Virology

Something sort of weird happened yesterday. I responded to a tweet – on @Mikel_Jollett’s twitter feed. Reflecting on the the rally about to happen in Tulsa, he commented that it smacked of cultic activity – and he cited his own history having been raised in, and then escaping from an actual cult – Synanon – a story he tells in his recently-released novel Hollywood Park (check it out if you want a heart-rending read – and add to the experience by reading the book while listening to the accompanying album of the same name by The Airborne Toxic Event).

He said:

I’ve spent a lot of my life studying cults. I was born in one, we escaped when I was very young. We witnessed mass denial, magical thinking, abuse, violence. And I just want to say for the record there is a cult gathering happening in Tulsa today.

This is a screenshot of my reply and his response:

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 12.44.36 PM

In addition to being a remarkable writer – of songs and articles and, now, his first memoir – Mikel shares his strong voice with his many followers on twitter. My comment –  referencing my days in academia, has now been seen by closing in on 100 000 people – and liked more than 2300 times.

I know that those numbers aren’t particularly high in the relative scheme of the social media world/s, but in my little corner of twitter, with my 300-some followers it’s a pretty significant jump in the number of interactions I usually get.

But this isn’t about my 15-minutes of (relative) fame in the twitterverse. A couple of things have come out of some reflection on the response to an observatory tweet drawn from my experience and research in that former academic life.

I touched on the subject of cults and charismatic leaders a couple of posts ago. Cults come from the same place that births apocalyptic thinking.

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 scenario to come at some future date – if things are fulfilled as prescribed.

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. 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.

Cults gather followings out of this same feeling of social anomie – and the same promises made that are found in historical apocalypses. A charismatic leader plays upon the discontent and disconnect of people and promises better things as long as they follow and obey.

The demands of the leaders don’t start off as extreme. Most humans do not seek out opportunities to do harm and violence. Soon though, the blind allegiance that is demanded escalates until abuse (of self and others) and violence become ‘reasonable’ if such things will permit the restoration of rightful place in a society that has rejected them.

Many of Trump’s followers feel threatened by a progressive move away from the guarantee of their privilege based in the colour of their skin. He is a figurehead who promises a return to the days in which they held their ‘rightful place.’

Some who cling to the idea of the feasibility of the current GOP are simply protecting their own interests – ensuring that their wealth remains untaxed, and their investments in health care for-profit, private education for-profit and fossil fuels (obvs for-profit), to name a few examples, are unthreatened. (And also that their places of worship don’t have to pay taxes – and can exert as much influence over politicians-for-sale as possible, despite what Jefferson had to say about ‘separation between Church and State’ and mis/interpretations of that First Amendment thing – which is taking a beating these days. But that’s a rant for another day).

But many of the followers of Trump’s messaging and movement are just trying to fit somewhere in a world which is leaving them behind. This messaging and movement are destined to fail – they just aren’t tenable. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, too many bells have been rung to permit any real unringing. It doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the path to social change will be easy in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but I’m really starting to believe that this backslide movement is running on fumes.

Trump’s Tulsa rally, which, as we know today, was incredibly poorly attended – despite early reports of 100s of thousands of tickets having been purchased (bravo all you young folk who bought tickets with no intention of attending) – smacks of the last gasps of desperate people. After 3 1/2 years his followers aren’t, actually, seeing a reversion back to their perceived golden age when they lived high off the hog. Or were, at least, ‘better’ than those Black folks over on the other side of town.

Despite the Jones-esque attempt to lead thousands to death-by-COVID-infection, the fact that the turnout to what was supposed to be the reopening of the campaign to continue the cult was so sad and pathetic makes me feel that even the cultists are starting to get it. That guy is all about that guy. Not the little guy. No matter what the propaganda says.

The other thing that offers a bit of hope in these exhausting times is that for all the views and likes on my viral-ish comment of yesterday, there were only a handful that were violent and hateful in nature. And those few that were got handled quickly and comprehensively by others in the threads – I did not have to feed many trolls at all. I muted a few – and reported a couple of obvious bots, but for the most part the discussions were polite and, seemingly, legitimately interested.

There were also some positive interactions – and sincere questions – that are making me think that people out there are doing more than just reacting. I had a brief discussion with a woman whose bio says she is a former Senator – a former GOP Senator – who wanted to know how to ‘deprogram’ these followers once a new government is installed after next November. She was gracious and respectful in her questions and responses.

