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To Still a Talking Turd? (maybe not); Peel School District and Harper Lee

I  was recently placed in the unenviable position of agreeing with an interpretation that was subsequently enforced by Draconian and anti-democratic measures. When Peel School District in greater Toronto announced that from here on in, the official manner of teaching Lee’s famous novel To Kill a Mocking Bird would be lensed through an ‘anti-oppression’ rubric, I was both disconcerted and delighted. That the text appears to be some kind of ‘white man’s burden’ propaganda, dear to all liberal hearts who imagine that heroism comes from taking up a cause due to irrevocable deficits on the part of those so benighted  – from the cognitively disabled black defendant to the obsequiously slatternly and slavish servant; are these characters not metaphors for how white persons imagined blacks at the time and beyond? – that they require their very oppressor to free them from their bondage, and on his terms, presents a problem. The bravado masculinity of the lawyer and the cliché naivety of his daughter round out most of the narrative stage. In a word, the book stinks. And yet it still speaks to us. It is, if you will, a ‘talking turd’.

But to still its voices, to narrow the interpretive lens to such a degree that other things that just might be in this book somewhere, or any book, is to step uncomfortably close to the very social frameworks that are sourced in the attitudes the book seems to represent. One correct way, one lens. Beyond this, to attempt to enforce this through official suasion within a set of institutions dedicated to learning, consciousness, knowledge, and ultimately, human freedom, is ironic at best. Teachers who were interviewed fear that this is but the opening salvo in a war against the written word, cannons versus canons. I think this at least is premature. There is no evidence Peel SD is out for the lifeblood of the Western literary world. But their actions still presented a puzzle. Why not simply issue a statement regarding the text itself? It could contain what I think is a strong argument that the book is a piece of internecine colonialism and a decoy against structural change. That it was recently voted as the best American novel of all time is not, as one journalist had it, an indirect indictment against Peel SD, but rather is suggestive of the plausibility that racism in the USA has not altered much since c. 1960 as well as of a general illiteracy throughout the American public.

It is the scandal of art that evidences its relevance and its radicality. But popular art can play at scandal while in fact defending social institutions as they currently are. Much popular music charts this duplicitous course, its apparent critiques commoditized and glamorized in a way that serious art eschews. Not that we do not try to assuage the world in the face of thought and art. The art market, especially for paintings, has never been more lucrative. Even so, the effect of art, the aesthetic object, is to provide a consistent and even constant objection to the way things are. In short, it is its own lens. Very often, the content of such lenses are in themselves vulgar – Lolita comes immediately to mind – or they are sentimental – Romeo and Juliet – or are yet updates on ancient parables – East of Eden. Lee’s content is secondary to its quality as a cultural artifact, like these other works. But just here, we have to confront the bad conscience that the book avoids so scrupulously, just as Lolita, for instance, avoids the wider issue of age-related lust simply by having the protagonist, if he can be labelled such, a criminal.

The thoughtful response to any sign of the halting process of species maturity is to open these questions up as radically as possible. Works of would-be art that provide rationalizations for wider iniquities and disquiet can serve such a purpose, perhaps at most. Nevertheless, it is a noble purpose. This or that work can always be reduced to a precise if narrow editorial, popular or serious. Harry Potter? Arthurian romance meets the tuck shop. Narnia? Not-so-cunning soteriological sop. Or yet my own Kristen-Seraphim; X-Rated Enid Blyton. Surely there is more to it, and it is up to educators to discover that more, just as we charge our scientists to discover more of that cosmic truth in which all of us remain enveloped. So as with other discourses, the duty of educational administrators is to radically encourage their pedagogic colleagues to open up the texts at hand and to never shy away from scandal, even evil, for within the realm of the arts, both of these effects are salutary to an enduring human freedom.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary thinkers. 

Writing and Thinking for the Human Spirit; retreat at Gabriola Island, May 2019

I am delighted to invite one and all to the first installment of the writing retreat at The Haven, a resort for transformational learning located on beautiful Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.

https://www.haven.ca/program/session/writing-and-thinking-may-17-19-2019

You will find all of the necessary information to register at their site through this link.

warmest regards, Greg

 

Forgetting the Dreamtime: book signing Vancouver October 13 2018

At Indigo-Spirit, downtown Vancouver, Saturday, October 13th 2-5 pm.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=indigo+spirit+granville+robson&form=EDGEAR&qs=AS&cvid=1f5f3879558d456c8bd116b88bf1ae4f&cc=CA&setlang=en-US&PC=ACTS

Here is the publisher’s page.

https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/forgetting-dreamtime

See the other references to this novel around my web-site.

 

Becoming Attached to History (confronting youth with our own youthfulness, good and bad)

