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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 21 June 2012

The Secret Story of Women, Religion and Civilization

While couched in the perspective of Christianity, this article (and the editor’s response) speaks to a much broader theme that we see reflected across religions, politics and culture.

The lines drawn here are between:

- individual freedom (without responsibility) vs. mutual respect

- staunch traditionalism in the face of social change (people in the centre/left might associate progress with moving forward, but for the right it’s synonymous with an erosion of traditional values) against progress

- the all-too-human ability to interpret phrases or edicts through our own preferential lenses vs. the way things truly are beneath perception

Christ, of course, was a progressive (as depicted in the New Testament); he’d have been pretty pissed off with much of what was done in his name (I intentionally avoid caps for “he” and “him” – don’t think he’d have approved of that, either).  Just as Islamism cherry-picks from the Koran to justify spousal abuse and violence that are rooted in cultures that predate Islam, Christ gets used as an excuse in a way that would be pretty hard to justify at the Pearly Gates, if you believe in heaven.

On the other hand, when you strip away the dogma of religion, culture and tradition, there is another interesting connection that materializes.

In “traditional” societies where males are dominant, women do much of the labour.  The men conserve energy, look tough, mate and compete with other males.  The goal is to be the guy the women want to mate with, put on a display and have those women come to you.  Responsibility isn’t the issue – only carrying on one’s genes is.

This is quite a common theme throughout the natural world, with lions being a nice, visual example.  Lion males don’t hunt, don’t rear – they can’t afford to expend the energy.  All that energy needs to be saved for strenuous competition with other males and the maintenance of displays of threat or prominence, like the peacock’s tail or a pretty car.

In “traditional” societies – human and otherwise – women/females are responsible for food, child-rearing, etc.  They don’t have time for much else.  It’s also not uncommon for women to collaborate on these inherited chores in collectives.  One has to wonder if the Taliban could have been born anywhere other than a heavily mountainous terrain that discourages broader social development and reinforces tribal organization.

Now, go back to humans for a bit.  What happens in marginalized communities where there are mothers with kids of dead-beat dads?  What do those dads do with their time?  I’ve been around the world and have seen a common theme in slums and ghettos from Morocco to Bolivia to Toronto – mothers with multiple children, sometimes from multiple males, living in squalor conjointly and trying to work together to bring their kids up well while the dads are at coffee shops or popping caps into each other.  A generalization, to be sure, but one I’ve seen enough to feel comfortable in making.

Now, take a look at broader demographics trends – where women are denied access to education and opportunity, society remains “traditional” or rather, tribal; male-dominated, violent, greater populations but less quality-of-life and shorter life spans. 

On the other hand, where women have a greater role in society, we see progress – greater education for all, greater development, more collective security, opportunity and above all else, shared responsibility that surpasses gender barriers.

With that in mind, take a fresh look at fundamentalist Christians who want women to be in the home, espouse “traditional” values and look disparagingly on equality and opportunity as “godless” and divergent traditions as pagan.  Look at al Qadea, aiming to feudalize society and marginalize women.  None of that really has anything to do with religion – in fact, religion as a concept has been a key development allowing us to embrace progress.  These behaviours, these trends are really about biology, a kind of social evolutionary laziness.

It’s a laziness that’s in vein, too – the larger populations get, the more pressure gets put on those populations to have order and structure to avoid epidemics and systematic violence.  It’s marginalized groups, particularly women, that see emerging problems and fight for the right to be part of the solution.  Which brings up another interesting phenomenon – the role of female figures in religion.  The concept of an earth-mother is not an uncommon one.  Archaeological evidence supports the notion that even Yahweh was originally depicted as having a consort, Asherah.  There’s a whole untold story behind faith, religion and the evolution of society just itching to be told.    

Religions allow people to collect behind an idea that is bigger than themselves.  That feeling of “being connected” actually triggers a neuro-chemical response – if you’ve ever had a “eureka” moment, you’ve felt those neurotransmitters at work. These interpersonal (and inter-synaptic) collaborations allow people to develop solutions to the problems that emerge from cohabitation; solutions like shared infrastructure, waste disposal and health care – all things that are pretty complex and therefore require specialization.    Technology allows us to scale up the Maslow hierarchy, as does aesthetics, music, etc.

Far from being a threat to social cohesion, the empowerment of women is what allows society to flourish.  But we already knew that, didn’t we?

Religion - the Catalyst for Civilization?