Unfortunately ‘deprogramming’ isn’t a thing. And there will be no quick fix. This is going to require generational change, based in equitable access to education that teaches actual history – not the narrative that most were raised to believe. Willful, selfish ignorance has been the norm for too long.

The narrative that has been shared in public school curricula has significant gaps in information that is required for people to think independently and critically. They can’t do so with a redacted history. We need to ensure that those who set the curricula don’t get to leave out the bits that make them personally uncomfortable – things like genocide, and systemic anti-Black racism. We need to emphasize the reality that both race and religion are human-created constructs – and, as such, can and should be deconstructed.

The Wikipedia says ‘virology’ is the study of viruses – particularly their “structure, classification and evolution, their ways to infect and exploit host cells for reproduction, their interaction with host organism physiology and immunity, the diseases they cause, the techniques to isolate and culture them, and their use in research and therapy.”

Cults and viruses share a lot of characteristics – which makes right now a particularly appropriate time to examine the structures, classifications, evolution, exploitation and interactions of both. Doing so will help us see through to the other side of both this pandemic and the cultic subversion of humanistic values that promote progress and equity.

Rooting out and overcoming disease takes time and investment – and listening to those who are experts at isolating the causes of infection and using the findings to produce the therapies needed to overcome the virus. I’m optimistic – cautiously, but optimistic nonetheless – that we are beginning to have the conversations and take in the in-and output of those who are expert and experienced in the ways to affect significant and positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virology

Something sort of weird happened yesterday. I responded to a tweet – on @Mikel_Jollett’s twitter feed. Reflecting on the the rally about to happen in Tulsa, he commented that it smacked of cultic activity – and he cited his own history having been raised in, and then escaping from an actual cult – Synanon – a story he tells in his recently-released novel Hollywood Park (check it out if you want a heart-rending read – and add to the experience by reading the book while listening to the accompanying album of the same name by The Airborne Toxic Event).

He said:

I’ve spent a lot of my life studying cults. I was born in one, we escaped when I was very young. We witnessed mass denial, magical thinking, abuse, violence. And I just want to say for the record there is a cult gathering happening in Tulsa today.

This is a screenshot of my reply and his response:

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 12.44.36 PM

In addition to being a remarkable writer – of songs and articles and, now, his first memoir – Mikel shares his strong voice with his many followers on twitter. My comment –  referencing my days in academia, has now been seen by closing in on 100 000 people – and liked more than 2300 times.

I know that those numbers aren’t particularly high in the relative scheme of the social media world/s, but in my little corner of twitter, with my 300-some followers it’s a pretty significant jump in the number of interactions I usually get.

But this isn’t about my 15-minutes of (relative) fame in the twitterverse. A couple of things have come out of some reflection on the response to an observatory tweet drawn from my experience and research in that former academic life.

I touched on the subject of cults and charismatic leaders a couple of posts ago. Cults come from the same place that births apocalyptic thinking.

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 scenario to come at some future date – if things are fulfilled as prescribed.

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. 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.

Cults gather followings out of this same feeling of social anomie – and the same promises made that are found in historical apocalypses. A charismatic leader plays upon the discontent and disconnect of people and promises better things as long as they follow and obey.

The demands of the leaders don’t start off as extreme. Most humans do not seek out opportunities to do harm and violence. Soon though, the blind allegiance that is demanded escalates until abuse (of self and others) and violence become ‘reasonable’ if such things will permit the restoration of rightful place in a society that has rejected them.

Many of Trump’s followers feel threatened by a progressive move away from the guarantee of their privilege based in the colour of their skin. He is a figurehead who promises a return to the days in which they held their ‘rightful place.’

Some who cling to the idea of the feasibility of the current GOP are simply protecting their own interests – ensuring that their wealth remains untaxed, and their investments in health care for-profit, private education for-profit and fossil fuels (obvs for-profit), to name a few examples, are unthreatened. (And also that their places of worship don’t have to pay taxes – and can exert as much influence over politicians-for-sale as possible, despite what Jefferson had to say about ‘separation between Church and State’ and mis/interpretations of that First Amendment thing – which is taking a beating these days. But that’s a rant for another day).

