The incomparable Billie Holiday swoons, bends, and touches the soul in a way few can. She recorded a few versions of this Duke Ellington classic but this is my favourite, and obviously, fitting given the global quarantine we are all facing!
Back in 2012, Ellen Brown wrote a piece in Global Research arguing that it was time for Canada to reassert national public banks. In her piece, she argues that:
Between 1939 and 1974, the government actually did borrow from its own central bank. That made its debt effectively interest-free since the government owned the bank and got the benefit of the interest. According to figures supplied by Jack Biddell, a former government accountant, the federal debt remained very low, relatively flat, and quite sustainable during those years. (See his chart below.)
Her argument tracks with similar arguments in the USA to end the Federal Reserve. Brown summarizes the Canadian legal advocacy efforts in this regard. Constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati filed an action on behalf of William Krehm, Ann Emmett, and COMER (the Committee for Monetary and Economic Reform) to restore the use of the Bank of Canada to its original purpose, including making interest free loans to municipal, provincial and federal governments for “human capital” expenditures (education, health, and other social services) and for infrastructure. The plaintiffs state that since 1974, the Bank of Canada and Canada’s monetary and financial policy have been dictated by private foreign banks and financial interests led by the BIS, the Financial Stability Forum (FSF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), bypassing the sovereign rule of Canada through its Parliament.
If by an act of parliament, we abolished the current central bank, we could cut the debt by borrowing from the government’s own bank, which returns its profits to public coffers. Cutting out interest has been shown to reduce the average cost of public projects by about 40%.
Given the concern over the Trump administration blocking 3M's sale of masks to Canada due to shortages, we could invest in manufacturing and move the economy forward making us, as a nation, as strong as we were between the years 1939 and 1974.
T.S. Eliot famously wrote in The Waste Land that "April is the cruellest month". In our present context, it is quite literally true for those of us in North America. We hope and long, in this month, for a summer of hope arising out of the "dead land" of our current pandemic experience. The primordial, psychic impulses of both hope and despair co-exist in our consciousness. Eliot writes that the season of winter "kept us warm covering the earth in forgetful snow". Just last winter, in a literal historical sense, our collective lives were so much different with most of us making plans and goals that have been dashed with the emergence of this global pandemic.
Now, here in the beginning of April, we witness "shelter in place", more sickness, restrictions of visitations and public gatherings, and massive unemployment. In our city alone, 1/3 of the city work force has been laid off. Contrasted with the past winter, the current situation is bleak. Yet, we look forward to an end to this crisis and a return to some degree of normalcy symbolized seasonally, metaphorically, and historically by "summer". In between these poles stands April.
While Eliot can be depressing, his insights can give voice to modern problems and are paradoxically soothing. Ultimately, Eliot's critique is a critique of the modern world devoid of spirituality and the creativity that springs from depth of our consciousness based on a connection with the transcendent source of our being. Both capitalism and communism neglected this dimension of the human person which has led to a malaise and diminution of depth in journalism, popular media, and politics.
The entire poem, The Wasteland, is a critique of the contemporary world narrated and brought to life wonderfully by Alec Guiness in the clip below.
This crisis is an opportunity to change the trajectory of history and usher in a new era of compassion, spirituality, and an expanded consciousness that can alter and change our economic and political landscape in a truly revolutionary movement. One thing is certain, we cannot, as Einstein said, solve the problems of today by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
In Plato’s Republic, Plato has Socrates develop his idea of justice and the ideal republic. Plato’s point, in advancing "the philosopher king" is not specifically related to philosophers as a class or discipline but the kind of mind that the ruler should ideally possess.
The core quality of the philosopher (etymologically meaning lover (philia) of wisdom (Sophia)) is that they want to understand the truth and not the illusions that are cast on the cave wall by shadows (see Plato’ allegory of the cave).
In this regard the philosopher cultivates a particular habit of mind, a particular discipline, and even a particular form of asceticism. Plato writes, “the philosopher is not to be confounded with the connoisseur, nor knowledge with opinion. The philosopher is that person who has in their mind the perfect pattern of justice, beauty, truth; theirs' is the knowledge of the eternal; they contemplate all time and all existence”
Asceticism is necessary to promote virtue – another necessary pre-condition. And these are rare qualities.
