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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What do people gain from all the toil

    at which they toil under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

    but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun goes down,

    and hurries to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south,

    and goes around to the north;

round and round goes the wind,

    and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

    but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

    there they continue to flow.

All things are wearisome;

    more than one can express;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

    or the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,

    and what has been done is what will be done;

    there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

    “See, this is new”?

It has already been,

    in the ages before us.

The people of long ago are not remembered,

    nor will there be any remembrance

of people yet to come

    by those who come after them. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@C_Stroop

@mpgPhD

35 Years Ago Today

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

Children.

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

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

or

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The purple and the pinstripe mutely shake their heads

A silence shrieking volumes, a violence worse than they condemn

Stab you in the back yeah, laughing in your face

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

There’s something entirely Irish about the lyrics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOT for profit

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

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

So.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long-term Care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LTC should NOT be for-profit. Ever.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Bread and Circuses Pt. 2 or Finnegan Begin Again

5 weeks in and this staying home stuff is getting challenging. I have nothing to complain about, really. Lots of space in the house, tiny little green space out back (and the hope of some sun and warmth tomorrow), cats, food, music, books… more than enough to keep on keeping on as things remain dire in the outside world.

I’ve had to turn off the tv for the most part. I can’t take the broadcast news – the constant sound-bite-and-click-seeking asinine questions from (many) reporters following every press conference and the increasing dramatic dialoguing from some of our elected leaders is wearying – and I’m already exhausted. Don’t even get me started on the abrogation of responsibility of much of the media in the US – failing to hold the mass murderer-in-charge to any level of responsibility.

(I realize that last paragraph makes me seem anti-journalist. I’m not. Really, I’m not. Almost became one, myself. And I could list many who are doing a great job weeding through the bullshit and constant changes of the past month and a bit – some close friends among them. But too many are nothing more than ‘content creators’ looking for ‘gotcha’ moments, when they aren’t intentionally selling an anti-science narrative and I’m just done with that level of bullshit. Done.)

I can’t watch the updated statistics anymore, or hear about those still refusing to do the right thing and put aside their personal wants for the benefit of us all – and especially for the safety of those who have no choice but to be out there making sure we come through this thing.

I’ve made the conscious decision to avoid getting caught up in any of the myriad streaming services and the shows on offer. I’m spending way too much time sitting in front of a screen – what with the working from home and trying to catch up on some writing projects – as it is. So if it’s on, it’s in the background (now that Schitt’s Creek has run its course). I’m hearing second-hand accounts of some interesting-sounding programming – coming to us from the creators we are all relying on to entertain and distract and comfort us in our current circumstances.

But there’s some weird-ass stuff out in the ether as well, and, like all those people who flocked to Florida’s foolishly (unintentional alliteration there, but I’m keeping it anyway) reopened beaches today, it’s causing me to question some aspects of our shared humanity and alleged capacity for rational and civilized thought.

I admit that I’ve been hoping that this crisis will prove to be a wake-up call – shining lights on inequity and inanity, both, and showing us that need the one and should disdain the other. I was really looking forward to a new world order that consigned reality tv stars to the trash heap of irrelevance where they have always belonged. All of them – even if they are, somehow, Leader of the (formerly) Free World.

Given the inexplicable popularity of a show about the revolting abuse of big cats (the most apt description I head likened watching it to licking a subway pole), I’m significantly less certain about the positive strides we might be making in deciding what is worthwhile and what is detritus without which we are better off.

This dispiriting realization called to mind a post I wrote in 2015 about the Juvenalian concept of bread and circuses. Back then we were in the lead-up to a federal election, and the behaviours of the people running for office and those who fell on one side of the electorate equation in particular, were spouting a whole lot of nonsense and generally pissing me off. Juvenal used ‘bread and circuses’ to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance regarding wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

Master of satire that he was, he employed the metonym to describe the unwillingness of 2nd century CE Romans to understand, or even acknowledge, their history and the need for their political involvement in order to ensure the health and well-being of the system. He said, essentially, that the people have abdicated their duties, in favour of sitting on their butts hoping that they will be handed bread and invited to circuses – state-provided food and entertainment.

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican – using both terms in their original senses – systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what the people thought they wanted as a means of garnering support. The federal Cons were doing a whole lot of that in the summer of 2015. Sure, the election that happened the following year to the south of us would make their attempts at propagandizing and displacement and outright lying seem, well, juvenile in comparison.

