Rehumanizing

Image result for dehumanize

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go

-The Killers

As one of my favourite troubadors/political commentators tweeted today (check him out on Twitter if you want some keen reflections on WTF is happening in the Bizarro World @Mikel_Jollett), “the idea that your political rivals are inhuman is the core idea of Nazism.” Responding to a criticism of that assertion, he also noted that “fascism is a PROCESS. Dehumanization of rivals is a step in that process. By the way, ignoring the SIGNS of fascism is also part of (the) process.”

Mikel Jollett (I’ve talked about him before. He wrote the single best song about regret ever. In all of history. You think I’m exaggerating, but listen to it and try to tell me otherwise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPoMjR6-Ao) was referencing the situation that is unfolding south of the border – specifically, on this occasion, the ignorant rantings of the son of the IMPOTUS, who suggested that those who stand in critical opposition to his father ‘aren’t even people’.

Yeah no.

So it seems that, once again, I must call attention to the myriad dystopia-creating patterns underlying the election of that guy to the highest office in the land (and to the former leadership of the Free World – I say ‘former’ since it was made clear-as-crystal, after his recent European holiday, that no one outside the US regards him as fit to lead anything at all), epitomized in that insidious little ‘Again’ that follows ‘Make America Great’.

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

Leaders like Trump (and Hitler) are allowed to rise to power because they legitimize ideologies that are ugly – and promotional of a group psychology that encourages complicity to ever-larger atrocity – by beginning with a mandate that reactionary simpletons can get behind. Trump’s uneducated (or self-serving) masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a gilded time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ types of people.

Essentially, the social identities of those who voted for him have been shaken by progressive movements advocating crazy things like social justice, equality and equity.

Othering is nothing new. I talk about it a lot (seriously. There are a lot of posts here in the wide world of colemining that deal with Us vs. Them, scapegoating, the personification of Inhuman Evil … I think I’m stuck on a theme). It is the basis of all institutionalized Western religions (and some that aren’t so institutionalized). It is the justification for the enslavement of those who are not identified – in a specific temporal or geographic context – as ‘one of us’. It is the manifestation of a pattern of dichotomy and polarization that permits the rise of fear-mongers and seekers of illicit power.

It is representative of a continuing trajectory of the legitimation of hatred.

I’m an historian. I know too much about that level of complacent culpability and othering, and the acceptance and/or dismissal of the banal wrongness that comes along with it.

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

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place in time is the mis-remembrance of history. The ‘Again’ word, as part of the IMPOTUS’ sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. It helped to create the false narrative that he presented throughout his campaign and persists in dictating now that he is in office.

Coincident to the mess that is unfolding in the US, I’m dealing, currently, with a situation that represents that whole inter-connectedness thing that I go on-and-on about. It’s kind of Platonic – ‘as above, so below’ – or representative of a demonstration of the whole micro-macro paradigm.  People in my little workaday world are being taken for granted and stretched to ever-increasing limits by unreasonable expectations driven by something that the higher-ups keep calling ‘resourcing issues’.

I hate what is happening for many reasons; there is a lot going wrong. But the key thing that is sticking in my craw today is the use of the term ‘resource’ to describe actual human beings. Commoditizing people is wrong on manymany levels (see above, especially that whole bit about enslavement). But, at its worst – in this context, anyway – it reduces inherent value and person-ness in support of fiscal/economic expediency/excuse-making.

Yet, for some reason that continues to escape me, this is common parlance in the world of so-called ‘human resourcing’. Humans, while resourceful, are not resources. They are people.

As of today, I am refusing its use and testing more acceptable alternatives. At the moment I’m going with ‘under-peopling’, as in, ‘a decline in the quality of the stakeholder engagement is a direct result of a continuing trend toward under-peopling.” We’ll see how that goes over.

The process of dehuminzation remains a surreptitious go-to that permits the villainization/dismissal/subjugation/murder of other people. We accept it, unthinkingly, in certain contexts – like the one at my day job. We have a human tendency to call people names that serve to keep separate those we perceive to be different from us, or to express displeasure at the thoughts/words/deeds of someone else.

I have a tendency to call the IMPOTUS by anything other than his name (since he loves that name so much, I take perverse pleasure in not contributing to any further development of his brand) but I do not deny his humanity when I do so. In fact, I frequently point to him as an exemplar of humanity. An exemplar of the worst of humanity, but still people.

Tomorrow should see the beginning of the end of this most recent failed experiment in regression and anachronism. Whatever comes out of the US Senate hearings (let’s hear it for impending impeachment!), we have to acknowledge that words matter. Engendered violence has no place in evolved society, and history has demonstrated, too many times to count, that dehumanization is, by definition, discriminatory, and the first step on the path to institutionalized injustice and genocide.

Time to start watching our language. And the ideologies that drive it.

 P.S. If you’re in need of some music therapy after Comey’s testimony, have a listen to The Airborne Toxic Event’s album ‘Songs of God and Whiskey. It’s wonderful.

