“Virtue Signalling” is a recent buzz word that denotes the actions of a person who is trying to demonstrate, usually in a conspicuous manner, their own moral virtue.   It often has a connotation of being an empty gesture, but that doesn’t have to be the case.  It can be mildly annoying to very negative in its effects.

There is, however, a negative version of virtue signalling which doesn’t get much discussion.  For lack of a better term, let’s call it negative VS.  This is when somebody accuses somebody else of poor morals, virtue or political correctness.  A few basic examples of this might be when someone behind you yells, “thanks for not holding the door” if you are exiting a store and don’t see someone behind you, or if you encounter a friend and they say, “thanks for not asking how I’m feeling” in a sarcastic way.  I suppose that there are times when one might be legitimately shamed for not holding a door open, such as when a person with a walker or a cane is struggling and you are obviously aware of it.  However most of the time I find this to be a petty and exploitative action.

I ask myself how I would feel if I were to say such a thing to a friend or stranger.  If someone in front of me neglected to hold a door, or if I encountered a friend and they didn’t begin the conversation by asking how I was feeling, and I immediately drew attention to either of these, how would I feel?  To put it bluntly, I would feel like an ass.  I would feel like I was deliberately applying a negative judgement and trying to make the other person feel less virtuous and less confident, often without really understanding the entire picture.

This is an act of tearing someone else down, trying to make them feel self doubt about their worth.  While there may be some specific cases where that is justified, I don’t feel that this would be the majority of cases and, if ever,  should be done very carefully, deliberately and instructively.  In most cases it is done to bolster the self righteousness of the person making the comment and to fabricate a reality where the other person should be feeling badly or lacking in moral virtue.  This kind of formatting of reality is nothing less than gas lighting.  It is stealing energy from the target of the comment and is one of the many kinds of social vampirism that is related to gas lighting.

I have found that at this time of year, many of those who are disposed towards normal virtue signalling can easily fall into the negative sort.  I don’t lecture those who do it (as it would likely be a waste of time), but understanding the process allows you to protect yourself from any guilt or self disparaging thoughts.  It protects you from the energy leeching that is at the heart of the practice.  –Not to say that one can never be criticized or corrected.  But this practice is unhealthy for both parties concerned.

Commentary on This Is Life with Lisa Ling, S5E4, “Screen Addiction”

I made a point of watching this particular episode of This Is Life because I strongly suspected that it would shed light on the thesis of my book, The Tao of the Wild.  The episode takes a close look at the case studies of two young people who fell victim to screen addiction.  The first led to a tragic suicide while the second led to attempted suicides and eventual therapy.  Both stories have a lot to say about the influence of social media on individuals with poor identity structures and conflicted Multiple Selves within their personality.

My central thesis is that all of us have personalities constructed of Multiple Selves, a perspective held by Hal and Sidra Stone in their book The Divided Self, and supported by a multitude of others in the psychological community along with the current Zen Buddhist community.  I have explained and expounded on this thesis extensively in my book.  These Multiple Selves can be in a state of anarchy, where they take turns steering the ship.  If there is a captain, then there is some order and coordination, but if there is not then there can be conflict and confusion within the personality.  Throughout it all, there is a striving for identity, whether it be one Self dominating the others, a “Captain Self” or Controller which can bring order and some unity, or even a higher, Aware Self which can reify identity and self control.

It goes without saying that a developing adolescent lives in a state of turmoil with regard to their inner life and the dominance of various Selves.  Not only is their state of development at an early stage, with the whole system being soft and malleable, but a teenager’s life is full of various roles that they have to navigate and which are often at odds.  This, of course, is true to varying degrees with some teens coping better than others.  However, all go through identity pangs and tribulations, risking depression, sometimes frantically looking for feedback or validation from external sources.

Enter Social Media.  Teens have always risked placing themselves in negative feedback loops through a poor choice of friends, gangs or even involvement in cults.  However with social media, this risk becomes magnified tremendously.  The case studies in this TV episode clearly show teens who had normal self doubts and teenage angst but who discovered negative and depressing social media sites where they could, in the first case of the suicide, indulge their own dark impulses and get regular, powerful validation from depressing sites and other like minded people.  This is all done in secret, with parents not really knowing what is happening, and even friends often being locked out of the social media loop.  It becomes a separate life because it hijacks separate Selves within the adolescent.  One Self finds validation and gains superiority over the others, especially if it is a teen with an already weak or confused identity structure.  Without a Controller/Captain there is little self awareness, observation or diagnostics.  The validated Self is one acting in a self reinforcing narrative of desperation.