But.

Plus ça change. I recycled bits of that earlier post, here, because it is resonating with me really strongly right now. And I’m all about the connections.

The satisfaction of shallow desires – for free refreshments and hollow entertainment – remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations. That buffoon in the States has made a career – and managed to win the Presidency – based on these principles, such as they are.

Bread and circuses generate support that is not based in silly things like exemplary service or concern for the good of society in its entirety, and serve to distract us and take our attention away from what is really going on. Large corporations and banks and politicians and religious institutions and media groups – anyone, really, who has been given power under the social structures that these groups have contributed to building – continue to throw shadows to disguise their underlying intent of self-promotion and the furtherance of personal agendas.

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests. Certainly, right now, we need all the entertainment and distraction we can get. It is keeping us inside and safe. But there is so much that is better out there than that trailer park trash fire that is making the rounds.

In my favourite book by my favourite Canadian author, one of the primary characters, a military leader and soldier (among other things) entertains two small children in his care by casting shadow hand puppets on a wall. The show is meant to divert the children’s attention from the assassins that have been sent to their house to kill them – and to cover up the sounds as the men under his command dispatch the ‘bad men’ and keep them safe.

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows on the wall are meant to distract from the reality of circumstances. In the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, the attempt is well-intentioned – they were protecting children from political machinations, after all – but ultimately doomed to failure. Though young, one of the children understood the puppet show for what it was – and asks, at its end, if the bad men have gone.

We are not children – and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention to the irrevocable damage that they’re doing and attempt to free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

The light of the fire that is the source of the shadows may be hard, and uncomfortable, to look at, but we need to stop shying away from those things that are ‘hard’. We have to accept our responsibility, as citizens who participate in the structuring and furtherance of our societies, to weather the discomfort of escaping the cave and the pain of the initial exposure to the sun and its light, in order to clearly see it in all its truth – and to take that truth back to those who remain entranced by the shadows on the wall. They will resist – Plato had that much right (and how little has changed) – since the journey is full of challenges and inconveniences and we have become intellectually lazy-beyond-belief. But we still have to try. Once we are freed from our actual ‘caves’ we need to work on getting the hell out of the figurative ones.

In the background as I write this the local sports channel is showing Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS (seems to be a 2015 sort of a night). For those who might not remember (if you’re not from Toronto) it’s the game with the craziest 53-minute 7th inning in the history of the sport. A game that lives in the hearts and minds of every fan Jays fan. The game that featured the bat flip heard ’round the world – and solidified my abject hatred of Texas’ 2nd baseman (I really hate that Odor asshole). Our Canadian catcher-man was behind the plate, and that weird dude (he was our weird dude, though) who would go on to be MVP that year was on third. Out in right field was the guy who hit the run (and flipped the bat) that took us to the next level – and who had kept baseball a thing through too many years of mediocrity in Toronto, and in centre was a fielder who was well on his way to earning his cape. Our DH DH’d and tied the game in the sixth – running the parrot around those bases. And then that 7th…

When it was happening in real time, I was a bag of nerves and tension. Sudden death for the Jays in their first post-season in a thousand or so years (felt that way, anyway) was a Big Deal. Watching it tonight is a different type of distraction – it’s nostalgia and comfort and excitement and remembrances of a great group of guys whoo held the city captive for a season (or two). It is real entertainment seeing it now – not the potential end of a run that brought this town together for a time – a warm memory made more poignant as we are all forced to be separate right now (I’m choosing to ignore the shameful 18+ minutes during which people threw stuff on the field. I maintain that they weren’t real fans. Probably not really Torontonians. They certainly don’t know how to behave). I know the good guys are going to win. I need that sort of thing right now. We all do.

Other than spending time with my boys of summer in repeats, I’m spending a lot of time listening to music – and watching some of my favourite artists sing and talk to other favourite artists from their living rooms – and reading. The value of creators and what they bring to our lives has never been more apparent to me than it is now. Those same creators are paying a heavy toll – as tv shows can’t be produced, theatre and music cannot be performed live, visual artists can’t have showings of their art, craftspeople of all kinds are unable to share their work, writers can’t support new releases by touring and doing book shows and signings. We need to support the ones providing the talent – not the conglomerates that benefit from their gifts. They need to be supported to the extent of the support they provide to us at the least especially now when we are desperate for their creations.