Songs that can change a life #1

The other day I was having lunch with a friend and, in something of a non sequitur, she commented on the fact that I tend to hang out in environments where I am exposed to either books or music.  I admitted that this was true, and explained that escape into stories and songs were the best things I could imagine, and that I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I can spend my life around people who appreciate these things as much as I do.

She remarked that she had always found my relationship with Nigel- my oldest friend and the former owner of a much-missed store that sold vinyl and catered to musical tastes somewhat outside of most of what passes for music these days- a little puzzling at times. I suppose to someone unaware of our history the relationship does seem a little odd.  He is the consummate ‘cool dude’ and I am more, um, bookish, for lack of a better term.  She went on to say that she thinks she is starting to get it though.

“You love the songs that tell stories.  It’s no different from your examination of mythological texts or legendary traditions.  The songs you love are the ones that tell the stories- that present a slice of time and place.  You’re not into the stuff that just claims a good beat- or even intricate musicianship- it’s all about the lyrics, and the stories they tell.”

Since this was also completely true, I agreed with her assessment.  While I can appreciate a great dance tune, and the technical beauty of Bach is not lost on me, for a song to really grab hold of my soul it has to tell some kind of a story.  Popular music is yet another expression of our need to communicate those intangibles that our ancestors wove into the stories that they told, the images and themes that helped explain the unexplainable.

“I totally get that,” she continued.  “I’m all about the lyrics too.  There aren’t very many contemporary bands that can hold my attention if the words aren’t engaging in some way.”

I commented that songs can have the same effect, and often work to the same purpose, as myths do.  They help us cope with the rougher stuff life can throw at us and make us feel as if we aren’t alone in feeling what we’re feeling at any given point in time.

Elton John’s ode to sad songs is a perfect, self-aware, example of the effect of a clever and nuanced lyric- with a snappy tune backing it up.  Always makes me want to dance- and I am definitely not a dancer.

CBC Writes recently ran a challenge- a competition asking entrants to write about life-changing songs.  I asked her if she had such a song- or perhaps many, since I knew that her music collection was extensive and diverse.

“There are likely more than a few, if I really think about it.  So many songs evoke a particular time and place in my life, and many of those times and places caused change or growth or revelation of some kind.  But straight off the cuff?  There is one that springs to mind right away.  It still causes an atavistic response when I hear it.  The feelings are inescapable.”

She paused, and looked around as if afraid of being overheard.  Songs, and the things they can do to us, are very personal experiences.

“Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits.  Do you know it?”

I do, and told her so.  It’s a beautiful song, and one that I’ve always appreciated- as much for its poignancy as for the way it plays with the themes borrowed from Mr. Shakespeare and more contemporary popular culture and mores.

“It’s one of those songs that I have probably heard in passing many times over the years- it IS Dire Straits after all- but I honestly hadn’t paid it much mind until a couple of years ago.  A friend and I were sitting out on my patio one night- it had to have been around about three in the morning- we’d had a few beers and had been talking all night, and, as often happened in our conversations, the subject came around to music and the whole concept of ‘desert island discs.’  Which songs would you have with you if they were the only songs that you’d hear for the rest of time.  I had given him a book for his birthday in which you could record various desert island play lists, and I asked if he had started filling them in.”

“He started talking about Dire Straits- and hanging out as a teenager listening to Brothers in Arms- and how affecting this one song was.  He quoted some of the lyrics, and I told him that I’d have to give it a listen- I had the album after all.  Apparently The Killers had recently covered the song and hearing their version had taken him back to those teen years.”

“A couple of days later there was an email with a link to The Killers’ version, complete with some commentary about why they covered that song- including their hope that they would introduce a new generation to the wonder of Dire Straits.  I watched it over and over while hanging out in my office waiting for students to show up with questions.  It punched me right in the heart.”

“When I got home, I pulled out the Dire Straits version and I was almost dumbfounded by how much it made me want to roll up into a ball and cry with the heartbreak of it all.  Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, but here was a version that ended up unrequited for very different reasons- ones that were about bad timing and missed opportunities.  It struck very close to the bone.”

“But more importantly, once the initial overwhelming angst had passed, it provided some perspective on a number of things I had been wrestling with for months.  It’s strange how one song can do that, but this one did.  Changed the course of a number of things in my life, actually.”

Music, like myth, speaks to places within us that often don’t get to see the light of day in the ordinary scheme of things.  Those issues- love, loss, pain, death- that we tend to suppress as we attempt to make it through the days and nights of responsibility, paying the bills and remaining engaged with our family and friends and in the larger community.

Occasionally a song can bring those questions or concerns out of the darkness and let us know that others have felt exactly the same way.  I’ve said it repeatedly – our stories connect us in ways we don’t even acknowledge on a conscious level.  Such stories- and stories-in-song- emphasize this commonality of humanity.

Stories and songs advise and enrich us in profound, sometimes life-changing, ways.  Add some cathartic release- through tears or through just getting down and dancing it out- and you can begin to understand why I choose to spend my life surrounded by their wisdom.