Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bring me the storyteller

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
(Tertullian, 2nd century Christian author and zealot from Carthage)

Those who tell the story rule the world.
(Hopi Indian proverb)

The times, they are so interesting

The speaker was Shane Snow, CEO of Contently, a media/branding company. By chance I happened to see him on one of the familiar TED presentations. Snow's talk centered on telling stories that make us care. His presentation is at the end of this article.

I suspect part of the reason I viewed this particular presentation is because we've had unceasing news coverage regarding the Islamic State terrorizing the Middle East. As well, at the same time, we have all seen the pictures from West Africa and the global community's inability, to date, to contain the Ebola outbreak—and finally, the climate summit, which began with the march in New York this past Sunday. What will we do this time? What is the story and who is telling it? It actually does matter to all of us across the globe, whether we understand it or not.

Recently, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham hysterically proclaimed that we'll all (“all,” meaning Americans) be murdered in our beds if President Obama doesn't destroy the Islamic State. Graham is one of the more contemptible bottom feeders in a corrupt and essentially useless United States Congress. He can best be thought of as Senator John McCain's pet rock, another confused American politician that needs to retire to one of his six or seven homes.

Flickering shadows around the camp fire

Some twenty-five years ago Joseph Campbell, the author of The Power of Myth, brought to public television his remarkable series about mythology and storytelling throughout human history. We Homo sapiens have been telling tales from the very beginning. It's a central part of what makes us human.

Anthropologists have discovered human grave sites more than 100,000 years old, which clearly indicate rituals for the dead, with the bodies oftentimes laid out in particular positions and jewelry and various belongings placed in the graves. The sky gods, the dragons and the demons have always been with us whispering in our ears, soothing us one moment and terrifying us the next.

The secret of the process by which consciousness invests history with meaning resides in the 'content of the form,' in the way our narrative capacities transform the present into a fulfillment of a past from which we would wish to have descended.
(Hayden White, historian)

Believing what I say

While the Islamic State and its numerous fellow-travelers may be the latest example of how monstrous humankind can be, and who deserve no tolerance whatsoever, they are not Hitler's Wehrmacht, except perhaps in the minds of the usual political suspects and of course those who have a vested interest in embarking on another military crusade.

The retired general and admirals with their war maps and lucrative consulting fees are being wheeled out to advise us, in somber voices, that we must confront this global evil to preserve civilization or some variation of the story.

The American kleptocracy can sit back in their chairs for the moment, knowing that the public is frightened once again, easily manipulated and distracted and remains as uninformed as ever. Now how many citizens were murdered by guns on American streets this past week? Does anyone actually care?

The spreading Ebola epidemic in West Africa has many fathers, from illiteracy and cultural practices to civil war, poverty and indifference. Some health organizations have estimated that some 1.4 million people could be infected with the Ebola virus by this winter. See Ebola Virus Cases May Hit 1.4Million. If ever a compelling story was needed, it is now.

Several days ago Senator James Inhoff of Oklahoma stumbled out onto the stage to advise reporters that IS terrorists were already in the U.S. ready to strike. Inhoff’s claim to fame is that he said a number of years ago that global warming was a “hoax.” It was all those scientists seeking grants from the public trough that created the global warming fairy tale. For an interesting piece on “creating” the story and climate change see Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change and what to doabout it.

The ultimate story for all of us is yet to be written. Now would be a good time to gather together the genuine storytellers.

Reading about terrorism and the middle east:

The Ebola virus:

Climate change:

Depressing comic relief:

Thursday, September 04, 2014

History vs truth: Unrequited love

To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

Syria is not for the Syrians and Iraq is not for the Iraquis. The Earth is Allah's.
(Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of IS, the Islamic State )

We like our history as is

Here in the United States another battle is taking place in the ever hardening cultural divide. This time it's over the College Board's revised “curriculum framework” for the Advanced Placement test in U.S. History. The New HistoryWars.

Most of us over a certain age remember high school history courses as little more than memorizing names, dates and facts, all in all pretty boring. In reality, we American know virtually nothing about our own history let alone the history of the world.

Now, it's not that the U.S. is unique in creating historical fairy tales or slanting the truth. We are pretty much amateurs compared with the dismal police states and theocracies dotting the planet. What is different is that our American “exceptionalism”has never been really challenged or forced to confront the reality, and ignorance is most certainly harmful to our health and well being

Afraid and fearful and so fearfully afraid.

Observing humankind across the planet at the present brings to mind the lines from Yeats' The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” Human evolution lurches and weaves along in some indeterminate direction, while our technological prowess disappears over some unknown horizon.

Meanwhile, the small collection of monsters that make up IS may be the latest example of human malevolence but it will likely not be the last. Monsters have certainly crossed the land called Iraq and Syria in the past.

The Mongol invasions from Central and North Asia in the 12th and 13th century may have been one of the most destructive in human history, and terror was certainly used as an effective weapon. The Mongol armies conquered China, the Turkic tribes and attacked Russia and Eastern Europe. In the mid-13th century they destroyed Baghdad, which in the 9th century was the greatest center of learning in the world. The monsters have always been with us; the goal is to keep them in the caves as long as possible.

Sand beneath our shifting feet

Why should we be so surprised today that cave dwellers like the Islamic State have suddenly appeared in the light of day? Again from William Butler Yeats: Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. Yes, things do fall apart. Excluding for the time being such issues as a global population of more than 7 billion people, climate change that can be denied only by the delusional and a global economic system dressed in a top hat and tails, we simply have to look around us, especially at some of the major nation-states:

For example, China, a police state fearful of its own people, seems to have as a guiding star a determination to turn the planet into its own plantation, regardless of the destruction it will likely cause along the way; Russia, an environmental disaster in the making, with President Putin apparently imagining himself a 21st century czar; America, an increasingly dysfunctional society with a decaying 18th century Constitution, and who single-handedly destabilized a significant part of the Middle East. And the rest? Pick a continent. For an interesting article on ad hoc violence at the local level read In times of regional violence, local rules apply. (See below.)

It doesn't seemed far fetched to envision more regional and local conflicts with nation-states exerting increasing repression against its own citizens as well as nearby smaller states, until the more powerful state itself begins to implode. Loyalty to what and to whom may become the overarching question. No, the Earth doesn't belong to Allah but to all the visible—and not so visible—life inhabiting the planet--equally. Will the “best” regain conviction?

Additional Reading