Wednesday, September 26, 2018

100 % right is never an option

Many of the world’s greatest horrors have occurred because some group or visionary was aiming for perfection. No ideological side has a monopoly on this. This is not a left or right, religious or secular ideology thing.  We have had the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution’s Terror, the Holodomor, the famine due to forced collectivisation in Ukraine, the cultural revolution in China, the killing fields in Cambodia, the horrors of the Taliban and Islamic State.  All had their share of horror, all were aiming for a perfect society with no deviation from the ideal allowed. 

There is a tendency, especially in the USA but spilling over into culturally related countries, to aim for ‘zero tolerance’ of certain evils. Sexual harassment, spousal or child abuse, bullying and offensive language for example. Guess what. It won’t work. Life happens in shades of grey, not in clear contrasts of black and white.

Now please do not mistake this for endorsement of sexual harassment, domestic violence, bullying, racial slurs or other evils. I am against them, OK?  Sadly it looks like we have to spell such things out these days. Critiquing the excesses of a thing is not the same as critiquing the thing. 

My objection is to policies of zero tolerance. When the slightest infraction is pounced upon by overzealous enforcers of an ideal an old tyranny is being replaced by a new one. Repeat:  Scale  has to be taken into account. A mild summer breeze and a devastating hurricane are both wind. 
Are they the same? Careful with that continuum argument.

The area of child rearing for instance is rife with dilemmas. Poor North American  parents!
Somehow they are expected to protect their children from all possible harm, emotional or physical and deal with conflicting advice from an army of experts with or without credentials. Somehow Western culture went from “spare the rod and spoil the child” and “children must be seen but not heard” to worrying the tender little psyches will shatter if they ever hear the word NO, or have to concede that competitions have both losers and winners.
In some cases child protective services get called in when children are allowed a level of freedom that was normal not long ago. There is no consensus, no proverbial village.

When a tragedy occurs, as is inevitable in the human condition, the finger pointing starts. 
People don’t like to admit that life is precarious and we are not in control. They like to believe that the tragedy that befell the neighbour could not possibly happen to them, because they themselves would never ....whatever.  When our firstborn died the day after birth of a congenital malformation our hippie friends were eager to blame my modest intake of coffee, a substance they avoided. Meanwhile the glowing beauty of someone’s toddler was credited to the fact he had been conceived on acid. I kid you not.

Then there is the realm of politics. Somehow we expect the Powers That Be to keep us safe from zealots and madmen, yet not infringe on our privacy.  We expect a social safety net but hate to pay taxes.  We expect safety standards for food, water  and construction but get frustrated by red tape.  In all these areas finding balance is key. 

Anyway, getting it 100% right is not an option. 
But here is what we can do: we can decide in which direction to make our mistakes. 

I resolve to make my mistakes in the direction of openness vs closeness, love vs discipline, and individual freedom vs the search for obsessive and stifling safety or ever shifting notions of political correctness.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Doughnut theory of life. A brief reflection on psychotherapy.

With all respect to mrs Gump, life does not resemble a box of chocolates. Life is more like a doughnut. What makes a piece of bakery a doughnut? The hole in the middle. 

This post owes much to the rich symbolic language of astrology, perhaps the oldest form of psychology. Readers familiar with astrology will recognise Saturn. Every human life has a basic lack, an area of insecurity, a place where things do not  flow effortlessly. Nobody, even the person with the most charmed life, gets it all. Such is the human condition. 

Jane has security and a happy family but suffers from ill health. Peter  has been blessed with a robust constitution, makes a good living with enjoyable work, but suffers from loneliness.  Paul lives perpetually on the edge of financial ruin with all the stress that entails. Mary has a good life now but is haunted by demons from earlier trauma. John seemingly has it all but can find no meaning to life, feels hollow inside and takes to drugs. And so on in endless variations. That place of lack is the hole in the doughnut.
That is all obvious and what does it  have to do with psychotherapy?

Disclaimer first. I am content with my life and have never felt the need for therapy.  I have no right to judge people who benefit from it and that is not the intention here. This critical reflection refers to excess.  
I have been preoccupied with questions of scale and balance lately, perhaps in reaction to the increasing polarisation of public discourse. Criticising the excess of a thing is not the same as criticising the thing itself.  It appears one has to spell that out. 

It seems to me that, like many good things, therapy can be overdone. People can get stuck in it. This is where the doughnut hole comes in. 
“Know thyself “ has been sound advice for a long time. Knowing oneself requires a good look at the troubled place within. We all have one. But therapy can get people to spend too much time looking at the hole in the doughnut of life. The client may end up identifying with the hole, spending precious time and life energy mapping the exact shape and size of the hole, socialising with people with similar holes, feeling  misunderstood by anyone whose inner empty spot has another shape. 