In the present crisis, the West has largely turned governance over to health authorities. Health authorities have particular expertise and their counsel is absolutely necessary to guide public policy. But there are many other factors, the ruler must consider – these include the economy, and the impact to the common good as well as individual human rights. And the ruler must also have the critical means by which to evaluate that information provided to them.
Classically, and scientifically, this is acheived by way of thesis and then an anti-thesis and finally a synthesis. The problem today is that with panic spreading about the virus, our collective cortisol levels are surging, leaving us compromised when it comes to political judgements. The resulting impulse is a tendency to eschew dissenting views through censoring online content. The issue of free speech versus compelled speech is an important human rights issue that can be discussed in later posts.
As a citizen, I have a duty to listen to and respect my local and national civil and health authorities in the judgments they make. And I do just that by practicing all the recommendations made; that is part of my duty in the social compact.
However, as a citizen and a member of a democracy, I can, at the same time, make my own views known regarding appropriate response. Public health responses, like any other public responses are the responsibility of elected officials. While, health authorities have particular expertise in how best to address pandemics, we should also be listening to other informed health and infectious disease voices who suggest other SAFE public responses that do not have the same economic and cultural impact as the current responses are having.
In that spirit, I offer the following rejoinders to the current scientific and political thinking by other well informed scientific and political thinkers.
MIT biologist says fear mongering on coronavirus will go down as biggest fraud to manipulate economies.
Dr. Shiva graduated from MIT in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. After selling his company he went to the MIT Media Lab and got a master’s degree in animation, focusing on how to present scientific data visually. He also holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. In 2004, Ayyadurai returned to MIT to work on a Ph.D. in systems biology, a relatively new field that integrates biology, engineering and computer science.
And this from Sweden:
The Science Behind Sweden's 'Relaxed' Coronavirus Strategy
I have no control in the decision-making process. And as a citizen, all that I can do is make these views known in my small corner of this planet to the small number of people who may actually read my blog.
While I have been attending Divine Liturgy with the Byzantine Rite, it is still sad to see the Pope praying the Angelus Prayer in an empty St. Peter's Square.
The human person is a social animal and the virus is devastating bodies in more ways than one. It remains to be seen what the impact of this will be in our cultural life. But this is image captures the melancholy mood of many as we try to keep our spirits afloat.
As Yogi Berra said, "the hard thing about predicting the future is that it hasn't happened yet!"
Angelos Varvarousis has an excellent article in Undisciplined Environments entitled, Let’s water the tree of solidarity against Coronavirus.
Much has been written about pandemics and public health. In 2013, for example, the Journal of Sociology of Health and Illness published a special issue on pandemics and emerging infectious diseaes
Finally Russel Brand had a good take on the subject that tracks with my own thoughts.
In situations such as these it is good to keep one's head about you while all seem to be losing theirs. While there is definite cause for concern how we, as a community and society, addresses this problem will say a lot about how we collectively organize ourselves in the future following the waning of this crisis. Varvarousis writes that we are seeing, in some pockets, individualism and a lack of community (e.g. runs on groceries, etc.). What creates these problems, he argues, is the lack of any kind of deliberative process. While the World Health Organziaiton is supposed to take the lead in these global pandemics, in practice, countries are responding in various different ways and using different technological apparatuses.
The current preventative measures being enacted in Canada are positive measures and the responses of my local health authority have been calming and measured. Still, American news is filled with increaing partisan rancour. A unified approach is a good idea for global problems.
Varvarousis writes that there are two ways to interpret the present experience. The first is as a crisis and the other is as an emergency. Crisis, interpreted in the classic Greek form is positve. "Crisis signifies a destabilisation of the mainstream, of the given order and it opens space for new forms of being – and becoming – to emerge."
On the other hand, "A state of emergency only freezes people – absorbs their agency and their capacity of acting and thus reinforces the dominant order. The crisis can be potentially inhabited constructively, a state of emergency cannot".
He finishes the article by writing:
To conclude this article, I think we should not be against public health measures, and I definitely believe that limiting oneself for the common good is a necessary strategy in the current situation. But we should always remember that the stories we say, the information we spread, and the way we spread it, make a lot of difference on the heritage that we are leaving behind and whether it will help human societies to better sketch out and realise in good terms their common future. Coronavirus is threatening, no doubt. However, we must remain firm but open, inventive and committed to our plan for a better society. Let’s try to stop the dehumanization of the extremes. Let’s transform this emergency into a real crisis.