In the second case study a strong academic and athletically successful boy became addicted to gaming, finding easy self validation on line in various video games.  He often spent consecutive, sleepless days online.  This, of course, can’t happen without sacrificing real, face to face, social interactions.  Isolation is inevitable, as is a disengagement from normal social activities like team sports.  It is a double dose of disconnection, relationships and activity, with real life consequences.  Those consequences can only complicate life, often driving the teen further into their gaming and isolation.

In this second case we see the same result on the Self and Personality structure of the screen addicted person.  What starts as a healthy personality, with diverse and engaged Selves, becomes seduced by the screen into a more and more narrow Self structure.  “Seduced” is an apt word, as the boy in question admitted that viewing pornography played a significant role in his screen time.  One Self, The Gamer, strongly supported by a Sexual Self, totally dominates his Personality to the exclusion of almost everything else, while barricaded in his bedroom.

The mother of the girl who committed suicide states emphatically that her daughter would still be alive if it were not for social media.  There is some truth to that, as it was the feedback loop from the depression web sites and chat rooms that undoubtedly fed Selves that are not abnormal in adolescents, but which become abnormal when fed regularly.  Teens often have to overcome depressing thoughts and complicated situations.  They do so by engaging with their environment, including family, friends and other help when necessary.  Reinforcement of only the negative along with isolation may make the teen think that they have a “real identity” in the long run, but it is really just feeding one of many Selves, -and not the healthy one.

So what can be done?  The first temptation is to blame Social Media, and there has been a lot of talk lately about how sites are contrived to addict or subliminally engage users, much like a gambling casino.  There should be steps taken to minimize that effect.  However I don’t think that will ever really happen.  The dark websites that the girl visited would not disappear in that scenario, nor would the porn sites or gaming sites that enticed the boy.

By understanding the mechanics of personality, we can see that a big part of the problem is shallow identity structure, -very much in synch with the idea of shallow values and connectivity that I have explained in my book.  Strengthening that identity structure is something that is completely ignored in our education system.  In fact it was completely ignored in the therapy that the boy eventually participated in.  I was stunned to see that there was no internal therapy as part of their program.  There was no meditation or mindfulness exercises, -the exact measures that would create self reflection and would strengthen the Captain of the ship, so that the adolescent would have a wider perspective than that coming from their various screen lives and Selves.  This, I believe, is the more practical answer.  Social media is a business model that is not going away, and which honestly has a lot of potential benefits for the people who can engage in it more objectively.  So, let’s start giving our teens, and people in general, the tools and wider perspective necessary to cope with their technological world.  Lets start educating people to have a stronger and deeper connection to their own personalities and identities.

That will not only help prevent screen addiction, but will have many other positive consequences.

Last night I invested several hours listening to the debate on populism between Steve Bannon and David Frum on the November Munk debate.  I turned out to me largely worth it, an enjoyable and surprisingly civil debate.  You can, of course, see the video of it on their site, which would allow you to digest it in smaller doses.

A few thoughts:

  1. The hype and protest against the debate because of Bannon’s “hate speech” was largely undeserved. Now, make no mistake that I disagree with Bannon very strongly and find some of his ideas disturbing.  However, I also believe that the standard has to be very high in order for something to be banned and labelled hate speech.  I saw the film on Bannon at TIFF (which was not protested) and have seen several other interviews, and I’ve never witnessed the level of hateful ideas that would be necessary to ban him as a speaker.  I can’t speak for all of his comments in past years, but what I’ve seen and what I saw last night did not rise to that level.  He’s not a David Duke or a Milo.
  2. I think that Bannon’s ideas are appealing because he is relatively good at pointing at real questions and issues. Like Sartre, he sees the problems, but has no acceptable answers.  I can agree that a form of “elite”, -the ones who caused the 2008 crash for example-, had and still have too much power.  I agree that there is a political class that needs to be shaken up.  But stating a problem doesn’t mean that any old answer/solution is worth trying.  Desperation is not a good motivator when it comes to political standards, and in this case the proof of the pudding was and is very much in the tasting.
    At the very beginning of his opening comment he stated that populism was inevitable and that the only question was whether it would be capitalist or socialist (like Bernie Sanders) populism.  Oddly, he never returned to that point in order to argue the benefits of one type over the other.  Personally I don’t think that either is inevitable, but if that was his thesis, it certainly would have been a point worth pursuing.
  3. The debate, as I said, was very civil and highly informative on both sides. It was worth the wait for it to get started (because of the protestors) and the hours of listening.  Unfortunately the ending was seriously marred by confusion over the audience voting on the question in order to determine a “winner”.  As is the tradition in debates, they polled the audience on the question at the beginning and at the end.  They also, however, added an additional poll as to what percentage of the audience considered themselves willing to change their minds as a result of persuasion in the debate.  The debate was running late and so the ending was rushed.  The result they announced was a win by Bannon with over a 30% shift.  This immediately seemed suspicious considering the amount of laughter at many of Bannon’s statements and the distribution of applause.  As near as I can tell, it turns out that they mistakenly used the numbers for those willing to change their minds instead of those that actually changed their minds, as those numbers are conveniently identical.  Later, on the Face Book site, they posted that the numbers did not shift from the beginning to the end, which makes far more sense.  Bannon’s performance was certainly not stellar enough to cause a 30 point shift.
    Of course this unfortunately gave rise to comments about “fake news” and a “liberal conspiracy”.  What is far more likely is that some poor tech person hit the wrong button or that the system glitched.  But hopefully they will issue a clear and accurate explanation on either the web site or FB page.  To not do this would place a serious blemish on the Munk Debates.