Yes,  the inner void demands to be acknowledged. There may be a time for therapy, and a time to gain support from others with a similar life wound.

 But after a good look at the doughnut hole I would rather focus on the cake. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

On the importance of defining terms

Communication between people or groups can be tricky at the best of times, but it becomes near impossible if each party has a different idea of the meaning of a term.

Take the word socialism. 
When I hear it I think "Norway", a democratic society with high taxes but a huge social safety net, overall a good quality of life, and the freedom to protest or change government if so desired.
If you think "Soviet Union", a totalitarian government with no room for dissent, we can hardly have a meaningful conversation till we clear that up.

A while ago I expressed my frustration with women who brag about how strong they are, how they do not fit into traditional roles, while insisting "I am not a feminist".
Meanwhile their life has been made possible by decades, nay centuries! of struggle by feminists.

It turns out we have different definitions of the term.

My involvement with feminism, such as it was, dates from the sixties and seventies. I had been ahead of the curve thanks to the influence of my mother and to Simone de Beauvoir, who I devoured at age 18. When the larger movement burst forth I was already married to a man who shared my egalitarian ideals, at least in theory. I never went to meetings or organised protests. I just read the books, subscribed to magazines big and small, and talked with friends. Feminism infused my thinking and I felt myself to be part of the movement. Back then I occasionally felt a twinge of unease at some of the more extreme utterances, but figured that every movement has its fringe.

When I say "feminism" I mean humanism. I think of extending basic rights to 52% of the population. I think of true partnership, of Marlo Thomas singing "Free to be You and Me." I think of the early twentieth century writer Rebecca West who said: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

I stopped reading the magazines and did not pay much attention in the eighties. I was busy raising children and chickens. I got tired of seeing the broad based movement devolve into hair splitting and squabbling over what we now call identity politics. Apparently that only got worse.

On Facebook I expressed frustration with free strong women saying "I am not a feminist". This led to this input by a friend of my daughter's generation.

"When I was in college, the feminist thought was combative. It ranged from "restrict that job or position to females only" to actual publications that direct women how to sabotage their male cohorts in order to advance yourself. All of that hit me as horrifically wrong and I would also say, "No, I'm not a feminist."

Now I see! If one's experience is with a bunch of humorless strident fanatics aiming for revenge and waiting to pounce on the slightest politically incorrect utterance, I can understand why one would wish to avoid both the association and the label. The friend again:
"Years later I can say I'm not THAT kind of feminist. It's about balance and equality, not excluding one gender to benefit the other."

Amen to that. Let's end this with a shout out to all the excellent men out there who truly support equality.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On sproinking, old warriors and turbulence.

The world today is full of people who have had good reasons for being mad as hell for a long time, and they are not taking it anymore.

This is a good thing. We still have a long way to go before this planet resembles the peaceful, egalitarian paradise depicted in Star Trek, The Next Generation. We had to wait for TGN. In J.T. Kirk's days a woman could not become captain of a star ship. (An episode was devoted to portraying a woman who resented that fact as a monster who lost Jim's love by denying her own feminine nature.)  I will never give up the hope we might get there one day. Right now the chance doesn't look great but let's leave that for another time. 

This post is about the trouble that arises because progress for social justice is made unevenly. Let's take being gay, or generally queer, as an example. Please don't get me started on the PC list of initials, and substitute your own oppressed group of choice.

In liberal cities like Vancouver, Toronto or San Francisco it is quite In to be Out. In some circles a regular man or woman may be expected to identify as 'cis'. The photo below is Canada's Prime Minister at the Toronto Pride parade. I love that picture, but does this look like oppression?
But wait! Before we declare this particular struggle won, imagine being the gay son of a conservative family belonging to a fundamentalist church. You love your family and your community but you can no longer deny your nature. Coming out takes courage. It may mean tough choices. A while back I was reading about Hutterites. According to their website a gay Hutterite faces three options: a deep dark closet, a lonely life of celibacy, or leaving the life giving community.
Meanwhile being outed in Uganda or Saudi Arabia can get you killed. See what I mean about uneven progress?

A metaphor. 
Think of the energy of an oppressed group as a coiled spiral, like a Jack in the Box. What happens when the lid that kept Jack down is removed? SPROINK! Don't stand too close, you will be hit in the face. I coined sproinking as a verb, to describe the energy of freshly liberated groups. Think also of the over the top zeal of the freshly converted. People tend to mellow out after a while. The SPROINK! energy is exhilarating for the members of the group, but may be bewildering, threatening or just irritating for others.  