But many of the followers of Trump’s messaging and movement are just trying to fit somewhere in a world which is leaving them behind. This messaging and movement are destined to fail – they just aren’t tenable. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, too many bells have been rung to permit any real unringing. It doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over – and it certainly doesn’t mean that the path to social change will be easy in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but I’m really starting to believe that this backslide movement is running on fumes.

Trump’s Tulsa rally, which, as we know today, was incredibly poorly attended – despite early reports of 100s of thousands of tickets having been purchased (bravo all you young folk who bought tickets with no intention of attending) – smacks of the last gasps of desperate people. After 3 1/2 years his followers aren’t, actually, seeing a reversion back to their perceived golden age when they lived high off the hog. Or were, at least, ‘better’ than those Black folks over on the other side of town.

Despite the Jones-esque attempt to lead thousands to death-by-COVID-infection, the fact that the turnout to what was supposed to be the reopening of the campaign to continue the cult was so sad and pathetic makes me feel that even the cultists are starting to get it. That guy is all about that guy. Not the little guy. No matter what the propaganda says.

The other thing that offers a bit of hope in these exhausting times is that for all the views and likes on my viral-ish comment of yesterday, there were only a handful that were violent and hateful in nature. And those few that were got handled quickly and comprehensively by others in the threads – I did not have to feed many trolls at all. I muted a few – and reported a couple of obvious bots, but for the most part the discussions were polite and, seemingly, legitimately interested.

There were also some positive interactions – and sincere questions – that are making me think that people out there are doing more than just reacting. I had a brief discussion with a woman whose bio says she is a former Senator – a former GOP Senator – who wanted to know how to ‘deprogram’ these followers once a new government is installed after next November. She was gracious and respectful in her questions and responses.

Unfortunately ‘deprogramming’ isn’t a thing. And there will be no quick fix. This is going to require generational change, based in equitable access to education that teaches actual history – not the narrative that most were raised to believe. Willful, selfish ignorance has been the norm for too long.

The narrative that has been shared in public school curricula has significant gaps in information that is required for people to think independently and critically. They can’t do so with a redacted history. We need to ensure that those who set the curricula don’t get to leave out the bits that make them personally uncomfortable – things like genocide, and systemic anti-Black racism. We need to emphasize the reality that both race and religion are human-created constructs – and, as such, can and should be deconstructed.

The Wikipedia says ‘virology’ is the study of viruses – particularly their “structure, classification and evolution, their ways to infect and exploit host cells for reproduction, their interaction with host organism physiology and immunity, the diseases they cause, the techniques to isolate and culture them, and their use in research and therapy.”

Cults and viruses share a lot of characteristics – which makes right now a particularly appropriate time to examine the structures, classifications, evolution, exploitation and interactions of both. Doing so will help us see through to the other side of both this pandemic and the cultic subversion of humanistic values that promote progress and equity.

Rooting out and overcoming disease takes time and investment – and listening to those who are experts at isolating the causes of infection and using the findings to produce the therapies needed to overcome the virus. I’m optimistic – cautiously, but optimistic nonetheless – that we are beginning to have the conversations and take in the in-and output of those who are expert and experienced in the ways to affect significant and positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#ItIsSystemic

I have spent the last few days listening to voices who have experiential knowledge from which my privilege has shielded me. Right now I need to be listening – since I need to learn how best to continue to contribute to this war, so all I will say is this, to those who might be less-inclined to listen to those who know, first-hand, what the hell has been going on, but might listen to me.

As both an historian and as an educator, the denials that the events of the week (and the month and the year and the decade and the century and the millennium) are examples of systemic racism are as delusional as they are shameful.

Anyone who thinks ‘things aren’t really like that’ is about to have an awakening that has been too long coming. All those who still subscribe to the beliefs that have permitted the perpetuation of (white) human-created racial divides needs to be listening to people who are making their voices heard right now.

Race, like religion, is a completely human construct. The amount of melanin in one’s skin, or the geographical location from where one originates, has nothing to do with intelligence or entitlement and certainly nothing to do with rightness or ‘better than.’

Differences in skin colour or culture or where we came from or what gods one might think are the best have always been used as a means of othering – a way to ensure that in our narratives and our history we (as opposed to them) comes out looking like the righteous victor and legitimate inheritor of the Earth, or manifest destiny, or American Exceptionalism, or whatever other supremacist bullshit we have written to justify the subjugation of our fellow human beings.