I agree and think Russel Brand similarly offers a useful rejoinder.
I referenced in an earlier entry, Gilad Atzmon’s post on the post-political world we live in. While I largely agree with his core thesis, I think the vacuum created in this stage requires a paradigmatic framework to position us moving forward inclusively without scapegoating any one single group.
Illich’s work “Tools for Conviviality” is a good starting point. Illich argues that the scientific revolution has brought in its wake an excessively technocratic society that is marginalizing us from one another. His critique of medicine in Medical Nemesis and education in Deschooling Society articulates how the institutionalization of these bodies has spiralled beyond control and that fundamental re-ordering of society is necessary to redress it.
He argues that the tools necessary for social ordering need to be brought closer to the people, the community, the individual as opposed to ever enlarging, out of control bureaucracies far beyond the reach of local people.
The issue is not technology per se but instead democratizing those technological tools. This requires placing limits on tools. Illich explains: To formulate a theory about a future society both very modern and not dominated by industry, it will be necessary to recognize natural scales and limits. We must come to admit that only within limits can machines take the place of slaves; beyond these limits they lead to a new kind of serfdom. Only within limits can education fit people into a man-made environment: beyond these limits lies the universal schoolhouse, hospital ward, or prison. Only within limits ought politics to be concerned with the distribution of maximum industrial outputs, rather than with equal inputs of either energy or information. Once these limits are recognized, it becomes possible to articulate the triadic relationship between persons, tools, and a new collectivity. Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call "convivial."
The kind of society Illich describes requires ongoing analysis and vigilance. Thomas Jefferson said that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance and in this, he was eerily prescient. It is far too easy to squander our freedom on “bread and circus”. This requires of the population a certain asceticism or austerity. Having a Catholic background Illich draws on Thomas Aquinas (echoing Aristotle) to explain the concept of austerity (although I prefer the term asceticism as it carries with it a richer spiritual tradition). Illich writes that Thomas “in his third response defines "austerity" as a virtue that does not exclude all enjoyments, but only those which are distracting from or destructive of personal relatedness. For Thomas "austerity" is a complementary part of a more embracing virtue, which he calls friendship or joyfulness. It is the fruit of an apprehension that things or tools could destroy rather than enhance eutrapelia (or graceful playfulness) in personal relations.”
So, a concentration on the tools that bring us together as a community, and ensuring that each individual can use them for themselves is an essential aspect of where Illich argues we need to return. I will argue that we can no longer live and work effectively without public controls over tools and institutions that curtail or negate any person's right to the creative use of his or her energy. For this purpose, we need procedures to ensure that controls over the tools of society are established and governed by political process rather than by decisions by experts.
This brings us to the major political question of how we are organized and in this he may sound a bit anarchic - and against the backdrop of over 300 years or more of gradual technocratic dominance and its dramatic acceleration in the last 70 plus years, it does. Anarchy conjures up fearful images of riots in streets, burning buildings, and lawlessness. But this is not the kind of anarchy that is intended. The issue is not whether we as people will be governed but HOW we wish to be governed. And this is an important question. But through a deadening of political discourse, through an acceleration of distractions on mass media (latter-day bread and circus), we have not had the space to critically analyze the question of how our tools (and by tools he means not only actual implements but knowledge such as medicine, schools, the press, housing, etc.) need to be used. Illich writes: If tools are not controlled politically, they will be managed in a belated technocratic response to disaster. Freedom and dignity will continue to dissolve into an unprecedented enslavement of man to his tools.
This is precisely what has occurred and people, like those in Plato’s cave, are beginning to see the darkness of our current cave. In response, inchoate political responses are emerging and in this, there are striking similarities between the anti-establishment of Trump and Sanders and the vox populi of their respective movements. Still, there is a need for a coherent political philosophy to explain this phenomenon and guide us in a methodological, programmatic manner. Elizabeth Warren is a good leader in this regard. She has a sharp mind and a clear vision of how to ensure this can happen politically. Her campaign slogan “She has a plan for that” is on point and could be prophetic.
I do my part in the wilderness but we do live in interesting times!
Below is a summary and some snippets of a consultation I prepared for my work.