I wrote about calliopes right around the same time I was thinking about old Romans and their take on society. Interestingly, that post remains one of my most frequently read (people searching for the Boss and ending up with me). Calliopes – with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow – can draw us to things better left unvisited. Stray tunes, carried on the wind – or drawn from memory – can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble. Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. The value of distinguishing the art from the purposefully-designed chaff is something we all need to keep in mind as we look for distraction to fill all this time we have to hand.

‘The world spins, I’m part of it’

‘But I cannot make no sense of it…’

(this line, and the title, borrowed from Eddie Lundon and Gary Daly, from a song I have on a playlist I called ‘September Tunes’)

It’s true. I can’t. If there is sense to be found in most of what is happening around me right now, I’m sure as hell not seeing much evidence of intelligible reality. What I am feeling is lost – amongst the credulous, self-serving, soporific-imbibing portion of the population that saw/sees the current POTUS and Premier of Ontario as viable candidates for leadership. I don’t like feeling lost. It makes me angry.

I don’t think I’m alone in that since the world of social media is mostly vitriolic ranting these days. Some of it, to be sure, is justified. We need to rage against inequity in all its forms and the normalization of criminal behaviours and the spread of hatred. Most days it feels like demoralizing shouting into the void. Evidence piled upon evidence that we remain in the Age of the Selfie – encouraging the priority of the few – those who continue to control the narrative and the purse-strings – over the well-being of the rest of us.

This paradigm – and its trickle-down effect (strange how that works, when the economic theory named as such decidedly does not) – keeps the fires of society-wide narcissism burning as fiercely and destructively as the wildfires that are not, we are told, the result of climate change, yet continue to burn through California, B.C, Northern Ontario…

But this post is not, really, about how loathsomely inexplicable I find those who maintain their support of the jackasses-in-question – and I admit that our local jackass has been garnering the lion’s share of my focus lately. The ‘Murican jackass is a danger to us all, there is no doubt about that, but I can focus on only so much soft-headed tomfoolery and criminality posing as government policy-making without needing a good long lie-down. The DoFo ‘administration’ is poised to do irreparable damage to my city and my province and the 40% of the population that voted for him and his ilk are still buying the soundbites, petty proclamations, and bread-and-circus routine that are the only tools he can command in light of his complete lack of talent, insight, sincerity, and experience. He needs to be the focus of my complete opposition right now.

And it’s not about the horror I feel about the latest revelations regarding the cover-up of abuse in that anachronistic institution of equal parts illogical doctrine and outdated power structure OR the outrage against those that are spinning Apologetics that suggest fabrication and exaggeration, calling the evidence ‘myth’ – ‘fake news’, if you will – and saying that no institution has LESS of a problem with the sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church… I feel like I’m the embodiment of the rage emoji.

These things – serious, deleterious, and potentially-irrevocable as they may be – along with some others that are less-atrocious but annoying, nonetheless, have been causing me to react rather than act, lately. I could blame Twitter (and too much time spent watching that feed certainly is somewhat responsible), but the reality is that having so many things coming at me at once is contributing to a bone-deep anomie that has been hard to shake.

This time of year is always reflective for me. I can’t avoid the back-to-school/new beginnings ideation that comes with the winding down of August. I’m sure it’s partly to due with the timing of my birthday (the start of my own, personal New Year), but, despite having not set foot in a classroom in 8 years, I still feel the pull of the new start that defined my life for so many years. That 8 years thing is also interesting. 8 years ago was a milestone birthday, and, on a lovely celebratory getaway with one of my sisters, I spent a lot of time assessing my life as it was and contemplating next steps. The upshot of all that evaluation was a full-on change in career, along with some other life-altering decisions that are still rippling back at me now.

Cycles and such. 8 strikes me as less-symbolic a number than, say, 7 or 3, but I’m sure that some numerologists out there attach a divine importance to 2X4. Regardless, here I am again. Change. Decisions. New directions. I’m starting a new job – on yet another career path – right after the long weekend. I’m excited and hopeful and feeling that the challenges will be good for me. I’ve been stagnating for too long. And I’m thinking, in general, about all those things that aren’t working. Some of the things requiring assessment are the same as they were 8 years ago. I can be a slow-learner, at times. This is not always the most pleasant of exercises, but, if it helps me shift from reacting to acting in my life, it will be well-worth the self-examination.

