Re: Violence

The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.

Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.

The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.

Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.

I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.

Re: Surgery

My first experiences with surgery came before I was seven years old. Back in my early years it was routine to have your tonsils out before you got too long in the tooth. The idea, as I remember being told, was to reduce the risk of illness in the throat. As a bonus the surgeon would often yank out the adenoids. Now, more than sixty years later, whenever I think of hospitals I recall the smell of ether.

On the best advice of the day, my parents chose to have me go under the knife for the tonsillectomy. Just a year later, near my birthday, I was exploring a barn and a large iron bar fell across the toes of my left foot, smashing several bones. I had a bit of emergency surgery done and a cast was placed on my leg up to my knee. It became this young adventurer’s point of pride the following week at his birthday party. Every guest signed their name to my plaster of Paris leg as a tribute to my survival.

Surgical procedures have no doubt changed in my lifetime. Rich folk are choosing costly cosmetic surgery in the hopes of drinking at the well of eternal youth. New advances in prosthetics and bionics are also enabling greater mobility after corrective surgeries. Whether the surgery is elective or needed as a result of illness or accident, recovery times have been reduced since my tonsil days when ice cream was prescribed after the first night in a hospital ward. For example, it amazes me how quickly women are sent home after delivery of their baby, even if complications would suggest caution. I recently had prostate surgery which went according to plan, but then I was discharged too early only to find myself back in emergency and recovering from that ordeal. Perhaps our medical system is becoming too intent on freeing up beds as a cost saving policy, even when further monitoring is warranted. Aftercare is surely as important as the original dramatic diagnosis of the need for surgery.

Reading about the gold rush days of North American I am amused to discover that surgery and dentistry were often practised by the same person as indicated by their shingle hanging near a saloon on the boardwalk of a pioneer town. In those days a surgeon might have been called a sawbones in direct relation to the nature of their work. The early rudimentary nature of this medical profession is visually apparent in this opening scene of Dances With Wolves.

Which leads me to segue to military surgical strikes: Where the intent is to precisely remove a foreign threat by using an assassin, a tactical team, a smart bomb or a drone. Like bodily surgeries the objective is to get rid of any threatening or unnecessary bits before they affect the smooth running of he organism. In the case of limited warfare, the organism at risk is deemed to be the free world. Send in James Bond! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PM5I0jKxb8

Re: Resistance

Tales of the resistance movement during WWII continue to fascinate me. Such bravery from those Partisans I can only imagine. They chose to move in the space between compliance and defiance. They were examples of people devoted to helping themselves and others overcome tyranny. Throughout the world in modern times there continue to be regimes/policies/governments/corporations that challenge us to choose between acceptance or rejection.

Resistance may be underground, subtle or go unnoticed, yet it is not a form of giving up. To resist is to take purposeful action. In human behaviour I see a Resister as someone who chooses to actively refuse something that doesn’t hold true to their value system. In electrical circuitry, a Resistor is a device that controls the flow. I find it curious how those two words, for only the difference of a vowel, can be similar in concept.

Consider for a moment that a Resistor’s unit of measure is an Ohm. Another Om is considered by Buddhists to be the first sound. I have often used that sound to control my anxiety. When I chant using that word I feel grounded and my thoughts cease to speed in whirlwinds about my head. In that moment of meditation I am a Resister and a Resistor, holding thoughts at arm’s length so that I can interpret them more clearly.

I met a Resister the other day at the grocery store where I shop. We were both in a line to have our purchases scanned by a clerk. We chatted about voluntarily waiting when we could have checked out faster by stepping one aisle over to scan our items via a robot cashier. We agreed that AI was taking over the world and we were determined to resist.

Cliches are worthy of resistance. I appreciate that a commonly used term may be easier to say while engaging in small talk, however a serious discussion deserves a more careful choice of words. For example, a well known celebrity recently announced his terminal cancer and was quoted as saying, “I’ll fight this.” Cancer talk is often filled with warlike terms. I find it upsetting that if the patient doesn’t want to fight the disease they are somehow deemed to be giving up on life. My late wife chose to resist the pull of death after her diagnosis by filling each day with amusements. June Callwood, a noted Canadian author, who died of cancer in 2007, resisted the common call to ‘fight on’ by refusing treatment for her disease. Her wonderfully watchable interview on CBC television aired mere weeks before her death is a testament to the term ‘dying with dignity’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Duif0tGZ4pc

When it comes to death, to quote from The Borg in the Star Trek universe, “Resistance is futile” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtEaR1JU-ps . The irony, perhaps, is that resistance can sometimes empower us to be an active participant of change. To rebel or to acquiesce may not be options. Resistance may be the middle ground where we can assert our unique individuality.

Re: War

I had a conversation with my dad yesterday. In my day dream, we were both in our sixties and reflecting on our youth. Chewing the fat, as two old codgers are want to do. My dad was in his prime during the war years. By comparison I had privilege in my youth, my hay day, my halcyon years. From the age of 19-23, I was in university.

University! That time when many lucky ones are allowed to think of nothing more than sex and study. We expanded our mind and body in glorious ways in a cloistered environment. I recalled a walk back from the nearby city centre, measurably drunk and talking with a friend about how the university campus is so different from the real world. Indeed! It was engineered that way so we could concern ourselves with the importance of learning and not be caught up in the machinations of the ‘outside’.

Then I heard my dad’s story. Born in 1920, he entered his glorious early twenties ducking bullets instead of making discoveries in the lab or reading the classics of literature. From my current vantage point I could see my university days with gratitude, as part of my growing up. My dad must have mused over his emergence into adulthood as a trial by fire. I saw much to love in my life’s remembrance while he was talking stoically about soldiering on, in the face of it all. When he paused, I recalled this scene in ‘The War’ and I felt affection for all that he had meant to me.

In 1961,U.S. President Eisenhower, a former General in WWII, warned of a threat to governments. He named it the “Military-Industrial Complex.” A film, ‘Wag The Dog’ showed how easy this warped, corporate idea can take root. We have seen since then, that the business of war makes some people very rich while many, many more die.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNDmDZi05dY .

What word would you pick as the opposite of war? Peace? Ghandi was a model for passive resistance and he was a creative thinker. War suggests aggressive action so I believe an active word is required to counter it. War is destructive so its opposite must be creation. Others have written about the power that creativity has to reduce the risk of war. I am starting to think that art can be taken as an antidote to war.

In Boy Scouts I learned about fire safety. To start a fire you need three things: heat, fuel and oxygen. To have war you must have fear, social division and lies. Like a fire, war cannot exist without its three elements. Remove fear and you breed peace, create an atmosphere of social tolerance and you have no oxygen for hatred. Without lies there is no reason to doubt.

War, what is it good for? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk

War is over. If you want it.