Becoming Attached to History

Science, along with rationalism, are the twin adulthoods of discourse. They are never free of their self-doubts, their experiential insecurities, but they must often appear to be thus free. Not only for and against youth, but all the more so against the aged. Indeed, in an ironic movement, adulthood adopts the old to protect itself against becoming aged. The era that invented youth also invented nostalgia. The two walk hand in hand, the first unaware of its effects on those older than itself, the second only too aware that it has not only objectified youth, often leeringly so, but sabotaged its own self-understanding. In other words, by desiring and aping youth, it has traded in maturity for adulthood. This may not be its intent, but it is its effect. Because the emotions are tender just at this point – loss, and the realization that in our experience of history, most especially one’s own, what is lost is lost for good – they are driven into action, called to action. For the most part, youth remain blithely ignorant of our prurient interest in them – the advent of the internet has only further insulated adults against potential obloquy in this regard – and when they become aware there is almost always some kind of blatantly criminal act occurring. Too late for both parties, as it were. Thus nostalgia, answering the call to action spurred on by a lack of experience – this is still different from the will to actually repeat something that has occurred in the past; we can and do fall in love again as adults, for example – shows itself to be in league with a kind of gentrified pedophilia. It is less barbaric than the euphemisms surrounding the physical assault of children, for instance, but it is nonetheless a veneer. Like science divorced from human intent, rationalism devoid of romance, adulthood without maturity – youthfulness is yet different from youth, as everyone knows even if they have forgotten how to speak it – nostalgia could be accurately defined as time without history: “The example brings to mind the remark of Claude Bernard that feeling always takes the initiative in thought. If so, it is a methodological error in the study of thought to disconnect it from feeling. It is an error characteristic of the obsessive mind which, by ignoring the affective sources of thought, renders its study an impossible task.” (Cohen 1960:548 [1954]). Our desire for youth, shrouded in the sense that we only desire ‘to be young again’ and not at anyone’s expense – yet what should we be doing if we were once again to find ourselves incarnate as a past self? – is as callow as was our own youth, now distanciated from us and not merely distant. No, the qualitative distinction of adulthood – a social fact quality rather than a phenomenological essence, of course – is what provokes anxiety. It is real absence, and not just distance. One’s lover is not merely away for work but is truly gone, that sort of thing. So distanciation is a quality that is a phenomenological marker, just as is intentionality. Like the latter, it only begins the work at hand. The Wesenschau, or intuition of essence, is an idealized result of intentionality and categorical intuition etc., but it cannot be attained unless one is willing to replace one’s being with something other, something that one cannot be for it already was: “Dasein can never be past, not because Dasein is non-transient, but because it essentially can never be present-at-hand. Rather if it is, it exists.” (Heidegger 1962:432 [1927], italics the text’s). Even death does not alter this existential circumstance. Objects, however, can represent what is past because that world itself no longer exists, it ‘had-been-there’, and in a manner quite different from how an ancient object’s presence illumines our own day (ibid). So Goethe’s formulation, his cry directed back into time and back into his narrator’s own biographical history, resonates not in the realm of objects but in that of the memorialization of memory:

Nothing I had, and yet profusion

The lust for truth, the pleasure in illusion

Give back the passions unabated,

That deepest joy, alive with pain,

Love’s power and the strength of hatred,

Give back my youth to me again.

Youth says: ‘no one loves as I do’, and this is true insofar as it also must say to itself that no one can hate as fully. But mature being knows that compassion is more authentic, if not more ardent, than mere passion, and that love and hate can become virtually interchangeable, as anyone who has lost love can duly if wryly attest. And the ‘nothing’ of which Goethe speaks is of course the very opposite of that which invokes in us the existential anxiety the onset of which is dread and angst combined. For youth, nothing really is to be taken literally; one has not yet done anything or become anyone. There are no accomplishments of note, and there has not been time to understand the world around one, stretching out ahead and beyond, giving one the best and to a certain extent, lasting, impression that in fact the existential horizon does not approach us. Even our current cosmology reflects quite poignantly our sense of horizontal shifting that occurs to living human beings sometime in middle-age. The expanding universe of youth, a moment where gravity overcomes mass and pulls back on it, and then the universe contracts once again into itself in preparation for the next big bang. The fact that there is some debate regarding this aspect of contemporary cosmology suggests that we now have an inkling about indefinite human life. And we, of course, do have just that. The combination of stem cells, artificial prosthesis, the so-called AI and even, more outlandishly, contact with the very extraterrestrials we presume, somewhat romantically, to have themselves overcome human tribulations, point in this direction. But all of this is, so to speak, nostalgia in reverse. Unlike Binswanger, whom Needleman suggests is not analyzing in merely an ontic manner because “…his analyses refer to that which makes possible the experience of the particular individual.” (1962:125), Adorno’s concern for the eroding of praxis caused by the feelings we bring to it not only are generalizable on the positive side, but may also be implicitly fatalistic. There is, in mourning the loss of a critical and radical praxis – of late turned to an extension of hexis, once again – a kind of latent nostalgia. ‘Give back to me my praxis again!’, one might cry. And perhaps this sensibility is also there in Goethe’s verse. After all, both love and hate can fuel the action of getting action and carry it forward.

Nostalgia is also, in this sense, a fatal error with regard not only to history – it ‘laicizes’ it in the worst way – but also to memory and yet more: “Our entire theology will, by an unconscious and fatal complicity, itself have had to prepare the laicization of which it is the victim. The meaning of history: no longer need a God be born in the flesh to reveal it.” (Corbin 1957:xviii [1951]). If the death of god no longer provokes a conscious anxiety – after all, the idea of judgement, perhaps first understood to be the key to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology, must have had some anxiety attached to it, though our record of this is, as need be, a record of those with the most to be anxious over – and rationally speaking, death itself cannot be by itself anxiety producing – one either dies or something of one carries on; either way what is to be anxious about? – we are left with the possibility of having to mourn or having to lose in the first place. What is to be lost? Why history, of course. And not merely history but, as Corbin stated, its meaning. And this meaning is new, in the light of the ‘deincarnation’ of deity, and more than this, ever new. Thus “For Heidegger, as for Nietzsche, the past supplies the ways in which we understand ourselves, and it is in the light of these ‘possibilities of being’ that we project the future. It is this necessary historicality that makes possible the thematic study of history.” (Wood 1989:154, italics the text’s). Note immediately that history needs now to be studied. This is precisely because it cannot now be ‘revealed’. Learning something through patient study is the very opposite of revelation, where the all in all is suddenly and radically laid open before us. Its very suddenness, to borrow from Kierkegaard, has an evil about it, mainly because we are suspicious of rapid change. The radicality of revealed meaning disavows the human need to make something meaningful. Either way, it is clear we are much more comfortable with the study of history as long as it does not get in the way of making our own history in our own time. Yes, to a point. For history is also a reminder of one’s own humanity seen over eons, and we would like to also believe in our freedom from precisely that: “Above all, they believe that America constitutes an exception in the course of human history and will always be exempt from the usual limitations and calamities that shape the destinies of other countries.” (Sontag 2007:115). Any state at its zenith willed itself to believe this, from Athens and Rome to Venice, France, Britain and the Third Reich. Any revolution proclaims this new destiny made ‘manifest’ much in the same way that a God used to be made incarnate. At this level alone the state replaces the church but avails itself of its narratives. Our entire auto-cosmology has this sensibility: history is a burden from which we must free ourselves. Psychotherapy says the same thing to us at the individual level that the new state – a newly elected government assuming power by means quite gentle compared to revolution will speak this language as well, though we are, for the most part, wise to it – and at its most base, even baser than politics itself, the shameless shill of the advertisers heralds the ‘revolutionary’ change brought into your household by this or that improved product. Such a sham cannot be imagined by any ethical being, and yet it is a daily occurrence. And yet perhaps this is not the most base after all. What of the parents and teachers who tell the failing young person that they must ‘clean up’ their lives? What of the ‘boot camps’ for teenagers whose parents simply do not wish to work with them or have semi-consciously admitted their incompetence for doing so? What of the abusers who, under the guise of a ministry now decayed beyond mortal recognition, decoy souls into their lurid embrace? A ‘new teenager by Friday’, one popular book assures its would-be audience. This very Friday? In the time of a blink of an eye, the thief in the night, and all of that. No, suffer the ‘little’ children might be a more apt expression for all of this utter nonsense and worse. Why expect such changes in such a short time? And why would one want this for one’s own children in any case? What is so bad, so evil about our charges that we, as presumably mature beings, imagine that they are destined for a place that also no longer exists? Speaking of projected anxieties.