Change can be hard. I think my Virgo-nature (or, if you don’t believe in horoscopes – full disclosure, I don’t – my tendency to stubbornness) makes change even more difficult. But, if I’ve learned anything about myself over the past decade or so, I can roll with punches. I don’t like it, but I do it. Change and chaos – that foundational element of human understanding of the world – are inextricably linked. I think that’s why we struggle with it so much.

Chaos gets a bad rep. I lost my own little personification of chaos – my Tiamat – back in June, and I did not enjoy coming to terms with that change at all (Canaanite kittens are helping with that, though). I know, because of all those years studying the stuff, that chaos is necessary. Without its latent presence there exists nothing but stasis. Too much is problematic, of course, but we need that trickle of unsettled alteration to drive progress and our work towards better things.

I think change is most difficult when we are in a situation of instability that permits chaos to seem on the ascendent. As the Mesopotamians told us over-and-over, the balance needs to be maintained. For that to happen we need to have clear standards of order. Right now? We do not. Those systems to which we cling for stability – our governments, religious systems, social organizations – they’re the very things creating the anomie and imbalance.

So what do we do when we isolate ourselves – behind phones and screens and pseudonyms – and our social structures fail to support our ideals and expectations?

Order and chaos is an important foundational dichotomy – more effective and representative of human nature than its later interpretation as good/evil. Not all dichotomies are bad. Some are, though. Good/evil is not useful at all. The narratives that one drives are ALL problematic, as I see things. And even worse than that one is us/them. I hate us/them. Us/them is creating far too many narratives in our dysfunctional governance and social-interactions.

We’ve lost all sense of the importance of caring about one another. Community is a concept that seems archaic – unless it is insular and exclusionary. Then we’re okay with it. We are so self-consumed that the thought of providing support to those who need it most is displaced by the selfish (and ridiculously unsustainable) desire for cheaper gas and beer. Relationships – created and dissolved online – are as disposable as the lives of people seeking sanctuary from war-torn places (despite the fact that we are culpable for the origins of those wars). The dynamic has shifted – rapidly and unfortunately. And if we do not feel supported by those around us, the waves of chaos are hard to navigate.

The feeling of disconnection is, if I’m honest, at the heart of my current self-search. Dissatisfaction is often isolating. One feels like one can only complain so much – before becoming burdensome or dismissed or just plain boring.

This week I was part of an example of the opposite of disconnection, though. And it has taken my reflection in a different direction in a matter of days.

I was privileged to grow up in a village in the heart of the country’s largest city. Decidedly (at the time) middle class, it was a wonderful environment – generally speaking. We had multiple parents looking out for us, close friendships that persisted from JK through high school and beyond, and a sense of safety that permitted us to run loose in adventures that rarely ended in injury or other harm. I will refrain from discussion of the sprained ankle and broken arm, both of which I blame on one guy in particular.

That guy grew up around the corner from me. We were in the same class every year from K-8, shared multiple classes in high school AND spent summers together at camp – as campers and on staff. He is a featured player in a ridiculous number of my best memories. And some of the worst ones, too. Maybe not quite a brother, but certainly more than a friend – in spite of the aforementioned injuries. To be fair, I was present for some pretty serious ones that he sustained, as well.

He moved to California a couple of decades ago, so we haven’t seen all that much of each other in the last while. One morning this week I woke up to an email from him. He’s been up at his folks’ cottage on Georgian Bay and came across three boxes of stuff marked ‘do not throw out’. Photos, letters, year books. I was on the receiving end of much of that discovered bounty three days running this week.

He’s not on social media – can’t say as I blame him when it’s as much a burden as a benefit lately – and he was hesitant about how/if to share some of the things he was finding. I made the decision for him – and posted two class photos from our primary school days. I added to the initial two as he forwarded more. That thread now has 163 comments and has spawned early plans for a reunion in September.

As he said, in an email when I told him what I did (easier to apologize than ask permission, and all that) “If it gives 1 person (or a bunch of people) an ‘excuse’ to reach out and connect with old friend/s… long lost friend/s… a brief escape to happier & NO RESPONSIBILITY times… then we’ve done a good thing”.

