Voices Carry: Next Steps

Well it’s been an interesting few weeks since I first started trying to articulate what I hope to do with this project. I have, already, had some great conversations that will, I hope, lead to larger ones that will focus positive attention on the change-seeking that should come with the restructuring that will be required as a result of the pandemic. Change that can come if we isolate and analyse the inequities and shortcomings of our societies and their will to address those dark places that have been exposed.

It was a rough week, personally, as my family lost one of its members. This was not unexpected – but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. It has lead to a whole lot of soul searching (or soul mining) as I come to the realization that the number of people who have known and loved me since I was born is rapidly dwindling.

Uncle Ken was Dad’s best friend – and we spent a whole lot of time with his family while we we growing up. Even once we were well into adulthood, he and Aunt Marcia took their roles as godparents to me and my sisters very seriously. When a long-term very toxic relationship came to an end, Aunt Marcia acted in Mum’s stead as comforter and provider of hugs and sweets, while Uncle Ken said one of the things that shocked me in its starkness at the time, yet has proven to be a reality that continues to be a source of strength and purpose. He said, “you are not a victim.”

This assertion seemed abrupt and almost harsh in the state I was in – I was still in the wallowing stage of things, I guess – but, as was usual for him, he cut through to the heart of things and reinforced his belief that I would move beyond the situation with the help of my own strength and the support that I could call upon from family and friends. He was a keystone of that support in the years that followed – as we saw Dad through his last illnesses – and I haven’t fully integrated the fact that we will no longer have that support. That’s going to take some time and some focus that I can’t command right now.

Still, the sadness and reflection has helped to shape my thoughts on some potential next steps for this project. I think that these conversations will likely take the form of podcasts  on a series of the necessary changes identified. It is still early days, but the recruitment process has begun, and I’m drawing up some questions I’d like to start sending people to think about in advance of really setting the stage for the chats to begin.

One of the things that wants examining – and one of the proposed topics of discussion – has to do with our unhealthy cultural obsession with celebrities – and those who hold a public spotlight, in particular the propensity to think that said celebrities can do wrong and don’t need their words and actions examined with a critical eye, if they are to be held up as exemplars to which we should aspire.

As is so often the case, reflection on this issue got me thinking about a story – a biblical story (unsurprisingly – I’ve been returning to my research roots more and more lately) that talks about the perils of investing too much unexamined faith in others – especially those who are only superficially worthy of such reverence.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it – ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him – since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance – much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation – which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure – with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone – uncut by human hands – came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter – with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise – one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided – and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall – by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and what Daniel had to say lay at its root. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example – and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw – usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet – the flaw – caused by the hubris or ego of the figure – endangers the whole. Up to and including its wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures – in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them – or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite so many examples of this right now, but I’m sure they wouldn’t scratch the surface of the daily demonstrations that prove that this is a pervasive social issue), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e., not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits… Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies. Although my recommendation would be that we cease the irrational adulation that permits the rise of such cults – and let them crumble as they should.

It’s time to end our cultural obsession with the lives of people who proclaim their importance and expect us to fall into line to worship based on their self-assessment and the media’s assistance in the development of the construct of their false narrative.

I’m confident that we will have some interesting conversations around this topic – and perhaps come up with some solutions – from journalists and other members of the media, along with those who find themselves in the role of ‘celebrity’ – as to how we can change the narrative and crumble some clay feet – and those who walk around on them – in a constructive way.

Send me a message if you’re interested in participating in the project. Enjoy the sunshine this weekend, stay safe and please stay home as much as you can, and keep your distance and wear a mask if you need to be out. The trends around here are becoming more alarming each day.

 

Mene Mene (especially you, MAGAts)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing my best to catch up on reading and paying attention to things that used to inspire and entertain, both, as I navigate the challenges that have come along with this physical distancing and isolating thing. When I’m at my most optimistic/least anxious, I feel lucky to have the extra time to revisit writings and readings that were the focus of my life for a couple of decades. It’s making me miss the stories and the studies and the research and the people I got to work and interact with, if not the time/place in which I did the studying and research. That period of my life was a mixed bag, to say the least.

Still, the opportunity to reflect – and hopefully refocus so that I can plan some personal next steps once we are on the other side of this – is something for which I am grateful. I am re/learning lessons about prioritization and the value of stuff that find important – regardless of whether or not others can understand that value.