All of this is so commonplace that a noble philosophy might wash its hands thereof. Even so we must also question, in leading ourselves to confront the structure of anxiety, how we could turn away from these iniquities and speak in an airy manner of ethics and nobility itself. Surely these projections are only the observable aspect of a larger whole. As Binswanger suggests, this is not a matter for either organism or instinct. There can be no ‘partial’ reaction from either or both, to such a ‘falling’ (cf. 1962:198). This ‘giving way’ – and Needleman notes that in English the metaphoric sky is reserved for those with phantasmagorical dreams while in German it is usually a place for those with hopes ‘deeply felt’, though the expression ‘cloud cuckoo land’ tempers this sensibility somewhat (ibid: 222) – is something that is experienced as reality: “The nature of the poetic similes lies in the deepest roots of our existence where the vital forms and contents of our mind are still bound together. When, in a bitter disappointment, ‘we fall from the clouds’, then we fall – we actually fall.” (ibid:223, italics the text’s). The ‘Fall of Man’ is but one sequence of this anxious longing, its cycle pronouncing upon us a judgement in kind. Not necessarily from ‘on high’, but precisely at the point at which we are now. The judgement may be stentorian, encouraging, gentle, heraldic, but it appears before us and thence within us at the moment of self-realization that says, ‘I am now here’. I may be where I wanted to be or not, where I thought I would be or not, but in any case, I must confront myself as I am and not as I would be. This is the more humane and existential meaning of psychotherapy, apart from its more dubious exhortation to transfigure oneself as if one were a God in the making. Depth analysis most specifically recognizes both the immediacy and the profundity of language to this regard, and “…that language of itself, in this simile, grasps hold of a particular element lying deep within man’s ontological structure – namely, the ability to be directed from above or below – and then designates this element as falling.” (ibid:224). So history’s meaning, shorn of any revelatory source but not necessarily bereft of revelatory qualities, becomes that of the day at hand first, and only after which a matter of record and objective discourse. Its own judgement arcs with the living. To be ‘effectively historically conscious’, to borrow from Gadamer, is to be aware of the relationship between one’s own existence, furtive yet fulsome, fretful but also flying – and yes, also falling – and thus is also to attain a certain distance from the sway and swell of the historical tide: “…a neutral sympathy becomes attached to history; engagement and the risk of being mistaken becomes associated with the search for truth.” (Ricoeur 1965:49 [1955], italics the text’s). Here, for the first time, ‘truth does not involve belief’. But just so, Ricoeur is quick to state that history may also be understood as an ‘evasion of the search for truth.’ Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the self-recognition, radical and also even absurd, that we must make our own truths without regard for either belief or yet believers, including ourselves. ‘Belief in oneself’, no doubt another slogan of decadent religiosity lurking under the sly guise of popular youth development tracts, is at best trite, at worst, some rationalization for narcissism. There is a suggestion of shunning others, of distrust, and in no way can such advice promote a healthy confrontation with anxiety. Yet it is also not the case that just because the thinker is charged with the search for truth, whatever it may consist of, does that mean that history’s meaning will be fulfilled if and only if all the rest of us similarly engage. This would be overstating the human case, at least to a certain degree. Rather, an analysis of the relation that holds between myth, the poetic, and the everyday use of language – simile, idiom, euphemism included – reveals even to the casual thinker something that might after all be cautiously understood as revelatory: “…as the power of the historical Dasein, which we ourselves are condemned or called to be.” (Heidegger 1992:131 [1925]).

from Blind Spots: the altered perceptions of anxiety, remorse and nostalgia forthcoming in 2019.

‘Forgetting the Dreamtime’ to be released August 31st

Loewen2018fullcover

click on this link to open an internet PDF of the cover of my new novel, Forgetting the Dreamtime: a novel of growing up.

Sixteen year old Kristen has had quite enough of following her evangelical parents’ copious rules. But although up to her neck in both disobedience and discipline, she nevertheless suddenly finds herself at the heart of a mystery more profound than anything her willful imagination could have conjured. A challenge so deep that it will effect not only her own fate, but that of the species itself. And, ironically, it will require all of the power of her remaining faith in attempting to overcome it.

“A coming of age story in the widest and most important sense, Loewen’s characters will at first dismay and then inspire, as we follow his plucky and precocious heroine and her intellectual beau straight into the abyss of life’s meaning in our own time.”

from Austin-Macauley publishers, London.

We Other Theocrats: a note on school dress codes and the like

Adolescents will get up to harmless mischief uniforms or no. Perhaps we adults need to go to school on them.