He also said “I am occasionally asked ‘what’s the toughest thing about leaving’ and the real answer (which I never give) has a lot to do with amazing roots and foundation of growing up in XXX in that era… unlocked doors, friends in every direction 2-4 blocks away, no social media/electronics etc… buddies & buddyettes who loved spending time together in person doing things, looking out for one another, covering for each other etc. Maybe it’s where I am, but have spoken to my older bro about this too… just don’t see kids having the same ‘code’ as we did… certainly weren’t angels- Jesus, far from it… but we were good kids, good morals, good sense of right & wrong and looking out for one another…”

His assessment might be a tad more idyllic in retrospect than it was in reality, but he’s not far off. Right/wrong is another of those dichotomies that serves a purpose. The response to the pictures demonstrates how lucky we were – and how we all seem to know that. We were, then, part of a community, and we remain, now, connected because of that community.

Another old friend posted on the thread: “It’s weird, I was driving home with my son the other day and we took a detour through XXX so I could show him my old schools, houses we lived in, etc. Was feeling nostalgic already, then I got home and went on Facebook to find all this.”

Perhaps it’s that time of year for everyone. I know I needed that reminder, in a week in which I lost the last of the ‘old folks’ who helped raise me, and as I contemplate changing up some personal relationships that sit in a stasis that is disallowing change and growth and/or just plain hurting my heart.

The world does, for the moment, continue to spin, and I am – we all are – part of it. The only way to balance the chaos of the world is to establish – or re-establish – those connections and communities that lead to stabilizing order. We need to remember that we all have to have look out for one another. There is no them, there is only us. Maintaining our connections is work – but it is worthwhile work.

Thanks for the perspective, JAS. Maybe brother is the right word.

 

 

Praying for Time?

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because god stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all god’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because god stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you

That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

Despite the title and the inclusion of the lyrics to one of many wonderful songs written by an amazing human, this post isn’t about the gut-punch of a loss that hit us all on Xmas day. I could write – at length – about all the specific moments and memories he contributed to my life: like the time that my BFF (looking at you, JJB) and I stood in line to get tickets to the Wham! show at Exhibition Stadium – something that was allowed only if we agreed to take my little sisters along with us – and about how amazing that show turned out to be; or about the dubious decision to teach an unruly bunch of 13-year-old campers the words to I Want Your Sex as we walked to the Tuck Shop to pick up enough sugar to see us through our out-supper (in defence of 18-year-old me, they already knew the song – they just had most of the lyrics wrong – and misheard lyrics are a crime against all that is sacred. It was my duty to make sure they were corrected); or about the true strength and comfort that radiated from his version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!”) as I drove back-and-forth between Ottawa and Toronto, looking for a place to live – a place to re-start – as I put a terrible break-up behind me, and began looking for new beginnings and the healing of myriad heart-deep cuts.

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

2016 saw too many commentaries – by me and by others – that celebrated and mourned a seemingly inordinate number of precious people. Others have spoken about the generosity of spirit and unwavering belief in his fellow humans that George exemplified in all that he did. How his talent often went unrecognized – he was dismissed as a pretty-boy, depth-less popster for far too long – when his songs (if you take the time to really listen to them), sung in that peerless voice, demonstrated an understanding of the best and the worst of the ways we human beings interact with one another and our world(s).

So that’s not what this is about.

Take it as a given that I loved him. And that I feel like the loss of him – and the rest of those who slipped away from us last year – couldn’t come at worse time. Truly. We need those lost voices more than ever – as we enter a new year faced with uncertainty and newly-mandated hatred and ignorance.

For the last couple of days, as the iPod shuffles through songs to keep me occupied on the TTC, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. (I do that when I’m unsettled – I look for patterns. And often find them – even if a bit of stretching is required. I like the order inherent in patterns. I’m all for order – unless disorder is required…). A lot of the songs in my collection, including the one that prompted this post, have something to say about time.

Needing more time, wasting time, time healing wounds… that last one is sort of what George was going for as he attempted to sort through the social injustice, hypocrisy and hatred he was seeing made manifest all around him in 1990.

Plus ça change, and all that.

After giving it some thought, though, I’m going to have to respectfully beg to differ when it comes to the idea that that might be the best approach. I’m reallyreally tired of all the ‘wait and see’, ‘ride it out’, ‘this too shall pass’ that is floating around out there right now.

It’s time, folks, to stop the freakin’ apocalypse.

I spend a whole lot of time thinking about – and reading and writing and teaching about – apocalypses, specifically those bodies of literature that deal with the end of one time and offering a forecast of what might follow. They were the primary focus of more than two decades of my adult life, and they are a hard habit to break.

Whether or not we are aware, the apocalyptic worldview is something we, in Toronto, in Canada, in the Western World, live with constantly.  We internalize apocalyptic metaphors as they are revealed throughout our social context.