Then there are the Old Warriors. The age refers more to the battle than to the soldiers. This is the folks splitting hairs and looking for microaggressions after a movement has been largely successful. They may overlap with sproinkers.

I am reflecting on this in the winter of 2018. The media have been buzzing with the news of one mighty man after another falling from grace due to past sexual misconduct. 
I did a blog on this topic a few years ago during one such scandal concerning a popular CBC man. Much of it is still relevant.

This vague term "sexual misconduct" can be used for a wide variety of misbehaviors. |

Should withholding job opportunities unless sexual favours are granted really be on the same page  as a drunken grope at the office Christmas party? 

While it is high time the former is taken seriously, I would like to think that the latter can be dealt with on the spot with a slap and a firm DON'T. I recognise I have been lucky in my personal experience and may be hopelessly naive as a result. I also recognise we are looking at the slippery slope. The drunken grope may be evidence of a toxic climate in which blackmail is possible. Many small acts can add up to a climate of intimidation. When does one make a fuss? And then there is the real danger that even the proverbial slap can have repercussions. I just stumbled upon this.

Margaret Atwood wrote a much discussed article in the Globe and Mail that I posted to Facebook with the comment: "I fear rule by mob, even if the mob consists of my kind of people. I fear orthodoxy and dogma, even if they originate in a philosophy I subscribe to."

I also worry about throwing out precious babies with the bathwater.
Yes, we need history books to include the stories that have been previously ignored. But I would hate to see the canon of Western civilisation tossed out because the texts were written by rich white men. In their time they were the only ones with the leisure to study and reflect.

More on the whole group/individual thing in the next post, but just this: When  previously disadvantaged groups finally get a measure of justice, there is always a danger that relatively harmless individuals of the previously privileged group get a rough deal. 

Here in Canada we just had a tragedy involving the shooting of a young First Nations man by a white farmer. The behaviour of the police who went to the young man's home to inform the bereaved family is without excuse. Racism is real. 

The white farmer who shot the young man was acquitted by the all white jury. At first glance it seemed like a clear cut case of outrageous racism. My first reaction was to post an item on it with the comment that this was Canada's equivalent to the Trevor Martin case and sign "Justice for Colten" petitions. Google Colten Boushie. 

But then my conservative friend Ken "buzzsaw" Cyr sent me some articles published in conservative sources that questioned the simple narrative of "drunk native kid blameless victim, white farmer guilty racist." It was not that simple. For the record, these articles were written by First Nations people. I finally told myself the world will keep turning if I do not have a firm opinion on the matter.

I am just hoping we can make social change without creating fresh victims in the process. I worry about a mentality where the end justifies the means. I hope more of us can keep a relatively cool head, keep trying to separate truth from falsehood, and continue to think independently instead of following a herd, any herd. 

Related posts:

Monday, December 18, 2017

On immigration and mayonnaise.

Once upon a time, in a house on the border of Murcia and Almeria, a woman named Catalina Andreu showed me how to make mayonnaise. First, you make your base. Vinegar, egg, salt, maybe mustard and or garlic. Then comes the tricky part: incorporating the oil. This has to be done in a slow trickle while stirring vigorously. Add too much at once and the oil goes one way, the vinegar base the other and they are both useless. Her words. I remember her saying "un lado, otro lado." These people were smart peasant farmers who knew how to stretch our rudimentary Spanish by simplifying their language.

Now, with our modern kitchen blenders the cure for a failing mayonnaise is simple. Stop adding oil for a moment, then give the works a vigorous buzz. The oil will incorporate, everything becomes smooth and you can resume trickling more oil.

Mayonnaise seems to me the perfect metaphor for the dilemmas surrounding immigration. When too many newcomers pour into an established society at once, integration becomes more difficult. Any harmonious society has a certain degree of cohesion, a baseline of common mores and values. 

I am not saying that there should not be people at the fringes, those are usually the more interesting ones. The ones on the edge, the pockets of 'others'  keep a society from stagnating. But there has to be a centre to be a fringe of. Without a central mass we get mere chaos. Think of the endlessly warring city states of Renaissance Italy that inspired the peace loving Machiavelli to write his cynical instructions for a successful ruler. 

Ideally the receiving society should be able to slow down the flood of incomers until the previous wave of immigrants has made itself at home. Stop adding more oil. Let Time, that great blender, do its magic. In the recent (post indigenous holocaust) history of North America this has happened many times over. Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans have all been looked at askance until they became established. In the present day Vancouver, B.C. is adjusting to becoming an Asian city.

Unfortunately slowing down the flow is not always possible. In times of upheaval due to wars and natural disasters desperate people will continue to flood into safer places.