The focus of my academic life was pretty esoteric. I get that. It’s not something that everyone gets or cares about or views with any degree of import. It wasn’t practical – by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been asked, more than once, ‘but what can you do with that kind of a degree? What can you actually do?’ And that was from ‘friends’. Once outside of academia I had no illusions that I’d find employment in an area involving my subject matter expertise. I’ve lived with that for a little over ten years now. It doesn’t even bother me. Most of the time.

The societal crisis we’re experiencing right now is making me really examine how much value I place on my current role, and it’s resulting in some pretty deep soul-mining. I can’t stop thinking about the need for the creation of a new normal that we will have to undertake as cities, provinces, countries and as a global community. And I don’t really think that the job I do right now will permit me to contribute to the required paradigm shift in any meaningful way. I can’t overemphasize how much we need to rethink the ways we determine value – starting with all our frontline essential folks – in medicine, home care, food delivery, emergency response, cleaning and sanitation… the list goes on – but not forgetting our creatives.

So, with time on my hands and the inability to sleep, I’m going back to what I know. And what I love and what I value. And we’ll see where that has taken me once the dust settles.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had something come up in the course of business calls and email back-and-forth that was irrationally irritating (to a ridiculous extreme that is indicative, in part, of the tension of isolation, to be sure), so in the spirit of getting it off my chest so I can stop fixating on it, I’ve decided to address that irritation, here.

People keep saying ‘(they’ve) seen the handwriting on the wall.’ It’s making me nuts.

I get that that’s pedantic to the extreme, but I also feel like it’s illustrative of the ways in which we miss the salient point because we misinterpret or misunderstand its context. The reference comes from one of my most favourite bibical texts – one I’ve written about before. I went back to that post (waaaaaay back to 2013!) and, after cringing at some of the writing, realized that the story is super-relevant to the times through which we are living right now. As are so many of our human stories – regardless of when or where they were written.

The Hebrew Scriptures have a lot of pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines. I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the basis of my doctoral thesis – and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory. Man, did those guys know how to spin a tale.

The NT and I remain estranged – there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis, and, to be honest, I’m even more convinced that Saul of Tarsus and I will never see eye-to-eye on things. The Revelation (no ‘s’ – again with the punctiliousness) has a lot of fun stuff, but it’s being used all over the place lately (those Evangelical nutbars in the US are tiresome with their citations taken out of context), so I’m feeling like the over-exposure and forced interpretations take it out of the running for revisiting right now.

I’ve always been fascinated by the character Daniel. He’s a guy you can really cheer for – and the book about him marks the real, canonical, beginnings of apocalyptic literature in the biblical worldview. I’d rather not get into an argument about whether or not the book belongs with the prophetic books or the writings. Some day, perhaps, I’ll talk a bit about biblical prophecy being not so much – or at all – prophetic but very much about the social commentary of the time in which it was written – and therefore a type of early apocalypticism – but right now I’m grooving with Daniel, who belongs with the writings as a proto-apocalyptic.

Next to my gnostics, I love the apocalyptic- and prophetic-types  best. The genres and stories tend to overlap a fair bit – hardly surprising since they arise out of discontent and disconnection with the society when the texts were written.

When people are pissed with the status quo things often get a little apocalyptic (I talked about this the other week, in the context of our current state of unrest and anxiety). Daniel – and the pseudonymous book about him – was presented as a harbinger of a whole lot of discontent and attempts at change and it gave us one of the most interesting images of the whole bible.

The narrative tells the story of Daniel, who, as a member of the Judean nobility, is serving some time in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He, and three of his pals, refused to succumb to the lures of the food and wine provided by their captors, and maintained the mandates of their heritage and religion, even while in exile. They catch the eye of the king, who declares them to be superior to his own wise men at court and enlists them to his service. Daniel soon gains a reputation for the accuracy of his dream interpretations, and, since Nebuchadnezzar (I love that name. Just typing it makes me happy. Saying it makes me smile) frequently needs his dreams analysed, he eventually appoints Daniel as his Chief Wise Guy.

While Nebuchadnezzar had his good qualities (like his name. I love his name), he did steal the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem (during the destruction of the city and the beginning of the Exilic Period) and brought them back to Babylon with him. While Neb deals with his demons (7 years of crazy, living like a wild beast and all that) his son Belshazzar (the Book of Daniel is the only source that lists Belshazzar as Neb’s kid – other historical sources list him as the son of Nabonidus – but we can let him be Neb’s son – no harm to the story) acts as co-regent, and then king in his own right.