This is an addendum to the last post I made on “Transcend and Include”.  I was inspired by a recent podcast on Jeff Salzman’s Daily Evolver podcast about How To Vote Integral.

When you consider it, how a person trying to make an Integral decision would decide how to vote really addresses the the whole issue about valuing and recognizing the positives in each level.  There are few Integral, Second Tier politicians out there, and it’s not certain how much success they might have if elected at this point in time.  (Take Obama for example, who was pretty close to having an Integral outlook, but who became hogtied by his reality.)  It is also true, as I tried to outline in the previous article, that each level has something valuable to contribute to society and government and, as Jeff points out in his podcast, success often depends on using input from multiple levels.

So, choosing your vote requires filtering the positives and negatives of each level.  It is not only the ideology that is right or wrong, but also the way it is discerned.  I really like that word as it is a word like judge or discriminate, but has no connotations.  Discern.  How do you do that.

Jeff’s podcast gives several ideas, at one point saying that perhaps you should chose wisdom over ideology.  I agree with that, but I don’t find it very helpful guidance.  One thing that I was surprised that he didn’t say was that perhaps Horizontal development and integrity are just as important as Vertical development.  Vertical development is the hierarchy of Traditional vs. Modern vs. Post-Modern, or the Red / Amber / Orange /Green continuum that Integral and Spiral Dynamics uses to describe social evolution.  But we’ve seen that there are negative traits in each of these, so that’s not enough when making a political decision.  Horizontal development is growth within a particular stage.  It is often seen as “integrity”.

That Horizontal development can be addressed using many facets and factors.  It can be that all Lines of development, such as intellectual, emotional, physical, social, etc., have undergone equal Vertical evolution.  Someone can be post-modern at a cognitive line, but traditional or even pre-traditional at an emotional and social stage.  (In many cases that would be called a sociopath.)  Someone with even development and balance across different kinds of “intelligence” is more likely to have the wisdom that Jeff is talking about.

Another aspect of Integral theory is respect of internal realities vs external ones vs social ones.  These are the four quadrants.  Certainly, a person who regards and takes into account factors from each of these quadrants is more likely to be a successful politician.  And one has to remember that it doesn’t matter what vertical level a person may be at, they can still access each one of these levels and utilize them.  A person with a traditional world view can access their own personal inner reality and values, can appreciate the objectivity of the external world and reality, and can consider social and systemic consequences.  A traditional person who relates to the world more in this way is going to be a more successful and wise politician than one who does not.  In fact they might be a better politician than someone at a “higher” stage who does not have this balance.

Another important aspect of Horizontal development is Shadow Work.  Shadows are the denied and submerged parts of our own mind that can act to sabotage our daily activities.  No matter how enlightened and wise we may think ourselves, if Shadows are not confronted they can ruin everything.  Sometimes entire cultures have Shadows in that there are deep ethnic or cultural injuries that have just never been confronted and absorbed into the main stream.  They then fester as cultural hang-ups.  Certainly a leader or politician who has dealt with their personal hang-ups or Shadows is likely to be more in touch with the positives than someone who has demons or skeletons, no matter what stage they are at.

Personally, I think that Horizontal development is essential to successful Vertical development, and should be a major part of any Integral mentoring or coaching program.  The ones I’ve witnessed recognize this and use it.  Insufficient Horizontal development leads to fixations, i.e. getting stuck in certain aspects of development which then can lead to integrity problems.  Politicians seem to have a lot of those.

