-wide epidemic of willful idiocy (Don’t get me started on her biggest supporter, that Huckabee guy…), the reality is that those that live in Canadian glass houses should not be tossing rocks around the joint. As much as it pains me to say that.

I have to admit that I do submit to certain form of Canadian-born schadenfreude at those times when the apparently-de facto pig-ignorance that is employed, permitted and/or supported by certain portions of the American population becomes overwhelming in its ridiculousness. Increasingly, though, doing so comes uncomfortably close to pots and kettles exchanging insults across the International Boundary.

Back-to-school week here in the Centre of the Universe north of the 49th parallel (Toronto, for those non-residents who deny our awesomeness) has brought back an issue to the media spotlight after a summer hiatus (even irrational and deluded Ontarians head to the cottage, apparently). For the first time since 1998, our provincial government, after years of consultations, has updated our public school health curriculum- including what we, as a society, have to teach, in our public schools, about sex and sexuality.

Since Ontario is clearly run by a secular, elected, governmental body, non-Ontarians might find the outcry over the institution of this curriculum somewhat bemusing. Even I did a fair bit of resigned head-shaking and minimizing of the ‘protests’ that took place before the last school year ended. I had my own opinions about those who might nay-say imparting undisputed facts and realities to our children. Some of those opinions were less-than-flattering, to be sure (there’s one in the paragraph above, in fact).

I keep trying to hope that we have put aside our reliance on adherence to Bronze Age, (Ancient) Near Eastern values and cultural mores that jibe not-at-all with those of Canada, in 2015.

That small spar is fast-disappearing.

The ‘debate’ rages. And not just about this (non)issue, but about too many other things of import that have portions of our population running back to their fairy tales and to the strictures that were put in place to maintain social controls over populations from long ago and far away.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like debate. Debate, by definition, polarizes– and suggests that someone will ‘win’. Which, of course, means that there will always be a loser. And it also means that there is no opportunity for respectful discussion- a dialectic, if you will.

This drawing of lines and taunting of the ‘other side’ has reached proportions of absurdity to such an extent that I find myself beginning to lean ever-more frequently toward the dark side of those who greet differences of opinion with juvenile name-calling and instant-and-absolute dismissal. I’m starting to ‘get’ the approach of some of those New Atheist-types who refuse to so much as acknowledge any way but their own, particular highway.

After decades of learning and teaching about different approaches to the way we humans create reality and culture and society, I’m getting a wee bit too much up on my own high horse of opinions about what we need to codify as our societal- and legal- values.

Holding onto my meliorism has been harder and harder. What’s meliorism when it’s at home, you ask? At its most basic, meliorism is a concept that allows for the fact that the world can be made better through human effort. It’s tied up with the pragmatism proposed by peeps like William James and co. It’s kind of central to my way of looking at things.

Except… That foundation has become shaky, lately. Trust and belief in my fellow human beings isn’t especially strong at the moment. I’m having a whole lot of trouble accessing any level of respect for whole lot of people who are making a whole lot of noise, lately.

Then this morning I saw an opinion piece in our local Star.

Timely as all get-out, IMHO.

Respect. It’s severely lacking in our discourse these days. And, contrary to the assertions of certain talking heads, respect is not some hackneyed, airy-fairy, super-left-leaning-liberal, nebulous concept that posits that everyone is, in some way, ‘right’.

I’m ashamed I needed that reminder.

None of this is to say that I’m faltering in my firm stance that we need to work toward complete civil, legal and societal secularization. I hold the truth of that necessity to be self-evident.

People don’t seem to get that there’s a distinct difference between working for social justice for all people and being ‘politically correct’. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion- regardless of how backward-thinking and based in tenuous, misinterpreted, anachronistic apologetics such thinking might be. But no one is entitled to expect such opinions to interfere with the larger, overriding and instructional societal rules and standards that guide us in living together as equitably and respectfully as is possible for a country/province/county/city of humans from different places and with different levels of education and different ways of looking at the world.

We are, thankfully, not a theocracy. Nor, for that matter, is the US- although it’s getting harder and harder to remember that little fact. We are not governed by laws that discriminate based upon things like race, gender or sexuality. Not anymore. These over-arching laws aren’t perfect- not by a long-shot they aren’t. But they are demonstrative of forward momentum- the correct direction- away from past distinctions that were established- and supported- by distressingly out-of-context ideologies and institutions.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to remind ourselves just where and when we are. Not where and when we think we are- or wish we were. If you are committed to retaining adherence to the strictures and social norms that were dictated by things like the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Scriptures, the Qur’an, or the standardized version of Manifest Destiny-driven North American history that many of us grew up learning, you must needs seriously sit down and actually learn something about the times and places in which those things were codified. Seriously.

If you do, and still think things were better back then, I’ve got a time machine for sale, cheap (it’s a DeLorean, so it’s a bit dated retro, but still functional).