This phenomenon is as old as humanity. History lesson from Dutch elementary school, where we had to learn dates by heart. They stuck. The year 400 read: "The Great Migration. Our country inhabited by Frisians, Franks and Saxons." The word for the migration, "volksverhuizing", literally "people's move" the same as that used for a move from one apartment to the next. My childish imagination pictured an orderly procession of horse drawn U hauls. While much attention was given to Attila the Hun, the driving force behind all those tribes moving West, not much was said about the experience of the people in place when the Frisians, Franks and Saxons who became our collective forebears showed up. 

Receiving societies face horrible dilemmas no matter how they respond. Most people are decent at heart and want to rescue the fleeing stranger. But when a trickle of individual families becomes a flood that threatens to overwhelm the host society things become tricky.

I have no easy answers. Overall, I prefer being opening and welcoming to closing the gate behind me now that I am in. 

However, on this topic as on so many others we need to be able to hold frank conversations without immediately ranging ourselves in ideological camps. We need to stop cherry picking stories that confirm our chosen viewpoint and ignoring the other ones. People of any group are a mixed bag.

Can we please admit that both xenophobia AND  large sudden influxes of newcomers are a problem? Can we please listen when the people in the neighborhoods where many newcomers settle run into problems without dismissing them as racists? We have seen what happens when people feel dismissed. It is not a pretty picture.

Can we please admit that there is a danger that our cherished social safety nets might become overwhelmed? Of course the funding of social safety nets is a complex issue in its own right, but let's not get side tracked.

Racism is present and real. Racial profiling by police is disgusting. So is seeing a possible rental disappear the moment a person of colour (I hate that expression) appears for a look. Boo! Hiss! 

But think of the social and psychological problems faced by returning veterans from the host society. Now look at an influx of large numbers of traumatised young men from a culture that gives them a sense of entitlement. Thinking of Europe here. Could that just possibly cause some problems? Can we please ask that question without being labeled anything?

Repeat. I have no easy answers. But I do know that finding the best possible answers has to start with asking questions, including  tough and unpopular ones.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eye witness accounts from Charlottesville.

These posts appeared on Facebook. I am saving them here in order to be able to refer to them easily.

A FB post by Lisa Moore, who was at Charlottesville during the tragedy, protecting people from harm from the white supremacists:
I'm seeing a lot of posts about "both sides" and "all around violence."
Not one single person who was actually there has said this.
You know why? Because we saw it. We were there. We aren't relying on heavily edited and, in some cases, biased media footage.
We did not show up to fight. We did not show up to give them attention.
Our "side" is not buying bus tickets and coordinating carpools from out of state to invade other people's hometowns.
Our "side" did not hide caches of weapons at specific drop points around someone else's town.
Our "side" did not gather together in groups specifically in minority neighborhoods to terrorize the residents while brandishing weapons and shields.
Our "side" showed up to say NO MORE.
No more turning our heads. No more looking at news footage and sighing and shaking our heads and saying "such a shame in 2017."
And yes, some of us ended up fighting. Some of us bled, and some of us went home with someone else's blood on us.
The video documentary [I assume the HBO/Vice documentary] going around shows an incredibly pleased, smug, triumphant white supremacist who declared this weekend a victory for them.
He promised more rallies.
He gleefully promised more deaths.
If that is not worth showing up to condemn, then I don't know what is.
Yesterday I walked in a small group of other people to Heather Heyer's memorial.
As we approached a neighborhood, we came upon a house with two black girls playing in the front yard. One was perhaps six years old.
She froze and called to us "Are you KKK people?" as the other little girl ran inside. I responded "No honey, we aren't going to hurt you."
A little girl. In her own yard, in daylight. That is why we showed up. And that is why we will continue to show up.
In response to the president's comments, I have made this post public.
Also, the president claims that the counter protestors did not have permits, while the alt-right did. Fake news. We had two. My husband Nathan was one of the permit holders for McGuffey Park that day.