There were no dress codes in the schools I attended in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We guys were not ‘distracted’ by the young women any more than they were by us. It is true that females mature in all ways more rapidly than males. This is in fact the only salient clue we need to decipher the fashionable official tempest regarding something as regressive and archaic as the presence of dress codes in our public schools. Adults are the ones being distracted, end of story.

Numerous news articles have of late given head to this seemingly innocuous and obscure item. Students protesting – the #takeastand movement is the latest and hopefully greatest of these – and administrators aping their peers in Iran. But the idea that forcing young women to cover up there oh so dangerous bodies promotes a culture of rape and violence against women in general is only a slice of the entire issue. The wider pedigree of this latter day fascism is the puritanism of new world religious movements and the more general insensibility imported by European (and now other) immigrants of all kinds. The fanatics of Europe, cast out of a society rapidly changing politically, scientifically and intellectually only to wash up on the First Nations’ shorelines and promptly set up the residential school system amongst other atrocities, are the darker ancestors to today’s school dress codes. Woman-hating, certainly, but more than this, life-hating. Earthly, sensuous, beautiful life.

Christianity is hardly the only religious suasion that carries this baggage around with it to this day, but it remains the most pronounced in our society. Yet religion is a mere rationalization for other, more structural forces. One may read statements from schools across Canada that young persons need ‘guidance’ regarding their professionalism, citing workplaces as the obvious and indeed misguided homology. Case in point: I have never been asked to alter my apparel in any workplace in which I have been employed. Do I have a mysterious intuitional faculty that allows me to understand the mores of professional workplaces without ever being subjected to dress codes as a young person? I wish I had more of those kinds of occlusive skills. Of course, men are often exempted from such sanctions as these. Why? Because men, in the main, are the one’s who invent them for others to follow. No, religion is used by some as an excuse for fascism and the exertion of social control over those members of our society who are not really human beings in our eyes, those we resent because they still know how to love life, silly mischief included. But other excuses, especially in the public sector, come across as yet more inane than those scriptural, misunderstood or no.

Kudos to the Victoria school district for considering banning dress codes in their public schools. The sooner the better. Those nameless  trustees mentioned in the news item who are concerned about ‘modesty’ should simply move to Tehran, where they can openly practice their women-hating etc. proclivities without hiding behind the guise of responsible and voluntaristic citizenship. Shame on the Essex school district, and countless others, for defending them. By way of analogy rather than homology, in BC at least, labour code regulations state that employers may not force their workers to wear items of apparel that are demeaning or affect their health, like heels, which are well known to cause back and joint problems. Could it be that the mental health of young persons is negatively affected by having so much control over their nascent lives? Anorexia is one response to this stultification of youthful desire for what freedoms are available to us. Addictions is another response. Repressed sexuality – hence the rape culture thing again – yet another.

We adults feel and bear all of these repressions ourselves and we imagine that imposing them on our children will even the existential score. I have written in other places about the issue of ressentiment which all aging humans feel toward the young. It is, at base, a symptom of the will to life, though a perverse and unethical one. Our suburban existence is itself a schizophrenic scherzando of public puritanism and private perversion. Instead, upon such matters as these, we might well need to learn from youth. Like the firearms issue, the problem of poverty in a society where we originally teach children to share and share alike – where does that go, by the way? – and the hypocrisy of telling youth that they can do anything they want with their lives, be anyone, male or female; be creative, critical, seek justice in all things and peace on earth and yet provide none of the institutional or wider bases for these things to take hold and manifest themselves in adult life, are all symptoms of the same sorry malaise.

Ironically, uniform schools show a greater sense of esprit de corps. Of course they must deal with the most infamous fetish item  – the young woman in tartan pleats and coloured tights, etc. – our sexualized objectification of womankind has ever invented. While respecting and evening out the sexual tension in such schools by flattening out the view, so to speak – adults can gaze out over the independent school classroom landscape and not be as distracted by individuals – one still has to deal with the archetype. So uniforms present their own unique array of challenges and do not unequivocally answer the issues supposedly plaguing the public schools. It is also well known that young women hailing from different social class backgrounds find ingenious ways to set themselves apart that their peers can easily recognize, since even the more limited options of the uniform can vary widely in price and brand cachet.

Once again, as with the firearms issue in the USA, the only counsel I can give young people is the same: walk out of the schools and don’t return until the dress codes are abolished. It is possible their presence may be a charter issue, though I am not a lawyer. There are so many of you that you will not be sanctioned. The schools need you more than you need the schools in any case. Shut the system down, legally, non-violently, but with purpose and dignity, with rational argument and insight like Mallory Johnston in Windsor demonstrated – whoever Sheila Gunn is, imagining that a fifteen year old has ‘tantrums’, she needs to rename her shtick ‘the reactionary’ for she is surely no ‘rebel’, at least on this issue – and change will occur.

In the meanwhile, and even more importantly, we adults need to re-examine the manner in which we remain within and retain the suppression of basic elements of a wider ambit of human freedoms to the point of questioning our daily subsistence practices and the regulations that enforce them. If we already know we are jealous to the point of the grave regarding our children, then it is but a short cognitive step to ask the question: why so? If we’re not having enough fun, sex, engaging in silliness and loving life on a day to day basis; if we’re instead working too much, addicted, suffering from mental illnesses, in uneasy relationships at home and at work, hating those wealthier and prettier than us, doubting our senses regarding the environment, pretending to believe in world systems thousands of years old and hailing from another metaphysics entirely different than our authentically own and further fearing our own Jungian shadows, let’s at least not foist all that on our kids. If we don’t adjust the world accordingly, their time will come in any case. We will see to that.

G.V. Loewen is an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, religion and aesthetics. The author of over thirty books, he is one of Canada’s leading contemporary thinkers. 