We are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, we have certain steps that need to be taken. If we want a career in law, we attend law school in preparation. Then intern with established firms, take and pass the Bar, and start at the bottom with an expectation that we will move onto better things, once these mandated steps have been achieved.

We tell young people that they will not get ahead unless they have a university/college degree. As a result, the degrees are treated as means to increasingly-nebulous ends, rather than appreciated for the experience that they can bring into an enhanced life.

Thanks to the influence of biblical religions on our societies, we are all culturally predisposed to be driven by what comes next.

This propensity creeps into our language in a pretty constant and almost subliminal way. How often have you counted down the hours until the end of a day, the days until the weekend, or the weeks until vacation?

It’s part of our vernacular – our language and the way we communicate – to do so. Heck, there’s a US restaurant chain that’s named after this way of thinking (TGIFridays).

I do it when a day isn’t going as I might like, even when I should know better. I’m as guilty of watching the clock as the next person. When periods of work get intense – with deadlines looming – I reassure myself that if I just get through this task or this period of time then all will be well. And then I reward myself for reaching that milestone.

I work, essentially, as a cog in the machine of bureaucracy – driven by deadlines that are imposed by project managers who have no context and no interest in seeing beyond a ‘go live’ date that removes them from all responsibility for the ongoing operation of the project-at-hand. Project development decisions are made in accordance with siloed mandates, and thought out only until they become operational. After that event, the maintenance of the project is no longer the concern of those who were designated as the implementers of the plan. The ‘go live’ is the thing. Our workdays revolve around the timelines of PMs who just want to get the thing done so they no longer need to think about it and can move on to the next project.

I function, daily, within this paradigm. It’s how I make a living, how I pay the mortgage, and (hopefully) save enough money that I can look forward to time away (temporarily – to my next vacation, and to the hope of eventual permanence – as a retiree) from contributing to the perpetual motion of the hamster wheel of government.

As human as this inclination to look with hope toward the future may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglect to acknowledge the importance of the moment in which we are, right now, living.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

How passive is that? Ick. That does not sit well with me.

Especially when you consider that, in historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status-changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments – even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities – and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

And that makes me want to bite something.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

Don’t get me wrong- it can be a very useful coping mechanism- when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique- “let’s get over this hump and then things will quiet down”. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of this kind of anxiety now – what with a sociopathic ignoramus untested and radically divisive individual about to be sworn in as POTUS. We are conditioned, by our myths and cultures, to think that we NEED, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

At its most extreme, we get so caught up in thoughts of the future – and how it has to be better than the stress/boredom/suffering – that we are currently experiencing – that we lose the experience of right now – and miss the both potential enjoyment that might be found in all those passing moments and, perhaps even more importantly, the occasions through which we can work to affect change. We waste countless opportunities that can be found in our immediate reality as we wait for a projected reckoning at which time all will be set to rights.

So, how do we overcome a narrative that is a hidden but ever-present part of our way of looking at the world? How do we stop thinking apocalyptically?

Popular culture loves a good apocalypse (as I said, the BEST stories) – and it has transformed the way we think about them. In most of the narratives that deal with apocalyptic considerations these days, the world as we know it ends, one way or another, and things get even worse after the fact.

Zombies and aliens dominate our tv, computer and movie screens. Through all these imagined outcomes we can see that the paradigm behind the narrative has changed. The end result of that event that changes everything is dystopic – and punishing to all those who felt the disconnect with expectations and assumptions and held out hope after hope that the future would offer succor for the suffering. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do before the eschaton happened.

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

What they’re saying is that we’re damned, regardless of what we might do and what form the end of days might take. No action we take or role we play will affect the outcome of the apocalypse – and what comes after.

As a philosophy, that really sucks. But it does point out that eschatology has its vagaries. You can’t count on apocaplypses to work out the way you wanted – they, like the gods who deliver them, are capricious by nature.

As we begin 2017 we need to acknowledge that being singularly and constantly focused on the unknowns that the future might hold is counter-productive to living our lives with investment in our current situations. We can certainly look forward to future ‘better things’ (I reallyreally hope to get to Scotland again this year – something that would be better than going to work every day) – but we must do so without squandering the experiences of the present.