Kevin Higgs
Yesterday at 1:26pm
From a medic in Charlottesville who fears reprisal. :"I rarely post politics or anything else on Facebook .... But let me be clear. I was acting as a medic in Charlottesville. "Both sides"-ing about it is absolutely unacceptable. Content note: I'm going to get quite graphic here, because while I understand that there's quite a range of political viewpoints among my Facebook friends, I want to *get this point through to everyone whatever your politics*.
In the run-up to that weekend, some local counterprotest organizers' families were forced to flee their homes because of violent threats. Some of them had "bodyguards" - friends escorting them everywhere they went that week, even to the grocery store, work, all the mundane places that people go in their normal lives.
On Friday night, a torch-wielding mob chanting Nazi and other racist slogans (e.g. "blood and soil," "Jews will not replace us"), some doing Nazi salutes, surrounded, screamed "White lives matter" and "anti-white" at, a small group of college student counterprotesters who had linked arms around a statue and had a banner. They then threw fuel at them, beat them with lit torches, pepper-sprayed them, and punched them (including pepper-spraying a girl in a wheelchair). The police mostly stood by until the nazis were gone. A medic who was wearing a kippah (a Jewish skullcap) was followed in the dark by one of the nazis, and took it off after that so as not to be targeted. A university librarian who joined the students to try to protect them has now had a stroke. At some point that evening, the torch-wielders also surrounded a black church while chanting racist slogans. All of this not only hurt people that night but set expectations for how the white nationalists would behave the next day.
On Saturday morning, a line of clergy, along with a gradually growing group of other protesters, showed up outside the nazi rally (given the iconography, including swastikas, the Black Sun, and fasces, and the chants, of involved groups, I don't have a problem using that word, don't let anyone fool you into thinking these were mainstream conservative groups that are being described hyperbolically), facing militia movement members who were carrying assault rifles. There was shouting back and forth, and a small early fistfight where a nazi punched a nearby counterprotester who spilled coffee on him. Nazis were screaming antisemitic things at rabbis in the clergy line, and chanting "blood and soil" in response to the clergy singing "This little light of mine." At one point, some clergy did a peaceful blockade of one of the park entrances, which was forcibly broken by an incoming white nationalist group with skulls painted on their shields.
The heavy bidirectional fighting, though, mostly got going after a group of counterprotesters nonviolently blocked the way of an oncoming group of white nationalists, who broke through the blockade with clubs and heavy shields. Some people defended themselves as the white nationalists kept charging and swinging clubs. After that, there were fistfights and club-fights breaking out all around, nazis pepper-spraying and tear-gassing counterprotest crowds, plastic water bottles thrown in both directions. A nazi group that didn't know where the entrance to the park was added to the street fights. Some clergy ran to shield vulnerable people with their bodies, and those clergy were protected by antifa-associated counterprotesters - multiple clergy/theologians have said that they would have been "crushed" and maybe killed if antifa had not protected them. This went on for a long time. For most of this, the police stood around. Eventually, they cleared both sides out of the area.
The town's synagogue is a short distance from the park. Throughout the day, nazis paraded by it doing the Nazi salute and shouting antisemitic slurs. The police had refused to provide a guard to the synagogue for some reason, so it had hired its own armed guard. There were threats of burning it down coming in. It had to cancel a havdalah service at a congregant's house that evening out of fear of attack.
The march that was attacked with a car by James Fields was that afternoon. What street fighting had happened was long-since over by then. It was a happy march, it was not fighting anyone. The car attack came out of nowhere and the aftermath looked like a war zone. It hit the front of the march as the march was going around a corner, and many people weren't sure what had happened at first, people were screaming about a bomb. In addition to the woman who died, many people had serious injuries. A medic who was hit had to have emergency surgery to not lose her leg. A 13 year-old girl and her mom were among the injured. The street was covered in blood. The firefighters and paramedics were great. The police, on the other hand, rolled in an armored vehicle and threatened the crowd of survivors with a tear gas launcher. Police officers ordered the medics who were performing CPR on the woman who died to leave her and clear the area. They refused, and bystanders negotiated with the police to leave them alone.
There were several other incidents throughout the afternoon where white nationalists/nazis/whatever were menacing small groups of wandering counterprotesters with their cars, swerving toward them on the sidewalk like they were going to hit them, that kind of thing, including after the car attack. At one point my medic buddy and I were about 50 feet ahead of such a group and heard screeching car sounds and screams, and ran back, thinking for a second that there had been another terrorist attack and that this time we were the only medics on site, but fortunately it was just a scare - the driver then "rolled coal" (intentionally emitting a dark cloud of exhaust) at the people on the sidewalk before driving away. There was also an incident at some point where a young black man was badly beaten by white nationalists in a parking garage.
There is no "both sides" here. I mean, first of all, there is no moral both sides because antifascists and nazis aren't morally the same, period. Disrupting nazis isn't the same as being one, period. But there was also no "both sides" even beyond that. Mutual street fighting primarily kicked off by an attack from the opposing side, doesn't compare to mowing people down with a car, to threatening a synagogue and a black church, to stalking someone for being visibly Jewish, to being part of a Nazi-slogan-screaming mob that surrounds and attacks peaceful college kids and could have easily killed one of them if the fuel thrown on a couple of them had been lit by one of the many thrown or swung torches.
Don't let anyone fool you into thinking the Saturday rally was starting out just a rally like others, but with racist assholes. The people organizing counterprotests, whose families had to flee town, would probably take issue with that. The black church and the synagogue, the synagogue congregant who had to cancel a religious/cultural ceremony out of fear, and the ones who had to leave the building in groups out the back entrance to avoid attack, would probably take issue with that. The people who were physically attacked, on Friday night, by those in town for the Saturday rally, would probably take issue with that.
Don't elide the difference in the questions of whether hate speech should be criminalized, and how communities and their supporters should protect themselves when people who are already threatening to kill them roll into town to rally and then physically attack community members before their rally while the police don't stop it. Don't invoke the Civil Rights Movement to elide it, or tsk-tsk people who were on the ground in Cville. The Civil Rights Movement had its Deacons for Defense and Justice, and similar groups. Just as importantly, many of the leading lights of the Civil Rights Movement were murdered. If you think the only valid kind of activism in response to racist hate is martyrdom, you need to at least think through the implications of that belief.
I did not have a good weekend and I have no interest in hearing comments about how, despite everything I saw and everything I said here, you think this is a "both sides" thing. If you find my activism unacceptable you are welcome to unfriend me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Open letter to Justin Trudeau