 

 

Kimmy smack porn (and I don’t care): on demonizing the internet as decoy behaviour

Max Weber warned us long ago that we should always question expertise. Like Sagan after him, Weber saw science as a tool, more theoretically sophisticated than mere technology, but still an instrument to inform our choices, ethical and social, and not a messianic force. When CBC Ottawa implies to us this week that someone from the IT field is an expert as well in ethics, education, social relations and sexuality amongst other things, it caught my attention. Needless to say, from what was reported, none of those latent claims – either made by the staff writer or the expert himself, one Paul Davis – appeared to be the case. Admittedly, I was myself miffed. Uh, no, folks, I’m the expert on these other things, and the tech guy can stuff it. Let’s see if I can shelve that gut reaction for a few moments and speak to the issues involved.

I think Mr. Davis and I hail from the same generation. It was true, at least in my experience, that we spent all day outside sans souci. No pedophiles stalked us, and no cougars either, that is, of the natural feline variety. Growing up in paradise was a return to Eden, unbesmirched by adult knowledge and its corresponding loss of innocences. He states that it is crucial young persons have an active childhood. Agreed. But of what sort? I too share a personal disdain for video games and social media, gambling and erotica. What the media – all media mind you, and not merely the internet – teach youth is to consume and consume again. Everything you can, as fast as you can. This lurid daydream arguably bleeds over into human relationships in work or in the homes and schools. But it is also the leverage upon which our economy continues to rest. The alternatives that Mr. Davis suggests, including sports etc., are also vehicles for consumption, competition, bravado and fantasy, just like the internet is. The price for enrolling children in such activities is far higher than leaving them be using media. So what are we actually gaining from enacting such a shift?

Organized sports, also extremely rare in my generation, teaches teamwork, but also tribalism. Us versus them. It’s only a game, we say to ourselves, but the ‘sports parent’ is a notorious figure (as well as the sports fan cum fanatic), as can be the ‘arts parent’, or any other thing a young person becomes inured to through parental vicariousness. Such so-called adults seek to live again a childhood they wished they themselves had, and are amongst the most pathetic human beings on the planet today. Not so different from pedophiles themselves – psychology explains to us one of the patent features of such people is the desire to rob a child of his or her love of life and sense of wonder as the criminal in these cases has none himself or herself – vicarious parents do not so much ‘enrol’ their children in activities as rather enlist them. Such activities are no more authentic, or to use Mr. Davis’ term, ‘real’, than anything portrayed on media. Indeed, self-posted or even so-called ‘revenge porn’ contents are much more real and also more realistic. Actual people, not paid professional actors, did these things with and to one another. And the knowledge that we gain from encountering these sometimes sordid affairs is worth a great deal more than the fantasy paraded in official posts of any kind, including much of the news. Should very young people be exposed to such things? This a related, but other question from the one that is claimed to drive Mr. Davis’ statements. But kids aren’t concerned about data breaches, election fraud, and targeted marketing surveys. We can, and should teach them about these things and how all of us are entrapped by them, once again to use one of Mr. Davis’ own words. After all, young kids don’t post professional erotica or much of anything sexual at all, nor do they own and purvey gambling venues, nor run social media networks. These are all adult concerns and profit is the main if not the only goal. Mr. Davis’ expertise comes from being an IT consultant to the private sector. So we are to understand that he helped corporations protect themselves from their competition and also aided them in schemes to make money. A much-in-demand expert, no doubt, and a well remunerated one.

But the Ottawa school board should take a second look at what he is peddling publicly in their venues and now on state-sponsored media. He foists the moral panic surrounding cyber-bullying, which would include sexting amongst other things, as an essential concern. In our shared generation, when schools cared not a whit about bullying of any kind, it took place everywhere. On and off the school grounds, in the ‘dark sarcasm of the classroom’, and in the malls. On the playing fields, courtesy for the most part from ‘loving’ parents, and in the homes, when bullying your own children with real violence was still a socially accepted norm. His comment regarding ‘no tech at the dinner table’ calls to mind the vacant puritanism of the pater familias. My father had the TV news on throughout dinner, turning the antiquated stand around on its fragile wheels so we could all watch it together; his version of the internet, I suppose. This can be overdone, no doubt, but it did spark semi-educated conversation at the daily family gathering that would not have occurred otherwise, and was a variable in myself and my sister’s chosen vocations. He also advises that parents should be ‘in the vicinity’ when children are on the net. But at the same time he tells us that parents are generally incompetent with regard to technology, and the kids are the ones who are ‘tech-savvy’. Of course,  he also informs us that in homes operated by IT people, this apparently isn’t an issue. Make me laugh. I would if it wasn’t such a serious deadpan.

No, the facts are these: 1. adults run the media; much of it is there to socialize consumer behavior and uncritical acceptance of our current political, educational, and other social institutions. We consume them as well by our very acceptance and use thereof and therein. 2. Children are both social and sexual beings. Ever since Freud’s discoveries, though part and parcel of the Victorian anxiety concerning sexuality in general, we have been liberated by the self-understanding that desire is not itself a sin, though it can produce evil, or if that word offends, at least negative consequences. His naïve comment asking children to ‘please be a kid’ after being on the net suggests the banal nostalgia of the ‘good old days’, which has long been known to be a fantasy itself. Are we then simply to tell our youth that they can only trade fantasy for fantasy? Where, exactly, is the reality in such commentaries as Mr. Davis’ and many other popular writers and speakers?

Let me submit that it lies in the effort to truncate any truly subversive aspects of experience young people might encounter. Some of that is even on the net. Thankfully, a person such as myself and my peers do not have to resort to the so-called ‘dark web’ to express our opinions. Dissidents in many states use this other venue to communicate and even simply to write. The governments of Iran, China and a host of other places force this upon them. But let’s look for a moment at how our own system of checks and balances marginalizes thinking and keeps its characteristic subversion suppressed. ‘Keep it real’, yet another tired tag Mr. Davis utilises, was also used in anti-drug campaigns and the like. Can we please apply it to our politics? Our curricula in our schools – why do schools who teach non-historical and non-factual religious beliefs still have a market, for instance? – and our fantasies about sports. Media coverage of organized professional and even amateur sports (more Olympics, anyone?) outdoes by far any analysis of geo-political issues, the enforced culture of poverty, the structures of capital and any other serious topic one cares to imagine. Boring as hell? That tells us one thing about contemporary socially and institutionally organized existence: it itself is a fantasy.