One night Belshazzar and his sycophant friends throw a big party – and use the sacred vessels plundered from Solomon’s Temple as pint glasses. They make toasts to their gods – mainly inanimate deities – using Yahweh’s own sacred vessels. Those of you who have read the Hebrew Scriptures up to this point in the continuing story have to realize that this is not a good idea.  Yahweh does not (generally) take kindly to his word, his people or his stuff being messed with (Shoah and millennia of antisemitic bullshit notwithstanding).

To the horror of the collected party goers, a mysterious disembodied hand appears and starts writing on the wall.  Still reeling from the strange apparition, neither Belshazzar nor his assembled guests can figure out what the writing says, so he calls for Daniel to come and have a look.  Daniel, the best-of-the-best and Yahweh-favoured Chief Wise Dude, reads the words as Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. At first inspection they seem to be meaningless references to weights and measures, but Daniel interprets them as the verbs that correspond to the nouns: numbered, weighed, divided.

As such, he explains that god has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and decided that they are at an end. The kingdom (and its king) have been weighed and found wanting, so it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians. Like now.  Right now. That very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king.

Generally the story is used (‘the writing on the wall’, ‘the hand writing on the wall’, ‘Mene Mene’) to indicate imminent doom, originating in misbehaviour or inappropriate governance. Those who attended the feast – and shared culpability for the bad politics and decisions – were able to see the hand as it wrote on the wall, yet were totally unable to understand the message that was being imparted. The interpretation had to come from someone who wasn’t in any way responsible for the negative behaviours – or the misuse of the vessels and the sacrosanct ideology behind them. Only Daniel was able to give warning and explain the impending collapse of the Babylonian kingdom by reading the writing on the wall.

Increasingly, these days and with the societies and systems of government that we have created and institutionalized, fewer and fewer people are able to see the imminence of danger as we continue headlong down a path that is becoming less and less equitable and more and more as dictated by those who hold power. That those in power were, ostensibly, chosen by the people (rather than through hereditary ascension, as in the Babylonian example), makes the systemic problems all the more glaring and frustrating.

We are not doing enough to hold our leaders to account while they choose to ignore the disembodied hand and its message entirely.  We need to see both the message and take note of its origin – the existence of the hand itself warrants attention.

Before COVID, claims about improvements to the economy (while myriad citizens remain in situations of un/underemployment and the middle class continues shrinking while the divide between the haves and the have nots become more pronounced), to the housing market (as home ownership is increasingly an inaccessible pipe dream in most major Canadian cities), and the short-sighted politics that reflect immediate self-interest rather than long-term nationwide benefits were standard fare for politicians of all stripes.

These things, as serious as they are, only scratch the surface of the current crises we are facing. The entirety of our economic systems will have to undergo revision – as will the way we view essential work and workers. We, in Canada, are fortunate in our leadership. Responses while not perfect, have helped us to come to the right side of the curve more quickly than projected.

The situation in the US is inexplicable – except when you look at hi/story and its many examples of clownish rulers who demand only those things that benefit and enrich them and their intimates directly. That there are those who support them without seeing any direct advantage has to do with lack of education, critical thinking and awareness of hi/story. They barely understand the message – and never even acknowledge the messenger.

As I say over and over and over again, our myths – and their interpretations – have a whole lot of wisdom to offer, if we bother to take the time and pay attention to what those who came before us had to say. Especially since we keep on making the same sorts of mistakes, driven by greed and one-upmanship and the ever-increasing need to hear ourselves speak (or yell) over the voices that might be offering an alternative (and better, more equitable) perspective.

In February 1964, as a response to the assassination of JFK a few months previously, a young lad named Paul Simon wrote a song. The Sound(s) of Silence (the original title was plural) shares an enduring sense of futility and awareness of the dangers of silence – the problems that arise when people fail to effectively listen to and speak out about the cancers growing around us.

As we continue to bow to our own neon (or orange) gods, perhaps we need to take time to listen to this song a little more closely. It might help us to see the hand and decipher the message it is continually writing on the walls that surround us.

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls’

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Mene Mene. Take heed, while we have ample time on our hands to be considering the past and planning next directions. The hand is getting pretty emphatic with its messages. Our governments are being weighed and the days of many of them are numbered – if we can look past our own interests and understand that the divide is what is causing our most significant systemic problems. We might have more time than did Belshazzar, but not much. This current crisis is highlighting the fact that we need to look for solutions to all of the sources of our societal discontent once we are released to do so. The signs are all there.