We made that shit up. We can unmake that shit – but it requires a conscious understanding of its existence and our imperative need to do so.

Jane Elliott put it succinctly: white Americans who grew up within the systems and communities of the US who are not racist are only not racist because they took the time to educate themselves about the systemic inequities upon which the US was built. Growing up within the system did no more than teach them about the system that was stacked in their favour – to the contrived and concerted detriment of all BIPOC.

And, while the US is playing out the truth of this fact right now, the rest of us need to examine our own systems and the inequities upon which they were built and which still drive the ways we live together.

This pandemic is shining light on all kinds of concerns about gaps in freedom and access to services and the ways in which we interact with one another. Many of us have a lot of extra time on our hands right now. Let’s use it to listen and effect change that will let us change the narrative to one that is not based in anachronistic ideals of colonialism and supremacy.

A very short list of the people I’m hearing right now.

@jessewente

@AOC

@AylanX

@IjeomaOluo

@JamaalBowmanNY

@TTMProject

@nhannahjones

@LenardMonkman1

@WendellPierce

@theyoungjoo

@TanyaTalaga

@Pam_Palmater

@TaranaBurke

@Luvvie

 

No.

Image result for if you can't say something nice

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. I have a question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priorities are all out of whack. Everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like HELL it does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rage that Paul Krugman referenced in his post cannot be understated or misunderstood for what it is. The rage is exemplified by one word associated with Trump’s campaign – that insidious little ‘Again’ that follows ‘Make America Great’.

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

Leaders like Trump (and Hitler) are allowed to rise to power because they legitimize ideologies that are ugly – and promotional of a group psychology that encourages complicity to ever-larger atrocity – by beginning with a mandate that the ‘simple’ can get behind. Trump’s ‘uneducated’ masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a mythical time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ type of person. The ‘social identity’ of Trump’s followers has been shaken by progressive movements advocating social justice and equity.

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

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

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

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

Unchecked, it can bring down civilizations.

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

So.

No.

Just no.

Tangents

A prompt by a friend of mine, having to do with some idiocy about how ‘god created social media and it says so in Genesis’ or the like, had me all prepped to return to the draft of a post regarding biblical ‘prophecy’ that I’ve had simmering for some time.

I had to shelve that there plan.  Once again I’m the victim of an uncontrollable tangent.

It happens a lot.  I don’t think I’m all that easily distracted, but at times it is definitely distressing how quickly my thoughts can become derailed.  Or sent off on another rail line entirely.

(In my defence, I’m not alone among my friends- many of whom frequently traverse out into the ether while recounting an event or a story- and I’m usually the one who brings them back around to topic.  It’s a gift.  My own occasional derailments can therefore be excused.)

Anyhoo.

While making dinner last night I had the news on in the background so I could get caught up on the weather and such (speaking of weather… did you catch Rick Mercer’s Rant about weather that’s been flying around the interworlds?  Classic.  And true.  Mea culpa.  But that damn polar vortex DID make it waaaaaay too freakin cold for a time.  9 degrees Celsius tomorrow, though.  This is a great tangent- Rick always puts things so succinctly…even if the link I’d attached was ‘removed by request’- check it out on YouTube- Rick Mercer- Weather Rant) and caught the tail end of the report about this latest example of bureaucracy (this time at a university, rather than the political bureaucracy) run completely amok.

And getting back on track…  First off, please note that Professor Grayson, a sociologist, has researched and written extensively about the experience of university students, including the ways in which factors such as race and immigration status affect performance and engagement.

Please also note that Professor Grayson stated that he spoke with the student early in the game saying that he could not accommodate the request, to which the student replied ‘okay.’  He also said- and this is the most important aspect of this whole crazy thing- that “the student is not the problem.”

Interestingly, politicians, of all stripes and at all levels of government, agree with Professor Grayson.  I’m not sure how, exactly, the university (which has an extremely diverse student population) will respond and whether or not any examinations of their Human Rights Policies will be undertaken as a result of this whole thing, but the situation has illustrated the trickiness of dealing with individual rights and freedoms in a system that is controlled by such an unthinking bureaucracy that rote decisions seem to be made favouring the rights and freedoms of one over the rights and freedoms of many.