In the last five years, the intersection between mental health and human rights has become more explicit with influential national and international health and human rights institutions issuing reports and recommendations on the topic. These include reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Mental Health (United Nations, 2017), American Psychological Association (Asanbe, Gaba, and Yang, 2018), World Health Organization (2017), and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (2017) to cite just a few examples. In addition to these reports, the United Nation’s High Commissioner writes that, “(the) right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights” (United Nations, 2017, para 4). According to World Health Organization, mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (World Health Organization, 2018, para. 2).
One of the largest barriers that has been identified around access to mental health services is social stigma. The United Nations High Commissioner writes that "stereotyping, prejudice and stigmatization is present in every sphere of life, including social, educational, work and health-care settings, and profoundly affects the regard in which the individual is held, as well as their own self-esteem. The lack of systematic training and awareness-raising for mental health personnel on human rights as they apply to mental health allows stigma to continue" (United Nations, 2017, para 16). Given this barrier, the strategy should include support for anti-stigma campaigns across the university aligned with a human rights focus. The World Health Organization (2017) has developed documents "to provide training and guidance on how to integrate a human rights approach in mental health and related areas, based on international human rights instruments, in particular the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities" (p. 7).
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner also recommends that services be “culturally appropriate, that is, respectful of the culture of individuals, minorities, peoples and communities, sensitive to gender and life-cycle requirements” (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2000, para 12c).
Finally, as Gemignani, M., & Hernández-Albújar write in the European Psychologist "focusing only on personal suffering not only promotes a view of psychology as an individualistic discipline, but also distorts its attention from other readings of that suffering that may locate it socially and culturally. For instance, social reconstructions of traumatic memories may not necessarily pass through individual debriefing and may greatly benefit from psychological practices that are based on collective and cul- tural rememberings of the past".
I have shown this documentary in class and engaged in discussion around the core themes articulated in it. According to the description:
Through interviews with renowned mental health professionals including Gabor Mate, MD, Robert Whitaker, and Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, Phil explores the growing severity of the mental health crisis in America dominated by biomedical psychiatry. He discovers a growing movement of professionals and psychiatric survivors who demand alternative treatments that focus on recovery, nurturing social connections, and finding meaning.
Beyond that description, the film describes how our current interpretive frame for "mental illness" is deeply problematic. For one, the medicalization of mental health precludes political activism or diagnosing social trends as significant factors impacting people's psyche.
If we examine mental health as a response to a social order that is increasingly de-humanzing and technocratic, new vistas of "treatment" emerge. These include, alternartives which often take the form of communites of care, listening, factiliating deeper meaning of crises as potentially transformative experiences. Much of this falls under what has traditionally been described as "spirituality". That does not mean to support quackery or superstition but it does mean to recognize that to "recover" means to find something deeply human; namely belonging, meaning, and purpose.
These are created through vital relationships and the bonds of connection we find in shared spritual communities. And the development of these bonds, that is the development of what it is to be human is an important political aspiration.
Ivan Illich wrote in Tools for Conviviality that
Society can be destroyed when further growth of mass production renders the milieu hostile, when it extinguishes the free use of the natural abilities of society's members, when it isolates people from each other and locks them into a man-made shell, when it undermines the texture of community by promoting extreme social polarization and splintering specialization, or when cancerous acceleration enforces social change at a rate that rules out legal, cultural, and political precedents as formal guidelines to present behavior. Corporate endeavors which thus threaten society cannot be tolerated. At this point it becomes irrelevant whether an enterprise is nominally owned by individuals, corporations, or the slate, because no form of management can make such fundamental destruction serve a social purpose.
This same sentiment is echoed by many critics of institutionalized mental health and many are on display in this documentary. The documentary provides a good springboard into a different perspective on mental health which is as important now as when it was created.
As a related aside, the documentary was made without appeal to any corporate funding. It was directly funded through individual crowd sourcing appeal. From production to prescription of how to move forward, the orientation is deeply grassroots.
The title of this blog is an allusion to the famous work of Blaise Pascal. This blog represents the variety of my interests and thoughts on any given day and are strung together, like Pascal's Pensees, in no particular order. I work in the field of mental health and education. I write and am a social justice advocate. I enjoy poetry, jazz, spirituality, politics and a potpourri of other interests that you will see reflected in this blog.