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…

‘We watch in reverence’

You know that thing?  That thing that happens when something- a word, a person, a concept- comes into your immediate frame of reference and then seems to be everywhere?

You do.  You know what I’m talking about.

Way back when (it’s only been a few months, but somehow it seems like eons ago) I wrote a little bit of a thing about our selfie culture and what larger meaning and impact that whole mindset is having on us, communally-speaking.  I also wrote something- even longer ago- about our current sorta mayor and his particularly heinous form of self-aggrandizing.  I don’t want to think/talk/write about him right now.

I also noted, much more recently, there are (at least) two great bloggers out there writing about narcissistic personality disorder, who have seen fit to acknowledge my own humble scribblings hereabouts.  As I said, I know little about clinical narcissism, myself.  From a psychological and/or diagnostic perspective, anyway.

But the subject keeps popping up…

Just today, for example, it appeared in my Facebook feed in a HuffPost article.

There’s a double-edged sword to all the potentiality for wonder and discovery in this world of ‘information sharing’ that we have happening.  There are SO many great sites- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, essays, opinions… there are myriad variations on endless themes out there.  But, as I’ve also mentioned, the lack of editorial control sometimes means that there is content out there that requires that we look at it quite critically  (certainly with a keener eye than is our general practice) to ensure that the material is coming from more than a troll-ish imagination that seeks attention and cares little for source checking or anything like documented support to ideas and statements.

There are also those sites that are devoted to pure vitriolic hatred- but they are easy enough to spot and avoid.  The pages of those with narcissistic leanings can be a little more insidious (like narcissism itself), since, needing attention, they have learned to disguise their manipulative ways by claiming to be talking about something else.

One such page was brought to my attention recently.  Generally I would have had a look and then dismissed it from my mind never to visit again.  But this page… In addition to the fact that it is poorly written (the grammatical and spelling errors are almost physically painful) the blatant pandering for attention is out of control.  Again, not normally my concern.  Except that such poorly-written blogs can be a little like a train wreck- and it can be hard to stop looking out of sheer amazement and morbid curiousity.  They often remind me of some of the more classic (using the word loosely) assignments I received while I was teaching, and so provide an element of nostalgia alongside the horror.

This one has stuck with me since it seems to be an exemplar of specific narcissistic tendencies- in particular the pathological drive to maintain contact and receive attention (if the ship of positive attention has sailed, then, evidently, negative attention will suffice) from those who have terminated relationships with the narcissist.

It’s such an inexplicable response that I can’t even wrap my head around it.

Ursula, at An Upturned Soul, wrote a post that helped me understand this propensity, at least a little bit.  She also noted that narcissism, as a theme/buzzword, appears to be the newest popular ‘trend’ in pop psychology.  For those who have experienced life with someone with narcissistic personally disorder this must be met with mixed emotions.  Everyone may be jumping on the bandwagon of late, but, as Ursula notes, overexposure and then boredom with the subject (side effects of our limited attention spans) will happen and something new will fill the void of topical psychological diagnoses.

I have had little personal experience (thankfully) with NPD.  But the other day a colleague asked me to define ‘narcissism’, so I inquired about the context of the question.  A mutual friend described the person she is involved with as a narcissist- and, not having even basic internet search skills, she didn’t know where to begin to look to discover what such a designation might entail.  I explained that there is a significant difference between narcissism as a character trait and narcissistic personality disorder as a pathology, though both terms come from the same source (it turned out that the person in question, while something of a ‘vain peacock’ does not, likely, have NPD).

You know I love words- and I’m all about the myths from which some of them originated…

Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph.  Something more than human, and, by all accounts, quite something to behold as far as physical beauty is concerned anyway.  He was also a jerk.  He delighted in the effect that he had on those foolish enough to think that a pretty face meant that he might have a heart/soul to match.

The version of the story that most know comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The mountain nymph, Echo, sees and loves Narcissus, who spurns her advances and leaves her lonely and existing as little more than a remnant of her true self- a hollow reverberation that is the source of our word for the (partial) repetition of a sound or thought.

The goddess in charge of revenge- Nemesis- is unimpressed by this behaviour and causes Narcissus to fall deeply in love with his own reflection- his exterior love mirroring his interior love of himself.  Since this love would forever remain unrequited, Narcissus died alone and in agony that it could never be fully realized or properly addressed.  He pined and wasted away because his self-centredness was so encompassing- both before and after Nemesis played her little trick-  it never allowed for the presence of another person in his life.