‘Who benefits?’, that time-honoured sociological question cleverly coined by Robert Merton, could be the very title of a daily news program in the genre of PBS’s Macneil-Lehrer, nightly viewing at the dinner table when  I was growing up. Yes, who benefits and why. It is sage to note that Mr. Davis, an IT expert and private sector consultant lest it be too rapidly forgotten, is himself quick to note that when used ‘properly’, social media is ‘awesome, it’s great.’ Right, oh, like awesome as in ‘The Lego Movie’, got it.

I don’t often take umbrage at what’s going on with this or that hired gun or self-styled expert. There are far too many of them, echoing the ancient Mediterranean penchant for messiahs who were at that time a dime a dozen. Their level of discourse is shallow and unabashedly apologist, often puritanical and almost always nostalgic. They are, in a word, kindred spirits with almost all of our media. The internet, when it is real, expresses the human undertones  that media and its vouchsafes consistently and conveniently remove from view: unscripted sexual desire and violence amongst and between actual people; jealousy as cruel as the proverbial grave projected in status seeking social media posts – how many ‘followers’ does one have is a question that rings itself of messianism – resentment projected at successful commercially attractive persons that shows up in comments sections in sports or entertainment columns and even in part fuels my own editorial today – I do resent the attention paid to uneducated ‘experts’ who walk blithely yet also with a kind of cunning calculation into arenas they seem to have no background in; and other shadowy motifs such as sites expressing the very ethnicism, bigotry, and hate speech that Mr. Davis says parents must protect children from viewing.

Utter nonsense. That is what’s real. Real people do feel this way or that, and we need, more than anything in our troubled times, to understand the reasons for the ongoing presence of all of these feelings that endanger all life on earth. Not exposing our children to these things and working with them daily to explicate them is an exercise in patent irresponsibility. It is unethical, fantasist, and pure laziness besides. It is poor parenting, not good parenting. And the person who makes plain his case that this is what we should be doing is someone who must be interrogated with all due vigilance. In spite of all of this, it remains true that the world is also a beautiful place, and that some small portion of that is due to the human endeavour. Where are the nightly broadcasts of a Mahler symphony, of a tour of the Louvre, of the ongoing revelations of archaeology and astronomy? YouTube will find them. How about that?

 

G.V. Loewen is an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, pedagogy and aesthetics. He was professor of the social sciences for over two decades in both Canada and the United States, and is the author of over thirty books.

The barricades of banality: some streetside thoughts

‘I’d like to think I’m past the age, of consciousness and righteous rage,

I found out just surviving is a noble fight.

I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view

but life went on no matter who, was wrong or right.

  • Billy Joel (1976).

Anarchism in Hamilton of all places? How, well, unCanadian. I’m old enough, sadly, to recall our own coastal version, the so-called Squamish Five – though by Red Army Faction standards we could have called them the ‘Squeamish Five’ – who plotted and planned to no avail regarding the state of society as they saw it. Now who am I to castigate activists of any kind? They’re putting it on the line, whatever one they have drawn in the shifting sands of culture and history, and at least they know they’re in the right, unlike we thinkers, who, though tempted, can never imagine such a thing is so clear and exposed.

This newer cabal refers to themselves as ‘The Tower’. Not made of ivory, no doubt, but perhaps rather the butter made famous in Henry V. Even so, what the group’s Facebook post does say that is difficult to argue with is that we continue to live in a society filled with both inequity and iniquity. Very often the two go hand in hand. The fact that it isn’t illegal to make someone homeless is a scandal to be sure. Not that we should exchange iniquities, however unequal as the case may be, and make it legal to vandalize property in its various forms. We might rather consider acting within the frameworks available to civil persons to alter the egregious forms of our culture that promote incivilities such as evictions based on poverty alone as well as wanton mayhem in the streets.

It is also reasonable sociologically to suggest that all of us are in on the general ‘conspiracy’ to thwart efforts at social reform of seemingly radical tenor and timbre. Shopping at high-end boutiques isn’t my thing – I’ll never be able to afford it and I’m too old to worry about fashion in any case – but we need to remember that of all of us who work in capitalism (i.e. all of us), a scant few work for it. That is, more than uncritically accept it or tolerate it while wishing we could do better and perhaps even be better, but rather in fact those who are zealous acolytes of technological capital to the expense of any other sense of selfhood and society. Even the vast wealth of a Gates or a Buffet is equivocal, and I can guarantee it has done more good in the world than any band of anarchic brothers that has ever existed. Now of course no dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary would think much of someone like myself, a phenomenologist and hermeneuticist, two threads of thought known (unfairly) for their ‘conservative’ stances. Conserving, yes, for there is still much to be gained from reading Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of those ancient fellows in spite of the fact that much of it is also certainly misogynist, xenophobic, and simply factually incorrect. The art of interpretation is precisely doing the work necessary to sort such things out. This kind of work is what Marx and Engels did, for instance.

But to raise the call to arms by making a public nuisance of oneself, by aggravating hard-working fellow citizens, by contributing to costly affairs of restitution, the courts, and rehabilitation is to cheat yourself and your human brethren of the dignity and freedom necessary to engage in the conversation that we are. There are no laws preventing the formation of political parties, NGOs and NPOs that espouse tax reform, rent controls, affordable or even free housing, free education and better funded health care, the banning of violence in the homes or in media, and education in the history of ethical ideas. Not in Canada at least. If ‘The Tower’ operated in Syria we would be less judgemental of them or any other such group. People in such places really lay it on the line, simply because they have to. If any Canadian wants to make our society into a place where we are forced to behave uncivilly to get what we need as human beings then  I for one would stringently, perhaps even illicitly, oppose them. And I’m betting that 999 out of 1000 of my fellow citizens would as well. Maybe more.

