Angels and Demons

As sometimes happens, when a story attracts the attention of a nation (believe me, I’m not delusional enough to think that our little ‘local’ problem with a national radio host is making much of a ripple elsewhere in the world- that would involve far more Cansplaining than is warranted), it serves as the catalyst for a whole lot of discussion about things outside of the primary issue.

That has certainly been the case this week. There is just so much about this thing in the press. There are reasons for this- he IS a well-known figure in our particular cultural microcosm, and an accomplished broadcaster to boot. But setting him aside completely, a dialogue has been started that shines light on the fact that the greater, by far, percentage of women who are sexually assaulted never report the crimes.

In Canada.

Where we have freedoms and opportunities and equality that can’t even be imagined too many places elsewhere in the world.

I’ve read a fair number of the articles and opinions being published about the situation- and they are myriad (journos have been staggered by these accusations leveled at ‘one of their own’)- because they are contributing to necessary dialogue about such issues. And, when well-presented, they are educating us about the reality that this imbalance of power yet exists and permeates our culture.

So it’s a personal issue for me. It speaks to my own experience and the experience of others I know and love.

There have also been a number of discussions about the narcissism that also permeates out culture (something that I find deeply disturbing and have written about before)- and projections that pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at the heart of this situation. Impossible to tell- from a distance, and without legitimate professional assessment- but, once again, it is bringing discussions of mental illness into the forefront of our awareness.

There’s another personal element at play here too- my deep and abiding love of the CBC and the continuing assertion that it is an important institution. Anything that shakes that place to its core is going to get me talking.

The best thing I read this week on that topic (one of the best things I read all week, full stop) came from Michael Enright, another old favourite of mine. He addresses both of the issues with which I have a personal investment- violence against women and the integrity- moral and journalistic- of the CBC. Voices like his are the reason we need to fight to maintain our national broadcaster.

But I’m also interested for purely academic reasons. I talk a whole lot here about my issues with the separation into black and white- sourced in outdated Bronze Age concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’- as defined by social codes for behaviour that are, often, not remotely culturally or morally relevant in the 21st century.

(There are exceptions, of course. The one about not murdering other people? THAT one should certainly be upheld. The ones based in common sense and true morality? Those I don’t have a problem with. It’s the ones that were designed solely for the purpose of keeping a particular tribal organization of people specifically tribally organized… a lot of those need to be left in the annals of history, where they belong).

I hate this dichotomization. Good/Evil. Us/Them. It’s all about division when we NEED to be talking about union.

One of the week’s articles referenced this, in passing. But it’s a point that I think needs a little more emphasis.

Although I approached the topic differently and named it with other names, yesterday’s post was, in part, about the ‘Halo Effect’ that Dan Gardner talks about. We love the guy, he’s great at his job, and, as such, he can’t possibly be guilty.

Likewise, when we label people with the ‘Devil Effect’, we see nothing but evil. By removing the humanity– that admixture of nature and nurture that makes up each and every one of our personalities- we are saying that we are statically categorized. Once placed in a box there is no possibility of movement.

Which is ludicrous.

And worse, it feeds the sort of power-driven insanity that leads people in power to state that we needn’t be looking for the societal origins of anomie (or discontent and disconnection) that leads to us branding people as belonging on one-or-the-other side of a coin of extremes.

We need to change our language. I keep harping on this, I know. We have to remove apocalyptic thinking from our shared worldview (which is a discussion for another day) and we need to stop the dichotomizing. To do so, we need to examine the myths that created the language, and exorcize those that have no place in our current temporal, moral and communal reality.

I’ve never considered myself a vehement atheist (although I am a vehement humanist). I certainly don’t count myself among the screaming crowd of the New Atheists who deride and castigate those who are believers at every possible turn. I’m all about the ‘live and let live’. And I know- because I have spent my adult life studying the phenomenon- the importance of religion in human life and the reasons why we create and cling to gods.

But. I’m tired. Very tired.

Of playing devil’s advocate (although I will continue to Advocate for the Devil- that guy needs some serious PR) for those who hold to belief- especially (although not exclusively) unexamined belief- as a way to justify the unjustifiable and to maintain a status quo that should have been eradicated generations ago.

I am finding it harder and harder to comprehend educated, reasoning human beings who cling to myths that originated in such a different time and place that there can be no social comparison in the face of evidence that proves- unequivocally- that they are not history. That they are human-created stories that answered the questions that plagued the human experience. Even though we have, now, answered those questions in other, demonstrable and evidence-based, ways.

The events of the past two weeks- both the tragic and the (melo)dramatic- in my Home and Native Land can have extremely positive repercussions- if we choose to address them in the ways they should be addressed. With critical, in-credulous focus on the hearts of the matters at hand.

Without divisive rhetoric that polarizes the issue and hearkens back to an era of superstition and suspicion.

My Canadian-ness is an ever-present facet of my personality- both the nature and the nurture of it. I love Canada (although Scotland was pretty cool, too). My cultural identity is solidly Canadian (except the liking hockey part). We have had a lot with which to contend, over the past few weeks, and, for the most part, we have done so admirably and with the dignity and thoughtfulness with which we generally view the world.

This song has been running through my head today.

Although
I speak in tongues of men and angels
I’m just soundin’ brass and tinklin’ cymbals
Without love

Love suffers long, love is kind
Enduring all things, hopin’ all things
Love has no evil in mind

As a child, I spoke as a child
I thought and I understood as a child
But when I became a woman I put away childish things
And began to see through a glass darkly

Joni is another of our National Treasures. Interestingly, Jian’s interview with her was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on Q.