The following is my attempt to address a few issues often brought up within the Integral Community.  An understanding of Integral Theory would facilitate understanding it, but I’ve tried to write in in a way that would be accessible to most people.

Level+&-

“Transcend and include” is a central concept in the idea of evolution through the AQAL levels of Integral theory.  As you progress from Traditional to Modern to Post-Modern you are supposed to retain the best parts of the previous level as you migrate to the world view of the next level.  It often doesn’t happen that way because each level believes that it is the only right way to look at things, often rejecting with enthusiasm the values and perspectives of the previous level.  Once one achieves an Integral, Second Tier level, one is open to the value and contributions of each of the previous levels.

Itemizing the pros and cons of each level seems to be a necessary task in order to filter out what gets included and what gets transcended.  Although I have come across a few indirect mentions of this in various readings and podcasts, I feel that it would be valuable to spell these our more directly.  This is what I am attempting to do in this article.

Let’s start with the Traditional / Pre-Rational / Amber level.  This is a particularly important topic because this level represents one of the largest portions of the population, and failure to understand them is at the heart of the current culture wars and the current social tension.  In fact, members of this Traditional level are not all the “basket of deplorables” to which Hillary so unfortunately assigned them.  It is the fact that they are all viewed as some kind of uncivilized, substandard group of people that has led to the reactionary results of the recent American election, and we would be well advised to make sure that we don’t fall into the same mistake here in Canada.

The Traditional level has many strengths.  These have been notably demonstrated during the disasters and tragedies of the last few months.  During the string of hurricanes that hit southern Texas and Florida there were countless stories of individual and group heroism in selfless aid, sharing and community solidarity.  This was a demonstration of Traditional positive values.  They are loyal to community and family.  They are group centric, and feel a moral obligation to that group.  Their trust in their religion gives them strength and hope when pure reason would fail.  There is a spiritual commitment to that religion that translates into a sense of awe about the world and a personal relationship with that spirituality.  In small towns, there is a sense of pride and decency which helps prevent things like delinquency and graffiti.  I have personally sensed that strong community citizenship in the many Midwestern and western towns I’ve visited through the years.  Contrary to being “deplorable”, there is a real core of conservative decency.  These are all valuable traits which undoubtedly enabled the settlement of the New World in the face of many hardships.

However, there are many shortcomings within all of this.  Group-centric more often than not means that the positive qualities of which we speak are only extended to members of that home group.  People who are outsiders or who are different are not included.  This is also true of ideas.  When you are using words like “conservative” or “traditional” you have to understand that they are aimed at preserving the past and are very resistant to change.  Change is a threat to the group and the comforting stability.  Values are linked to a literal interpretation of the rules that define the group, -in N. America this most commonly being one form or another of Christianity.  As it is a pre-rational stage, it doesn’t know how to shine the light of logic or reason onto those rules or customs and so they are inflexibly and stubbornly accepted.  This and the exclusivity caused by group centric beliefs give rise to the more negative traits of discrimination, racism, sexism and a variety of other prejudices, including a suspicion of education and intelligence.  These are the qualities of a smaller world and have to change when one accepts a larger world.

Of course, science and culture do not stand still.  As they evolve they become a threat to tradition.  Galileo was persecuted for suggesting that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.  In modern times that persecution and rejection is aimed at people who believe in evolution and who do not believe the literal, Biblical age of the Earth as 8 000 years.

Often, this cultural confrontation leads to the Traditional level rejecting science and progress in its entirety, and those in the rational levels see this as barbaric.  Intellectualism and science are often ridiculed by the Amber level.  When the rational levels (Orange and Green) view this, they’re likely to put all of the Amber characteristics into one basket and label it deplorable.  That’s a mistake on many levels.  Not only does it deny the many positive characteristics of the Amber level, but it also places them in a defensive position from which they are far less likely to evolve.  When you are defensive, it makes it harder to “transcend”, and those who do are often lacking in the “include” as the jump can often be a traumatic one.  Those who progress from Amber to Orange often divest themselves of all traces of the previous level.  Like the adolescent who has just discovered the power of reason, they turn it on everything else in a frenzy of rejection.  All forms of spiritual involvement are given the hatchet, and often so are the group centric practices of loyalty and obligation.