If God is a delusion, then perhaps it's a purpuseful one:


Wednesday 20 June 2012

Partisanship Is Not Too Tall a Wall

Shine a Light on China

A good question that perhaps goes deeper than we give it credit for.  While both Europe and China have emerged from feudal origins, there has been a distinct difference in socio-cultural approaches.  As both have pursued dominance throughout history, the West's attitude has been to "make the world England" (with a few notable exceptions), inward-out.  God gave the world to Adam and Eve to do with as they please (though he did kick 'em off of his lawn).  Perhaps the best example of this, apart from the exportation of British culture along with the British Empire, is the ongoing export of Christianity through colonization. Given the intent of this policy, it's no wonder there is fear about the rise of Islam.

The East, on the other hand, has pursued the concept of "All Under Heaven" - perceiving the space that is and then expanding to fill it.  If you look at Eastern religions, there's a stronger connection to the past and to the whole, resulting in a completely different comprehension of time and mankind's place in the world than has developed in the West.

Western anxiety over China is ultimately like being afraid of the dark - we always fear what we don't understand.

The traditional solutions of destroying or assimilating the unknown were never very efficient and have only become harder to implement as military, populace and social complexity have escalated.  To really beat your enemy, you need to understand them.  When you know yourself and know your enemy, victory is guaranteed. Of course, when you truly understand your enemy, understand them well enough to defeat them, that's when you also love them.   

 Instead of destroying the beloved, we try to strategically comprehend and exploit the differences between us - which, done correctly, results in mutual gain.  There's nothing more strategic than altruism.

The end result is specialized collaboration; which, ultimately, is the trajectory of social evolution.

Scheer Failure, Parliament and Abner Doon

In other words, the NDP acted tribally - if they can't have a Cabinet seat, they might as well go for the Speaker.  Which surely, they should have known they couldn't get, but that didn't matter - my Party right or wrong, etc.

The Speaker is the most important role in our Parliamentary system, which is designed to represent the interests of us Canadians.  We support Parties based on policy, ideology or in what's most often the case, because of tribal partisanship.  The Speaker's job is to make sure these sworn enemies play nice and in an idea world, find balance between accountability, planning and access.

If Scheer is defaulting on the side of government, not Parliament, we have a real problem with our already dysfunctional Parliamentary system.  The role of Speaker is like that of Somnec in Capitol; without an impartial Speaker (and without Parliament having the power to do anything about that Speaker), even the current illusion that we have a functioning Parliamentary democracy falls like a house of cards.  Government has no fear of being held to account, no cause to work with other Parties and will slide even further into the realm of "we can do whatever we can get away with or deflect criticism from." That means, they are free to enact ideology no matter how short-sighted it is.  That's bad for Canada - a dearth of ideas and debate in politics is the equivalent of a shallow gene pool. 

This is a reality caused by Political Parties, all Political Parties, playing long games that were focused around their partisan interests, not Canada's.  The Liberals, bastions of the Centre, were the first to fall due to this approach.  The CPC is already starting to crack as individual, ideological MPs start chafing against their specific issues not being pursued.  How long can Harper expect fear as a tool to work when it's anger he's trying to stifle?

We've seen partisan jockeying lead to an erosion of confidence in Ontario, too.  It's a slow, painfully downward spiral away from the things Canada is meant to represent - the whole being more than the sum of its parts and diversity providing opportunity, not inconvenience.

The reason our current model of Parliament is cracking at the seams, of course, is because it's an ancient institution, designed for another time.  Question Period wasn't designed with television in mind; now that it's there, QP is become more of a Sound Bite session.  Social media has nurtured Political Parties perceived need for message control just as it has made slips (and records of those slips) impossible to avoid.

People at all levels of society have told me the system is broken - there seems to be a growing consensus that the model is beyond repair and needs, somehow, to be replaced.  I'd argue that process has already begun.  Far from partisan leanings or defaulting to authority, Scheer's approach to the office of the Speaker might actually be the lynch pin in triggering that change.

Creative destruction - it can be messy, but it's necessary.  For those who see the whole as more than the sum of its parts and believe in collaboratively moving forward, it's also provides boundless opportunity. 

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Jason Kenney and the Importance of Apologies

Words that Jason Kenney is probably wishing he never wrote – not necessarily because he wasn’t feeling them at the time, but because of the consequences he is facing now.