But it’s time to put away childish things- and childish ways of seeing the world as either this or that. ‘Halo Effect’ and ‘Devil Effect’. Angels and Demons. More than just a poorly-written (if bestselling) thriller. It’s a dangerous metaphor that keeps us locked in archaic mythological ways of viewing the world.

Please. Stop. Just stop.

Let something positive come out of all the events of the last weeks. We are talking- let’s keep those discussions from devolving and referencing outdated ideals of polarization sourced in stories- and values- of old.

P.S. I realized- after some additional reflection- that this post may make it seem as if I find no value at all in these myths of ours. This is, of course, not the case. I love our stories- I started this blog as a means of communicating my belief in the power of our myths. If you have spent any time here, you have to acknowledge the truth of that.

What has to cease is our insistence on clinging to them as anything other than metaphor and attempts to make sense of the world with the wisdom we had at the time they were created. There is wisdom to be found- but there is also much that is dangerous- in light of the strides we have made in understanding our universe with the tools we continue to develop. I’m terrified that we are slipping back into believing the ‘truth’ behind the tales and missing the underlying messages of humanity as we fight about the existence of one or another god- and the varied interpretations of what those gods allegedly had to tell us.

It might be a fine line- but it’s one that is clear in my understanding of the world.

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be” – Part 1

Image result for stone moss stock

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.

Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):

1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.

2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon

3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)

N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in its holier-than-thou assertions about rights and freedoms) is very big on insisting upon the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing.  And, unless I missed it, there has been no trial as of yet that has resulted in a conviction for the crimes he is accused of committing.

4) I tend to agree that many (too many) journos are all about sensationalism and grabbing readers without any thought given to their subjects’ feelings or, as in this case, the feelings of the victims of the subject(s).

5) Our ‘celebrity culture’ does tend to celebrate BOTH the famous and the infamous- and the ignorant among us (who are, terrifyingly, legion) often have trouble discerning differences between the two designations.

6) Most of me recoils at the thought of doing ANYthing that might be construed as contributing to any sensationalizing- and the infamy- of someone who could do what he did.

7) The cover photo was a really really bad editorial choice.

But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told.

Contrary to many of the criticisms that I’ve seen floating around out there, Rolling Stone is NOT ‘just’ a ‘music magazine.’  Since its founding in 1967, it has been known for its political reporting and commentary.  The likes of Hunter S. Thompson produced important political and social commentary for the magazine- that retains it relevance 35+ years later.

Sure, in the 80s and (especially) the 90s the focus shifted to one of more ‘general entertainment’ away from regions of controversy and stories of any great depth.

But it returned to relevance in recent years largely through the work of Michael Hastings (who died in a car accident a little over a month ago) and Matt Taibbi- young journos known and heralded for their hard-hitting exposés of the American military and fraudulent American banking activities, respectively.

Janet Reitman, the author of the article in question, wrote a story uncovering the workings of the Church of Scientology that was nominated for the National Magazine Award and provided the genesis of her book Inside Scientology.  I know from experience what a hard group of nuts those Scientologists can be to crack, and her examination of the cult is both comprehensive and riveting.

The recent products of these three fine journos alone should be demonstration enough that criticising Rolling Stone for publishing an article about something other than music/entertainment is misplaced and ludicrous on its face.   But the mandate of the magazine was never restricted to entertainment.  In its first edition, founder and chief editor Jann Wenner described Rolling Stone as “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”

If you are one of the incredibly kind readers who has been following my trains of thought over the past few months, you know that I have repeatedly emphasized that our myths and music are, and always have been, fundamentally connected to our societies and cultures and the main indicator of what it is to be human.  Our stories and songs talk about the things that need working out.  Counter-cultural movements have always used music as a means of illustrating inequity and calling for change.

The cover story of the August 1, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine is very much in keeping with this awareness that myth, music, culture, history and contemporary events/issues/concerns are inextricably linked.

This post is not really meant to be a defence of the magazine.  As I said, I think that the cover photo panders to society’s repugnant need for sensationalism and voyeurism.  It is a magazine that is assumed- rightly or wrongly  to be mainly about music and rock stars, so using a photo that evokes Jim Morrison was both in poor taste and something that, in MHO, warrants some of the critical bombardment that’s out there at the moment.

Using that photo seriously smacks of sensationalism with the ultimate goal to do nothing more than sell magazines.  True journalistic integrity might suggest that the story could have been presented differently- in a way that better acknowledged the sensibilities of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole.

I won’t be buying the magazine, but they’ve hardly lost a customer.

Like most people I know, I rarely buy print magazines or newspapers these days.  I will read engaging and important articles off of interworld sites until the cows come home, and I even like heading to libraries and checking out the microfiche every now and again.

The last time I purchased a Rolling Stone this was the cover:

(okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea).

Still I firmly believe that this story NEEDS to be told.

There are too many similar tales out there (like this one) and as a society we have to get to the bottom of where these impulses, these examples of radicalization and extremism are being created, nurtured and ultimately facilitated into actions.  Actions that are undeniably terrible and tragic and heartbreaking.  Actions that cannot be swept under rugs of ‘respectability.’

They should be investigated and presented with a clear application of respect and sensitivity.  Did Rolling Stone miss that mark somewhat?  Arguably, yes.  Is the magazine as reprehensible in its pandering to a particular audience and in its thoughtless quest for readers/ratings as other media outlets I could name?  I don’t think so.

Whether or not your personal views dictate that you should/shouldn’t give the article and the magazine any of your time, it has already accomplished something that the most responsible of news stories should do.  There is dialogue happening (even if some of it is admittedly hysterical and reactionary) and informed, well-reasoned discussion is always a good thing in a civilized society.

Next up:  The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ monsters/externalizing ‘evil’. 

The former is something we MUST keep doing and the latter is something that HAS to stop…