At the same time it is also reasonable to suggest that we do little enough to care for our own margins. The fire always starts at home. I’ve had a privileged career and soapbox and I rationalize my own efforts at culture critique as doing ‘what I can’ or what I am suited to. But there is an element of comfort involved, and perhaps what we can take away from the actions in Hamilton is that there also is an Aufklarung to be both rung and heard. It is not merely the responsibility of governments or social movements, anarchist or otherwise, to engage in this call and response. It is rather both our collective and our individual responsibility at once. There are far more of those who work hard and honestly to survive than those who can be cast as shameless profiteers or even sleazy jerks. In a democracy these latter have, theoretically, little power. Perhaps we can try using the laws we do have to make the course corrections we need before abandoning each other at best to the churlish and childish rants of political extremities – the Facebook post mentioned above is actually quite guarded and relatively inoffensive compared to say, much of Fox et al – or at worst to civil war.

It does need be said that violence of any kind in a democratically based civil social organization cannot be sanctioned. The lens that violence casts always doubles back on itself without exposing to the critical light the structures and habitus of the violences, symbolic or otherwise, that organize the thoughts we have, the institutions we work in, the places to which we send our children. This is not an ‘all you need is love’ petition. But the nature of love is such that it can be made to dispute its own self-criterion by the sudden turning away of the other. It takes some time, no doubt, but reason, argument, dialogue and dialectic remain superior in all forms to the abrupt decision of violence and what follows therefrom. To engage in the frustrating, painstaking, and seemingly endless effort of the examined life is part of both the human condition and the condition for humanity to remain a part of the very world it has so wrought.

 

The Bravery of Youth and the Bravado of Firearms

The Bravery of Youth and the Bravado of Firearms: a note on the character of social violence.

The ‘NeverAgain’ and ‘#menext’ movements that have quickly arisen following the latest in a lengthy pedigree of mass murders stateside are a belated response to more than mere gun violence. They are to be commended at every level of society, by every honest and noble human being, but their task is enormous. For violence also exists at every level of society, can consume even the most honest and noble among us, and is part of the character of contemporary humanity as it has been since we have been human. Notwithstanding its primordial character, it is nevertheless not ‘human nature’ to be violent. There is no single human nature, and nature, as we know it in the world apart from we humans, is made up mostly of instinct. There is no human instinct above the bare physiological and base-cortical functioning of the body. As history is the greatest argument against nature – specifically that human, but also in other species given the evolutionary course of natural selection – what passes for social habit changes and thus can be changed. But actually changing it means to confront its fullest traditions and deepest convictions.

Youth are eminently suited to do just that, for they do it, in ways both petty and profound, already everyday. From simple disobedience of so called ‘authority figures’ such as parents and teachers to inventing new forms of art and craft, music and machine alike, young people the world over gradually practice the manner in which they will eventually age and take over the very world they so disdain. But it is precisely through this process of aging out of their youth that the heavier responsibility for caring for the world as it is comes into the foreground, and with this, the frustration, the questions, the anger, and the disbelief in the way things are, in adults’ ways of running the world, gradually dissipate, become dissolute, and ultimately disappear entirely. So the greatest task facing any youthful movement is not simply to overturn this or that law, habit, prejudice, or custom, but rather to maintain its own revolutionary abilities and actions throughout the life-course. Yes indeed, shame on us, we adults, who have given up doing so. When the young leaders of these two new movements – so far mostly social media based – shouted ‘for shame’ at politicians and others responsible for the way things are in the United States today it was an epithet that all of us who are no longer young or yet even young at heart needed to face up to.

It is a shameful thing, amongst other things, that a child cannot go to school and feel safe, concentrate on his or her studies, kindle the humane wonder at the world and through unbridled curiosity and question, unlock the secrets of the wider nature within which all life and non-life alike is ensconced. It is a shameful thing that much of our entertainment culture glorifies violence as a means of negotiating with one’s fellow human, much of it with firearms, on screens everywhere, from film to television to video game. It is a shameful thing that the geopolitical competition amongst nation states is so often premised on deadly violence. It is a shameful thing that in twenty states so-called ‘educators’ can assault young defenseless human beings with weapons under the guise of ‘discipline’, and in all fifty states such is the case in the home, with so-called ‘parents’ at the helm. And it is more than shameful that we do not recognize that all of these settings and the violence that occurs within them are intimately related, for they are.

This is not the place to play the smug Canadian. But it is worth noting that the level of violence up here is far less than due south. The fact that physical discipline has been all but outlawed, that firearms are controlled vigorously though not banned outright, and that per capita acts of violence in Canadian media occur far less than in Hollywood is of some small interest. But these are epiphenomena. The deeper reason that there is a difference between our two closely related nations has to do with the cultural personality and history of the places in question.

I lived for six years in two very marginal, rural areas of the United States. I found great friendship there, I found much love, and Americans came across to me as mainly noble creatures, generous to a fault, refreshingly honest  – you always knew where you stood with your ‘average’ American, like it or not – and most importantly, willing to hear you out. Stating one’s case is part of the ‘American way’, whether in court or on the street, in a church or school, the workplace, or yet under the bed sheets. I did so in all of these contexts many a time. Sometimes I was pilloried and sometimes I was celebrated. I was both demon and angel to my southern cousins and I was called every name in the book, for better or worse. But that was just me doing my job, for which I was fortunate enough to be handsomely paid for a quarter century. The youth who have organized and are pushing forward these two new movements are not being paid. No gun lobby will support them with its powerful networks and wealth, no media lobby with its even more powerful networks and wealth, and no political lobby either. Some parents perhaps, some teachers, some officers of the law. But I think that they know that they’ll be mostly on their own, as all authentic culture critics of any make and mark always are.

Hailing from bygone days, the beginning of a new religion, the self-proclaimed messiah piloting its radical course, represents the ancestor to modern social movements which also must use the language of the unfamiliar to get their point across. To seize this kind of day, when the disgust factor of most people may safely be assumed – who can defend the absolute cowardice of Las Vegas, of Florida, of Sandy Hook etc. etc? – is certainly of the moment. But the moment is, in the end, exactly and only what it is. If young people can organize consistently, act considerately, think constantly, then there may be a chance of success.