Still; a Harper Tory, Kenney has a whole Party track record of never being wrong, of defaulting to reactive attack or defense positions, not so much conciliation.  The emotional right (which is found in all Parties) has a lineage of instinctive behaviour; one might even say it’s genetic.  There’s a reason why the right sees the world through a polarized lens and solves problems by declaring a war on them.  War-declaring just sounds so authoritative and definite; it’s so much simpler to see the world as kill or be killed.

Once you’ve staked a position, even if you come to realize it’s the wrong one, it can be very hard to back down.  This whole “face” thing comes in to play – confidence, decisiveness, never accepting blame and the “strength” to never blink first are all associated as leadership traits.  The ability to step back from the abyss gets harder the closer to the ledge you get.

Which only makes it all the more impressive that Kenney has backed down, at least privately to the wronged party, and said sorry.  To apologize is to take ownership, admit culpability and, as a consequence, recognize responsibility to think things through at least a bit the next time.  We tend to mistake dominance as leadership, which isn’t the case; leadership is about vision and empowerment.

This is no small feat, and one Kenney should take pride in.  Apologizing for a silly mistake isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a demonstration of rational thought – which should be desirable in any leader.  If I were on the Oppositions benches, I would certainly make a point of mentioning this fact – not as a club to beat Kenney with, but through genuine respect at the gesture.  You encourage good behaviour by acknowledging what is right, not by punishing what is wrong.  that is, if you’re goal is a stronger Canada, not partisan interests.  That latter approach seems to be working well these days, doesn’t it?

If you can teach Kenney and, more broadly, Team Harper that there is much to be gained through ethical behaviour, you can perhaps encourage more of the same.  Lord knows there are policy directions that need to be changed quickly if we’re to avoid complicity in some very bad consequences.

Because no matter how comfortable one gets with saying sorry, it’s far more efficient to just do the right thing the first time around.

My Song For The Summer

#Hashtags - a Window into our Collective Conscious

"What makes them unique is they describe your emotional state. In any networked environment it is difficult for you to get your nuances across, your tone of voice. They let you describe your tweet but they also enable you to turn it into satire or comedy or make an oblique point," Mr Walker says.

This is incredibly cool. 

Twitter hashtags have lost their practical usage, but have instead become an online "fashion statement."  Over elections, the press will debate which hashtags are being used - and those in political circles will vie to create the one that catches on.  You can gain fame or infamy from a #tellviceverything or a #newlabattcampaign.

Like all fashion statements, hashtags have become projections of our internal self-images; who we feel we are, how we want to be perceived or, on occasion, what just slips out unguarded.  More than saying what we want to share, our words are opening windows into our selves.

The Internet, and vehicles like Twitter in particular, have created what has been seen as a safe window of expression for people to share their feelings and opinions.  Angry diatribes or emotional duress could be expressed, as all feelings yearn to be, without social consequences/stigmatization.  At least, that was the theory.  In practice, nothing stays anonymous forever – online communication is increasingly holding each and every one of us to task for the things we say, wherever we say them.

The ultimate forum for free speech is organically forcing a social commitment to responsibility of speech, too.  Libertarians might decry any form of speech moderation as a breach of freedom, but this isn’t a government imposition – it’s a social reality.  Just as you can’t physically punch someone without expecting some form of response, you can no longer expect to be able to say or do whatever you want without consequence.  Far from an external imposition this organic, social accountability is incenting internal moderation – ownership of self, if you will.  The truth, as they say, will set you free.

With consequence comes accountability; with accountability comes reciprocity; with reciprocity comes empathy, which in turn leads to a more strategic, collaborative world. 

It’s where we’re headed; a Conscious Society.

Monday 18 June 2012

Letter to the Editor in the Globe and Mail

... Not from me, mind you, but still worth reading.  Jason Kenney is repeating history - it's not too late for him to change his approach, but if he doesn't, history won't be looking very kindly on him.

Roma persecution

The article No Real Refuge in Canada (June 15) makes the case that Roma refugee claimants will be adversely affected by Bill C-31. That is true enough, but overlooks how these refugees are faring under the current law.

Roma refugee claimants in Canada are primarily from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, and the rejection rate for each of these countries in 2011 was over 90 per cent. It is the Immigration and Refugee Board, the independent tribunal that adjudicates refugee claims, which clings to the fallacy that persecution is unlikely in EU democracies.

Max Berger, immigration lawyer, Toronto