Other versions of the story- both contemporary with and earlier than Ovid’s- end even more bleakly, with Narcissus actively killing himself when he realized that no one would ever live up to his self-idealization and replace himself as the centre of his own universe.

The takeaway from all versions of this story is that extreme selfishness/self-involvement/self-love- whether stemming from pathology or personality- is never going to end well.  As one of my blogging buds said a while back (I’m pretty sure it was Beth Byrnes- check out her post that I reblogged earlier today- awesome stuff, always), the historical pendulum- that has seen our societies move from a norm that was community-centric to one that highlights the importance of the individual- has swung too far.

We need a happy medium.  Yes, one must pay attention to the needs of oneself in order to effectively contribute to the addressing of the needs of the many.  Definitely.  No argument at all there.  A little selfish hedonism every once in a while is certainly acceptable and to be encouraged- provided it is done without completely ignoring our responsibilities to those with whom we share the planet.

Our systemic self-interest is directly connected to our lack of historical awareness and engagement with the lessons that have come before- those that are recorded in our collective myths and the events of significance that we can all access, should we be bothered to stop thinking only about ourselves and take the time to actually and actively LEARN something.

I know.  I’m lecturing.

It isn’t all about ‘ME’.  It CAN’T be all about the individual.  Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our societal structure is in real danger of crumbling beneath this misperception- that the things we do need benefit us and us alone.  We are encouraged in this belief by our leaders- mainly through the lies rhetoric that speaks about people looking for ‘handouts’ or a ‘free ride’- at the expense of ‘the rest of us’.

Systemic selfishness is NOT an acceptable way of approaching the world.

Back in the Dark Ages (or the 1970’s), a band called Genesis (which then included Mr. Peter Gabriel) recorded and regularly performed an epic song that is both a work of musical genius and employs lyrical imagery that alludes to our shared histories and mythologies over the course of its 23 minutes.  It’s a commentary about- among other things- religion/spirituality, society and personal journeys.

Section IV- entitled ‘How Dare I be So Beautiful?’– references a solitary person, seemingly obsessed by his own image and evokes the story of our friend, Narcissus.  The heroes of the song witness his transmutation into a flower and are, themselves, pulled into their own reflections in the water.

The next section- ‘Willow Farm’– sees them emerge from the water and find themselves in a new reality- where everything moves and changes quickly and everyone seems mindlessly busy.  With each random blast of a whistle, everything changes into something else.  (Keep in mind that this was written in 1972.  Holy prescient view of the technological future in which we now find ourselves, Batman!)

After passing through the Apocalypse (there’s that apocalypticism creeping in- societal discord seems to make that happen), Magog is ultimately defeated by the forces of good.

It’s a powerful piece- made even more so by its employment of the imagery and archetypes that are drawn from our shared mythologies.  Its length (given the shortness of attention spans these days) and the fact that it alludes to all kinds of cool stuff, likely renders it unapproachable- to too many people- these days.  Like so much else of value.

Part of understanding the value of the Humanities is the necessary comprehension that we NEED to look outward- as well as inward- to really manifest our connection with this world of ours.  The fact that narcissism- with all its meanings- is such a topical term of late seems to be profoundly illustrative of the fact that this reality has been neglected- to our extreme and dangerous detriment.

And the fact that our putative leaders encourage and lead us by example into these behaviours?

Sing it, Pete.

So we’ll end with a whistle and end with a bang

And all of us fit in our places

With the guards of Magog swarming around

The Pied Piper takes his children underground

Dragons coming out of the sea

Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me

He brings down the fire from the skies

You can tell he’s doing well by the look in human eyes

Better not compromise, it won’t be easy

666 is no longer alone

He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone

And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll

Gonna blow right down inside your soul

Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon

In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune

Rewriting History? Or History Repeating?

I am unimpressed with our elected officials this week.

(I am using understatement as a rhetorical device and in an attempt to remain calm and keep from spitting pure venom onto the computer screen)

3rd prorogue?!?!? Really?!?! *Update- according to my friends at the CBC and lostandfoundbooks, Harper has actually prorogued FOUR times.  I somehow missed the one in ’07- was buried alive in a dissertation.  Carry on…*

Jebus.

Evidently the political agenda needs ‘updating’, so the reconvening of Parliament is delayed a month.  Just like when the Liberals and NDP threatened to form a coalition that could overthrow the Conservative minority, and again when the Prime Minister was hesitant to answer questions about Afghan detainees (that time he blamed it on the Vancouver Olympics).