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

When your election brought an end to the Harper regime I was among the many celebrating an end to an oppressive episode in Canadian history. I did not vote for you, but was part of the movement that encouraged strategic voting. I even wrote letters to NDP candidates in certain ridings, begging them to stand down in favour of Liberal candidates if that would defeat the Harperites.* 

We did this in the expectation that we would never have to do it again if you won.

I fully recognise that your powers to affect change are limited by realities over which you have little or no control. Canada is part of a complex world where transnational corporations wield enormous power. 

On this issue however nothing stands in your way. Changing the electoral system to one where every vote counts is still well within the power of a national government. You made it an issue. There is NO EXCUSE. There is only the impression that the Bay Street Liberals are back, just with better looks and some modern social values. There is the impression that the Bay Street establishment is confident they have regained their old role as Canada's default ruling party. The present system works in their favor and they would like to keep it that way. 


There is already widespread distrust in the whole democratic system. Blatant disregard of promises made encourages cynicism and apathy. This in turn encourages extremism, as we have just witnessed South of the Border. There is still time to put this issue on the front burner. 

P.S. Ditto for Bill C51 and the legalisation of marijuana issue. Stop back pedaling! At least call in your attack dogs who are still arresting people selling tomorrow's medicine today.

*Like former Progressive Conservative Tom McMillan I do not consider them Canadian conservatives.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Defining -isms.

This blog has been brewing for a long time. I have become increasingly impatient with excesses of political correctness. Please note: excess. When P.C. stands for Plain Civility I am all for it.  

Let's get some things straight before we start.
I am all in favour of measures designed to level a tilted playing field. 
I would gladly pay more taxes in order to fund programs designed to rectify past grievances as far as possible.
I want committed partnerships to be recognized with the full force of the law, regardless of the variation of sexual identity.
I am in favour of making workplace adaptations for people with various challenges, physical or mental.
I want schools to teach the true history of everyone, not just the winners. 
I am aware that I live on a stolen continent.
And so on.

But I am sick and tired of that whole walking on eggshells thing one keeps reading about. I say reading about because hey, I live near a village of 1500 mainly pinko beige people. My own experience is limited.  I just seem to have this compulsion to read, reflect and comment on what goes on in society at large. Maybe there is a disorder name for it. Compulsive Comment Disorder?  Some enterprising psychologist can add CCD to the next DSM. But, as is my wont, we digress. So many topics! So much to go on about! 

Anyway, here goes.

Defining  -isms.

In some circles, mainly the liberal tribe that I mostly identify with, the ugly accusation of '-ist' is taken on board at the slightest provocation. It used to be just racism, but we now have other forms of prejudice like sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and so on. There is even "able-ism". The accusation usually has the effect of stopping a conversation in its tracks while the liberal in question adopts a stance of cringing apologetic reverence to the aggrieved minority du jour. I remember a white woman in Every Woman's Almanac twisting herself into a mental pretzel accusing herself for feeling guilty. This attitude sets my teeth on edge and rouses my inner redneck.

Some time ago CBC radio did a program on Trans people. More on that topic another time. Someone used the term "cis woman" to refer to herself. She meant she was a woman, you know, the regular kind. Estrogen, tits, vagina, just born that way. DoC forbid we use the word without qualifier as a default setting. That is Privilege, also used as verb. Privileging is a sin bound to get the perpetrator accused of being an -ist.

Here is my main beef, voiced before: too many people cannot make the distinction between being genuinely mistreated because they are a minority, and the inconvenience of being one.