Did the university make the wrong decision?  Yep.  And then they tried to cover this allowance for the perpetuation of institutionally-supported sexism by saying that allowances were made for those who were unable- due to geography/proximity- to attend the group sessions.

Not.  The.  Same.

The Huffington Post spelled out the whole thing nicely:  … accommodations had already been made for other students who were studying abroad — they were permitted to complete an alternative assignment, the Toronto Star reports.“I think Mr. X must be accommodated in exactly the same way as the distant student has been,” the newspaper reports, citing the vice dean’s letter to Grayson.  Grayson, however, sees it as a case of religious rights clashing with women’s rights — and the former coming out on top.  “In order to meet an instance of a religious requirement we have tacitly accepted a negative definition of females,” Grayson told the Star. “That’s not acceptable.”

Discussions of this situation are leading off on tangents that involve religion-bashing, that-as happens with most religion-bashing- is based in an extremely superficial understanding of the religion/culture that prompted the request.  I’ve already seen a headline- in one of the free newspapers you can find on the TTC- referencing the situation and suggesting that refusal to participate in ‘mixed’ classes is ‘a sign of things to come’ or some comparable nonsense.

Which leads me off on tangents about why universities- and not just the professors- need to be advocating the sharing of ideas between students of different genders, cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations and etc.- while than encouraging support for the worldview(s) outlined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Most notably, Section 15- the part that deals with equality rights.

If you don’t want to participate in classes/assignments/interactions with people who are somehow ‘other’ than you are, don’t freakin enroll in a public university or expect to be employed at a company that follows the guidelines laid out in the Charter.

Full stop.

Any type of generalized bigotry (and when you’re talking about roughly half of the population of the country, I’d say that’s pretty ‘general’) canNOT be suborned anywhere, but especially in our institutions of higher learning.

The blind application of policy- even well-meaning policy dealing with human rights and freedom of religion- sets a potentially dangerous precedent when to do so violates the rights and freedoms of other citizens.  That’s what happened here.  And it’s unacceptable.

Last weekend while I was out and about (tangential note:  I was not ‘oot and aboot’) I heard this song- for the first time in ages.

Way back when, our own M+M (or ‘Martha and the Muffins, the later incarnation’) wrote the song as a reaction to the slow-to-change mores of the day- and how radio stations could, and would, chose to play or not play songs with topics that were outside of their ‘comfort zone.’  Interracial relationships remained verboten on certain airwaves- and some radio stations refused, in turn, to play Black Stations White Stations because of its subject matter.  Seriously.  In 1984.

A voice inside of my car told me today
there was a song of a love they would not play
She was black, he was white
A voice inside of my car told me today…

Black stations, white stations
Break down the door
Stand up and face the music
This is nineteen eighty-four!

This is actually not a tangent.  Although the song deals with changing opinions and policies about racial prejudice, the theme remains the same.  Changing ideology doesn’t happen overnight.  But back-tracking away from the progressive ideologies that are protected under our systems of law?   That’s a BAD idea.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this situation.  It can- and perhaps, should- be used as a starting point for the development of better policies and procedures in educational and other public institutions.  Accommodations can be reasonably made when there is a legitimate case to be found.  Citing ‘religion’, without demonstrable support, can never be permitted.

Tangent comes from the Latin word tangere– meaning ‘to touch’.  In geometry, the tangent line ‘just touches’ a plane curve.  For us not-so-mathematical-types, a tangent is a sudden divergence or change of course.

Both senses of the word are valid in this situation.  The situation at York University touches on some of the issues that can arise in a multicultural society.  We are trying to work it all out, but there are continuing growing pains as we try to determine what being Canadian, and subject to our Charters and laws and policies, really means.  This process involves divergences in our collective course- and changes to both individual and societal attitudes.  Whether those changes are sudden or slow to manifest, they WILL happen and set us back on the right path as they demonstrate those things that we value most.

Equality needs to remain on top of that list.

PS- although this might be a slight tangent in some ways, in others it really isn’t.  My friend Susan posted a thoughtful piece today about the great and healing value of ‘touch’.  Go have a look, if you have a chance.  The more we are in touch- emotionally, intellectually and physically (when/where appropriate, of course) with those around us, the more smoothly we will be able to execute these changes.  For the betterment of us all.