I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the debacle in the Senate at the moment.  Especially since the inquiries and audits are mainly finding issues with Conservative Senators.

Can’t have anything to do with it.  Right?

And he verified that he will be leading the country into the next election.  Was ‘disappointed’ the reporter even had to ask.

Disappointed.

Jebus.

Not as disappointed as I am.

And then there’s Harper’s Canada and Harper’s History.

Granted, he’s not the first politician to attempt to rewrite history.  The cliché that it is the winners who create the stories is all too accurate in most cases, but in a free, democratic society, where we have access to primary documents and first-hand accounts along with significant remains of material artifacts, we also actually have historians who work pretty hard at solving the mysteries of the past.  It’s their job.  And real historians don’t start from a particular political agenda when reconstructing history.

Scholars of Canadian history link events and people and places together, regardless of whether or not the stories are flattering or even, at times, all that pleasant.

Harper would seemingly prefer that his government provide the backdrop and definition of our shared identity and past.

Thanks, but no.

Lest you think that my anger is directed only at the federal (Conservative) ‘leadership’, I also sent a somewhat disgruntled missive to my Provincial (Liberal) MLA last week.  This disgruntlement has only increased with the complete lack of acknowledgement or response.

It wasn’t anything remotely like a letter one would receive from someone in a tin foil hat.  No conspiracy theories.  No mention of the colossal waste of taxpayer money in the decision to shut down the plans for power plants in order to preserve seats and control (albeit as a minority) of the government (and I wouldn’t even think about bringing up what political expediency did to the teachers of this province).  I maintained appropriate decorum and language throughout the letter.

I just plainly and clearly expressed my concern about value-for-money in the context of a reallyreally unacceptable response to my (taxpaying) inquiry about resources for job searches from an employment centre that is funded by the Ontario government.  As I have said before, I am aware that I am fortunate to have any job at all in this market/economy/recession.  But does that mean that I should be completely shut down and out in my request for direction and access to government resources?

I didn’t think so.

So I asked my MLA if there is another tack I should be taking, since my tax dollars funded employment centres have no help at all to offer to me.

No response.

It seems as if both levels of government (all three, really.  But I’m trying to forget that Mayor McCheese exists right now.  I can only handle so much political depression at one time) are paying all kinds of lip service to this story of economic recovery and powering forward as the envy of the world.

Harper shifted the discussion away from his prorogation suggestion stating that he prefers to discuss economic recovery and job development in the North.

Ontario politics have been so messed up- what with by-elections (one riding won by Mayor McCheese’s now-former deputy) and hearings about the power station controversy, that there has been little coherence to any message at all coming out of Queen’s Park.

It’s Summertime.  In Canada.  Everyone is moving at Cottage Speed.  I get that.

But these people were elected to fix uncountable issues that impact the everyday lives of millions of citizens (and residents) of this country.

In ancient Rome Prorogatio extended the power to command beyond the one-year mandate of the magistracy in cases when there weren’t enough elected officials to govern newly acquired land.  In theory, this was intended to ensure that these territories would continue to be governed by men who knew the area and its local conditions.  Because ancient Roman politicians were humans (and politicians) and therefore inclined to corruption and greed, in actual practice prorogatio of provincial assignments became the norm- allowing those who ascended to power to extend that power and to command extraordinary military power and personal wealth.

This well-intentioned political device, originally something that had to be voted on by the citizens of Rome, became usurped by the powers of an unscrupulous Senate and led to the breakdown of the governmental system and to the civil wars that eventually ended with the collapse of the Roman Republic.

Unscrupulous Senate?  That sounds vaguely contemporary and familiar doesn’t it?

According to Canada’s constitution, the monarch has the ability and royal prerogative to prorogue Parliament.  In practice (as we’ve seen oh-so-frequently of late), the leader of parliament (or the legislature- Dalton McGuinty did it too), in this case the Prime Minister, asks the Governor General, the Queen’s representative, to cease all legislative business until such time as he decides to recall the members to get back to work.  At his convenience and according to his control-freak agenda.

Rick Mercer summed it up a few years ago.

Proroguing IS for children.  The CNE has started, summer is almost over.  Get the hell back to work.  I’ve had more than enough of the taxation without representation that Rick talks about.

P.S. Feeling a little revolutionary today.  Anyone feel like joining me down at Harbourfront for a little party?  I’ll bring the tea.