Popular culture has already changed the narrative from what it was in biblical times – (although there are still those people – waaaay too many people in a supposedly-educated population – who hold fast to versions of us/them righteousness triumphing over evil) the world ends, but the external salvation/rewards aren’t forthcoming. So the world ends, people adjust and keep moving forward as best they can. And deal with the new challenges with all the tools they can bring to bear. Cross-bows, come to mind.

But how’s about we do all that without waiting for the end-game event as a spur to action? Isn’t that a better use of our time than waiting around for a catalyst that forces us to do something?

We do have time.

Lots of it. Enough of it that we tend to waste it – focusing on issues of irrelevance or binge-watching television programs about zombie apocalypses – and then lament that it is gone.

We need to take what time we have – and the amount varies from person-to-person – to invest in what is happening right now and acknowledge and overcome the defeatist rhetoric that says that better things will come if we just wait it out.

Better things won’t come unless we actively seek to create them. Complacency and unmerited hope isn’t an option. Patience, in this case, is not a virtue.

Arguably we have seen events (the US election is but one symptom of the ass-backward direction that a number of people seem determined to take) that might be seen as cataclysmic. Is it hyberbolic to assert that Trump – and those he is bringing to his ‘leadership’ table – is a disaster of historic proportions? I’m not sure that it is. Underestimating the severity of this situation is not an a risk-appropriate option as things stand.

Rather than waiting for any further apocalyptic happenings – and the changes they might bring, for better or worse – we need to look to our past and follow the example of those who came before us, when they faced injustice and inequity . There are LOTS of great examples. We can mobilize, agitate, and use our voices to speak passionately (like Ms. Meryl did the other night) against those who seek to further their agendas at the expense of freedoms and truths.

What happened in the US in November is wrong. How it can be permitted to stand is demonstrative of systemic issues that lie well beyond my ken (wasn’t the Electoral College created to prevent the rise of demagogues to the highest office in the land?). What has followed clearly demonstrates the need to wake up and affect our current reality through the use of words, action and activism. Wishing for time – to (hopefully) ride out this storm – moves us nowhere, except towards the infamy of nativism, racism, xenophobia and sexism that we see in daily tweets from the next leader of the Free World.

To be sure, there are disparities between our expectations and societal realities. My expectation was that no one in their collective, national right minds would even come close to electing that guy. That isn’t something that’s new. But doing nothing more than placing hope in a future that will prove salvific and redemptive for those who have to endure the imbalance is an abrogation of responsibility and morality.

Returning to those things that belong in the past – ignorance and ‘legitimate excuses’, as examples – is not an acceptable response to the anomie, discontent and disconnect that so many are feeling in the here-and-now of 2017. That there are those who think that waiting for a Judgement Day – which will redress the varied imbalances felt by a diversity of people – is the best course of action, lends itself to some level of understanding about how we got here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also hard to let go of a closely-held and precious delusion that confirms that we will be vindicated and rewarded, if we suffer long enough.

Understanding – and even empathizing with – the place from where that ideology hails doesn’t mean we should sit by and watch the apocalypse play out without our participation. That’s what people like the POTUS-elect want you to do – sit idly by as he and his cronies run roughshod over freedoms and human rights.

Apocalyptic narratives support his positions – and the promises he made (we’re seeing some of those promises broken already – and he isn’t yet in office). We can’t ‘wait and see’. The course is set – but it can be diverted, if we take hold of a narrative that speaks to something other than a linear rush to fruition – if you are one of the ‘chosen people’.

Praying for time? Hanging on to hope in the face of hopelessness? All due respect to our dearly departed, but these things cannot be the answer.

But he also wrote this:

I believe in the gods of America
I believe in the land of the free
But no one told me
That the gods believe in nothing
So with empty hands I pray
And from day to hopeless day
They still don’t see me

Instead of placing hope in false gods and demagogues – who don’t believe in us – let’s give them a run for their money and show them that we aren’t going to wait and see any longer. The system needs a shock – that is one positive take-away from the recent crisis – and we need to be the ones to stand and deliver that shock.

A good way to begin? Set aside childish things – including anachronistic biblical metaphors. Together we have the power to stop the apocalypse and, instead, spend our time doing the work that will bring a future that benefits humanity as a whole.

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

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

 

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

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

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

Back in March I wrote this. Even though it was not my circus, so the behaviour of its clowns shouldn’t have concerned me all that much, after too many months of nativistic, misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric I HAD to say something.

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

8 months ago I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Stephen Stills)

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

I remember. Je me souviens. 

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

Photo by I.am_nah on Unsplash

 

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!)

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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