Knowledge of history does more than help prevent its repetition. Knowledge of history illuminates our awareness that there were no ‘good old days’. Not compared with the situations in life that the majority of us can claim here in North America now.

Again, things aren’t perfect- or even great- for too many of us. Relative economic stability and lack of equitable opportunities remain elusive for too many people in countries that command unprecedented access to resources such as food and shelter (and even many of those numbered among our most vulnerable can still claim more than, when compared with too many others elsewhere on this big blue marble of ours. Exhibit A: the current global refugee crisis. But more on that another day…).

Human progression and evolution may experience periods of reactionary reversion now and again (I cite the fact that that Trump buffoon has anyone taking him seriously as a contender for leadership as proof of that), but our drive to dispel ignorance as we seek understanding and justice for all trumps (pun totally intended) the backsliders every single time. Every. Single. Time.

The past should not, CANNOT, govern us. We can must learn valuable lessons from the wisdom that came before our time, certainly, but we are not beholden to the limited thinking of people who had significantly less information and leisure for reflection with which to work than we have achieved- and continue to achieve- as a human race. We can hear and respect the values and knowledge of people from places that seem far-flung (even as communication causes the world to shrink), but those values that we have instituted, through our agreed-upon system of governance, will always take precedence. In 2015. In Canada.

We can stand around (or go for a troll on the internet) calling others ‘immoral’ and ‘blasphemous‘ and ‘against god(s)’ and ‘idiotic’ (I’m guilty of that one) and ‘stupid’ (okay, that one too, sometimes) or we can keep to the forward momentum that promotes the values of “mutual tolerance (although I’ve noted my concerns with that term, previously) and respect for each other’s dignity and humanity”, as Edward Keenan so wisely stated in his editorial.

Our time and place demands that we do so. We know so much more than we did 4500 or 2000 or 1400 years ago. We are ever-evolving and better than we were even a century ago. Although I’d personally prefer that they didn’t, those who wish to hold onto the ideas that came out of those bygone times and places are welcome to do so. “Diversity of practices and beliefs… (and a) social and legal framework of mutual respect… (are enforced) through government institutions that acknowledge our differences, and insist that we respect each other despite them.”

Those ideas are out of place and time, though. And, as such, need be weighed reasonably and evidentially against our current societal values.

I think that’s a pretty fair summation of forward thinking. Secular forward thinking. We’re not there yet, but we’re on a solid heading. It’s hard to remember that, sometimes. But it’s true.

As a (nameless, female) character in that Big Book O’Stories found out, there is never value to be found in looking backward– to a time or place- with longing.

To do so is risk her fate. And pillars of salt are eventually worn down by unstoppable forces like waves and winds of progress.

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day

I can see
It took so long to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

It’s a new horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin’
the clouds are breakin’
‘Cause I can’t lose now, there’s no game to play

I can tell
There’s no more time left to criticize
I’ve seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
but I can be strong

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind**

*I use the term ‘petty’ in this case not as a descriptor of her duties as a representative of the county, but because her so-called reasoning behind her unwillingness to do her job are ‘of little importance and trivial’. Contextually-speaking.

**I hesitated using anything remotely Boston-related after the trouncing their hometown team gave MY hometown team last night (sheesh guys. What was THAT?!?!), but the song just sort of lent itself to the topic…

Everybody has one…

Heavy thoughts on a gorgeous Friday…

It’s been another one of those weeks. Too many things challenging each other for head space for any really coherent insights to take hold and stick around.

My lovely friend Beth started a wonderful discussion this morning over at her blog (go have a look- it’s a great essay https://byrnesbeth.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/psychd/ on the value of perspective and education and lots of other important things…) that has me revisiting some ideas- and some older thoughts I put together and shared ’round these parts.

This was one of the earliest little bits o’something I posted here at colemining. Change up the specifics of the media coverage, and it’s, perhaps, even more applicable today- in light of this week’s events.

The weather is (finally) wonderful here in TO. I have plans to see some super heroes with some super friends. I’m trying hard not to let the evident awareness that we are continuing to choose to leap to conclusions without any examination of fact, or underlying causality, or endemic injustice, lead to irrecoverable despair/apathy.

Same windmills, two plus years on. Hoping to find the wherewithal to keep on tilting.

colemining

Once upon a time there were commentators- people who were paid to explain and offer opinions on newsworthy topics of concern.  They were clearly identified as opinions– and they provided credentials for analysis and acceptance (or rejection) by those reading or watching the editorial.  Last week there was a flood of (justified) criticism of many of the ‘news’ groups covering the trial of accused rapists in an Ohio town.  These commentaries on the commentaries (as opposed to news reporting) are still floating around the interworld, as well as the television, radio and print media.

Since we are losing connections to our myths- and myth making- the dramas of tragic events are being further dramatized- with commentary- and it frightens me a great deal.  People in power- be they politicians, business leaders, religious leaders- have always used the media of the time as a means of control over the population…

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