I used to have the typical knee jerk guilt reaction. I still often do. But something shifted many years ago thanks to an article in another small feminist magazine that had been taken over by what we now call identity politics. The more victim categories one could claim, the greater one's status. An author was whining about the difficulty of getting time off work for her religious holidays, while Christians could be guaranteed free days at Christmas and Easter. This is when the penny dropped. You see, the author was Jewish, and so is my father, freeing me from the usual guilt reaction in this case. In a true AHA! moment it clicked: This is not persecution, it is inconvenience.

Being denied an apartment or a job because your name is Goldstein is wrongful discrimination, subvariety anti Semitism. A misnomer of a term but that is another topic.  It needs to be denounced and fought. Having to live with a weekend that starts on Saturday instead of Friday is an inconvenience. Deal with it. Replace example with minority of choice.

When it comes to defining racism I prefer a narrow definition. It goes for other -isms and phobias as well. Racism is a philosophy that considers certain groups of people inferior to others,  and wants to organise society to reflect and reinforce that inferiority. 

All too often we see an -ism claimed when the issue is not malicious persecution or even resistance to needed change, but simple lack of awareness or just old habits of thinking.

Do the fortunate among us need to be aware that privilege played a role in whatever we have accomplished?
Yes. One does not have to share a prejudice in order to benefit from centuries of it.
Do we need to somehow compensate and hear more of the voices that have been silenced for centuries? Again, Yes.

But could we please distinguish between malevolent oppression and people of good will just coming from their own experience?

Like everyone else muddling through this three dee  life, I live life as myself. I had the good fortune to be born 
in a favorable time and place as a white heterosexual able bodied woman with a loving, solid family of origin. On a good day I can pass for neurotypical. I have always been aware of my good luck, our parents instilled that in all four of us. I am a counter of blessings. Even so I do not go through daily life constantly wondering what a given situation would be like if I were a paraplegic lesbian of colour who was abused as a child. Fill in disability, identity or tragedy of choice. 

The following riddle went around some years ago. A surgeon and his son are in a car accident. The surgeon dies, the son is seriously wounded. As they arrive at the hospital the surgeon on duty exclaims: "I cannot operate on this patient, that is my son!" How could this be?

If you did not immediately say that surgeon #2 had to be the boy's mother, as at the time I did not, that supposedly proved you were a sexist. I say bollocks to that. It just proved your reflexes had not caught up to your convictions. Old conditioning dies hard. Refusing the boy's mother her position as surgeon just because she was a woman, now that would be sexism.

The bottom line: Could we please approach each other with an assumption of goodwill as the default setting, instead of angry suspicion? 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A brief open letter to the USA

Dear USA,

Tomorrow is the day Donald Trump becomes the 45th president. I put in my two cents on the outcome of the election in the previous post, but some things occurred to me today.

I believe that the human species, or at least our current global civilisation,  is facing an evolutionary bottleneck, a fork in the road. We are quite capable of destroying ourselves and taking much of Gaia's biosphere with us.  We are also capable of tremendous courage, compassion and inventiveness. I refuse to give up on the possibility of a unified, mainly peaceful Earth as portrayed in the Star Trek universe, where Jean Luc Picard's brother has an orchard in France.

In order to make it through we will need to draw on the very best of all humanity, from all cultures and as many times as we can remember. That includes the wisdom of tribal peoples, and it includes the best of the USA, and it includes the best of the people who voted for the incoming government.

Dear USA. The world cannot afford either American imperialism or American exceptionalism. Get over yourself. You do not have the right to devour a quarter of the world's energy with 5% of the world's population. You do not have to police the whole planet.

But the world needs the American dream. 
I am talking of the dream of an open society with social mobility, of a place where government is by and for the people and there is freedom and justice for all. Sure, the dream  has never  become reality. But we need the vision.

I assume some of the people who voted for Trump did so because they believe he represents the best chance to live up to those ideals. Here's to hoping they will hold his feet to the fire if he starts messing with the constitution. Freedoms are easier maintained than recovered.

My hope is that the USA's institutional framework can stand up to the worst impulses of the incoming government. My fear is it will not.

I am ending this with these words from the Facebook page of urban homesteader and writer Erica Strauss.

"No matter what your native language, all American citizens are protected by the liberties explicitly enumerated in our shared Constitution. Learn it, defend it, protect it."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thoughts on The Circus

History has always fascinated me. We are living through history in the making, a white water rapid in the river of civilisation. Someone on CBC radio compared our time to the European Renaissance, when one social order was making way for another. Interesting to read about, but not easy to live through. It is now more than a month after the end of what we have been calling The Circus, and what an ending it was. I have been spending hours on the iPad compulsively reading about USA politics.