Here’s some free advice from a philosopher and professional human scientist: empty the schools and cease consuming violent media until the laws are changed away from the habits of violence. Include in your arc all of the contexts within which violence breeds, including institutionally sanctioned currently legal assaults by adults against your person, commodities such as violent games and films etc., and force all adults to be forthright about their viewpoints. Let them state their case and then evaluate it. Make us provide for the health, safety, and dignity which is your collective birthright. Be ready to compromise when it is reasonable to do so – for instance, it is true that an AR-15 is not necessary to defend one’s home; an old-fashioned .38 special will do just fine, but do not imagine you can ban firearms in your country because only about one-quarter of Americans own them anyway, and for the record, I myself do agree that one should be able to defend against home invasion or wanton personal assault with deadly force if necessary – and be ready, more than anything else, for adults, hiding in our collective shame, to put you down and try to blunt your critique. Don’t let us do that to you. Don’t give in on the basic principle that sociality can change for the better even if we older folks have given up long before.

Children: the people we love to hate

                                    Children: the people we love to hate

 I was saddened to hear of the decision in the case of the adolescent girl in BC who was assaulted by her parents on Valentine’s Day 2015. One year’s probation for both mother and father which, upon successful completion, would result in no criminal record. They were also forbidden to use physical coercion on any child in their care. But given this is against the law in any case for those aged 12-17 it hardly seems an appropriate judicial response to their behavior; wanton assault with weapons. Quite aside from being criminal, it appears rather that such an act is also dishonorable, despicable – even unchivalrous especially given the gender of the victim, though this may sound sexist in these our days of false equality – and simply lazy parenting to boot. Laziness is not against the law, mind you, and neither are a surfeit of other actions that would perhaps equally qualify under the adverbial categories I have so listed. But assaulting a child, any child, let alone your own, is at least, illegal. The parents claimed ignorance of this, but as is proverbially cited, such is ‘no excuse’. The parents also claimed Christianity but this is also irrelevant. The law is the law. Well, not quite.

It is difficult to know how to interpret the decision given that a harsher verdict would likely mean foster care for the victim, which is also an unfair outcome. When my wife and I first heard of this case when the parents were publicly sentenced, our first thought was, ‘give her to us, we’ll take her right now!’. We are planning on adopting an older girl, just somebody nobody wants as it is well known that the older the child in the human services system the more difficult it is to find a home for them. This fact must have entered into the decision-making process. In spite of this, however, one wonders if the victim’s interests will be served. She herself is on record saying that she did not want her parents to have a criminal record. Now that is chivalry etc., but perhaps it is misguided as well. So while the action was clearly a violation akin to rape, the reaction, given the legal and child service rationalities and bureaucracies, was ambivalent at best. So I am going to interpret this decision in this way: as a call to arms.

Can the parents now be trusted to actually take care of their daughter? Is there a manner in which trust and love can be built out of this debacle? Will the parents, in a moment of anger, laziness, or yet self-styled ‘righteousness’, offend again? The community at large has no responses for the victim. All of us, most especially her, will have to wait and see. Somehow I am uncomfortable with that.

Now we also all know that none of us asks to be born. Living on as a human being with others equally human is no mean feat, and there are risks at every step along the way. We like to think that we preserve the dignity of our children in the face of the world as it is. I’d rather share the world with them then attempt to control their world. I’d rather help them explore human freedom as it is and can be than coerce them into this or that box of unthought. Loving one another, whatever the relationship, is indeed that aspect of the human condition wherein there is presented to us the gravest risks. We know that the death of the beloved is the event that endangers our own mental stability more than any other, for instance. How ironic that the victim was expressing her own love for her youthful mate when the parents appeared to exhibit another kind of feeling to her, their lust for control; sexual, logistical, ideological. A New York based journalist recently published a book explaining that the furor and anxiety concerning ‘sexting’, so-called, is nothing but a moral panic. The phrase is sociological in origin and the author’s interpretation is quite correct. Of all the thousands of ‘sexts’ sent daily by people of all ages, how many result in blackmail or even humiliation and bullying? There is some small risk, no doubt, for putting yourself out in this manner, so to speak. But the ‘expert’ opinions on the matter constitute a projection based mainly in ressentiment. A moral panic is just something to give people a decoy for their own errant behaviors about which they have bad conscience. And ‘religious’ people are hardly the only ones who do so.

Quick comparison: the judge in Alberta who made misogynist remarks in a recent sexual assault case has been officially rebuked by a peer, and feminist groups have been in on the fracas. Rightly so. But where are the supporters of the adolescent victims? Do they have networks and groups to call upon to defend them in the face of adult criminality and judicial ambivalence? If you can’t trust your own parents – and we know that the vast majority of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children and teenagers occurs in the home and by family members; perhaps this is rather the great moral scandal of our suburban days, not on-line eroticism etc. – then who are the adults that are trustworthy?

That’s why I am going to say to the adolescents of Canada, those between 12 and 17, that this decision from BC represents a call to arms. This is what it means: you need to use every legal means at your disposal to defend yourselves against any adult who transgresses your space, mentally, physically, emotionally etc. You have a right to do so, even if you can’t rely on the system to always back you up. Fight back, call the police, social services, your friends and neighbours. Use the internet to construct support and action groups. Let your youthful comrades know they’re not alone. Make it as public as possible. The wave of community opinion regularly alters its course. You can, with organization and persistence, alter it in your favor, as apparently the still recent election of the new government in Ottawa has in part presented itself regarding children’s rights. You have to think of yourselves first, and not what the going rate is, or what adults might say about you, or even your own peers. You’re old enough to be learning about what love can be, but the first step in doing so is learning how to love yourselves.

 

Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over two-dozen books on such diverse topics as ethics, education, aesthetics, religion and science. He was a professor for a quarter century in Canada and the United States.