It is not my country, for which I am grateful. Nevertheless I live right next door, within easy reach of the grasp of Empire, should that empire decide to grasp what it wants by more direct means than the current arrangement. Think water. We Canadians may take comfort in being a kinder, gentler nation, but let's not kid ourselves. The standing joke is that when the USA sneezes Canada gets pneumonia. The best we can hope for is the kind of relationship Finland has with its giant neighbour to the East. Like it or not, we both have to pay homage and attention to the great power next door.

Early on I decided to not waste energy on the insanity of a months long campaign. We skipped the endless ponderings of the pundits during the primaries, though we did feel the Bern. I rarely watch those stupid debates, with the media standing by to pounce on the slightest misstep as a "gotcha" moment. Once our favourite socialist was defeated I mainly paid attention to the dilemmas of my online friends in the USA, most of whom are not Republicans. Hold your nose and vote Democrat or say enough of this corrupt bunch and go Green?

Interestingly some thinkers whose opinion I value were happy with the outcome, mainly because they wanted to shake up the status quo. There was some approval of Trump's supposedly populist stance on certain issues. I think it was Dmitri Orlov who posted a video segment of Trump that could have been lifted from a Sanders speech. Also, quite a few people worried about poking the bear and applauded Trump's better relations with Putin.

Anyway, now that the die has been cast I find myself wondering how to behave in the face of possible tyranny. At this moment demonstrations are a waste of energy at best and counterproductive at worst if they degenerate into riots. Besides, the time to be active is during an election campaign and you just had one, duh! Then there is the need to maintain civil relations with people on the opposite side of the political spectrum. I wrote this on Facebook.

"I just found out that an internet friend who I admire for her big heart and fortitude in the face of a tough life is delighted with the outcome of the USA election. This person is the farthest thing from a bigoted racist you can imagine. She is a beautiful loving soul and I will not hear a bad word about her, Trump or no Trump. Let us maintain love above all. Avoid stereotypes. Don't let the haters win."

I have often reflected on how I would have behaved during the early years of the Nazi occupation in my native Netherlands. Good and evil are easy to tell apart with the brilliance of hindsight, especially after winners and losers have been sorted out. It is not so easy while you are in the middle of things. Imagine yourself there, in 1940. Of course you hate the occupation, but it has become a fact of life. For all you know it might last a few centuries. It is my nature to avoid conflict, and I tend to think the best of people. I might well have been a compromiser, thinking perhaps I might be able to do some good on the inside. I might have been chastised as a collaborator after the war.

Times are tough all around and not likely to get better any time soon. For many reasons that we will not get into here, it will never be 1970 anymore. I may have been spending too much time in collapsenik circles, and I alo just reread 1984. Not cheery. 

I have no idea what to suggest to any young person coming of age right now. Who knows what the future holds? In twenty years we may solve the energy crisis, learn how to live together, collect all the best from all traditions and cultures, and be on our way to a Star Trek world. Yeah, right. See those pretty flying pigs in the pink sky? Or the most vital skill may be knowing which warlord to suck up to. So much for the wisdom of elders.

All I can come up with this is this.
Above all: KEEP THINKING. Connect to your heart and gut as well as your brain. If a small voice inside whispers something feels off, pay attention to it. Ask it to speak up and explain.

Decide what your values are and defend them, regardless of who is attacking them. The enemy of your enemy may be evil. A drone strike ordered by Obama is no less deadly than one ordered by Bush. A pipeline built by charming, spouting all the right words Justin Trudeau is no less damaging than one built by dour mr. Harper.

Be careful what you wish for regarding laws that inhibit freedom of speech or assembly. Apply the same standards to your own side and to your opponent's. 

James Pfeiffer once drew a great cartoon. A man in a pinstripe suit and a hippie are chatting in a bar. Both agree that under certain conditions limits to free speech may be warranted. Says the hippie: "Exactly! And that is why I say that in Cuba...." Man in suit exclaims: "Cuba? I thought we were talking about the United States!" Horrified they turn away from each other.

Be vigilant. Beware the frog in boiling water effect, but don't get carried away by slippery slope fallacies either. 
See people as individuals first, and let the individual decide to which extent she wants to define herself as member of a group.
Avoid blindly climbing on bandwagons. Pay frequent visits to fact check sites before posting the latest meme on social media.

When the big world goes nuts and institutions start failing or grow rapacious, do what you can where you are to make a better world. Funny. I can think myself into a tizzy and I keep coming back to my mantra.

Be Here Now. Cultivate the Garden. Just Be Kind.

P.S. This excellent article in Yes Magazine says it all.