A similar analysis can be made of the Orange / Modernist / Rational level.  Its strength is obviously the power of reason and science superseding superstition.  It dawned with the Age of Enlightenment, which led to the Industrial Revolution and scientific breakthroughs culminating in the cure of many diseases and putting a man on the moon.  Primitive beliefs about the cause of disease were replaced with an understanding of bacteria and infection, in turn leading to how one can cure them.  Those at the Orange level can respond reasonably to argument and logic (although they don’t always do that).

But the flip side can be the narrow absolutism of materialism.  It leads to determinism, the questioning of free will, capitalism at its worst, and Social Darwinism.  The vitality and awe of the human experience is thrown out with the Amber superstition, leaving the barren landscape of existentialism.  Like Ayn Rand’s character in the novel “We The Living”, it looks out on the world and judges its value only in terms of human need, pragmatic creativity and functionality.  It is beautiful if it was a beautiful human creation.  It can be sterile, opportunist and exploitive due to economic and materialistic pragmatism.  Again, because it believes that it is the only valid world view, it ravages everything outside of its boundaries and in time exaggerates everything within.  While it is a plus that it respects achievement, it is a negative that it respects only achievement and at the cost of so many other values.

And, in turn, we can examine the Post-Modern or Green stage.  The larger scale advancement of the Green / Post-Modernism / Trans-Rational level in the 60s and 70s brought a broader, more inclusive world view often described as Pluralism and a greater degree of relativism in looking at alternative points of view.  It led to a greater movement towards racial and gender equality, above and beyond the formal adjustments that were made under Modernism.  It began greater acceptance of issues around sexual identity and Gay rights.  It began to be more inclusive of other cultures, ascribing to them a degree of internal validity.  All of this acts as an interesting bridge to the Teal or Second Tier world view which embodies the next level in Integral Theory, i.e. the Integral Level.  Compassion was extended not only to other lifestyles and cultures, but also expanded to Nature in general though new environmental awareness.  The ideas of consciousness, self improvement, and things like transactional psychology emerged to extend the world view to the internal (UL) realm.  Parts of spirituality were reclaimed as people realized that pure reason may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when Modernism reacted against Traditionalism, and as a result trans-rational thought began to consider that logic and reason were not the be all and end all.  Placing materialism on a pedestal had the same detrimental effects as dogmatic traditionalism.  And yet, reason had to be held in the equation in all of these new initiatives in order to give it some grounding.  Hence there was an attempt to justify the new spirituality in terms of Quantum Physics, -sometimes a more successful attempt at justification than at other times.

But like all of the other levels, there is an inevitable dark side potential, interestingly being called “mean green” by Integral thinkers.  As was the case with the other levels, there is the tendency to go overboard.  Pluralism often became relativism, where other aspects of foreign cultures were not only considered for merit, but were automatically validated regardless of what it was.  Instead of each opinion having some truth to it, the tendency was to say that all opinions were in fact true, meaning that there was no truth.  This led to two very damaging consequences.  The first was a dominance of relativism and nihilism that did not allow any form of examination or discrimination when dealing with other points of view.  Everything had to be accepted, which means that there was only “include” and no “transcend”.  There was no selection of values to carry forward or leave behind.  There were no positive and negative aspects because total inclusion demanded that you include everything without any such discrimination, leading to a sort of Nihilistic world view.

In a bizarre twist, this morphed into a second consequence.  Everything had to be accepted, except non acceptance.  For that there was extreme intolerance, leading to things like micro aggressions, political correctness, safe spaces and protests against many things that should be regarded as free speech.  To be clear, each of these things have appropriate applications.  People who are psychologically vulnerable need safe spaces and extra consideration.  Hate speech should not be regarded as free speech without special consequences.  But the trend got out of hand and in many cases these principles are being used as the norm, not the exception.  I called it bizarre because imbedded in this there is an inherent paradox.  On one hand Green wants to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of life.  On the other hand they are extremely intolerant of the social levels such as Amber and risk referring to them as a “basket of deplorables”.

Each level, as we’ve seen, has its positive and negative sides.  There seems to be a pattern.  Understanding this allows us to make other conclusions.

First, it answers the original question about “transcend and include”, making it clear that we can leave behind the negative while updating the positive within the previous level and carrying it forward to the new level.

Second, it allows us to understand how an Integral, Second Tier world view can value aspects of each level without necessarily having to accept the more unsavory parts of them which don’t meet new standards of inclusion.  In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in our current state of cultural polarization is the inability of levels to see the positive in the other levels.  This isn’t surprising as each First Tier level tends to see itself as the only valid world view.  However, Second Tier has to learn this lesson, and even Green has to begin to have some sensitivity towards it.  This is the real reason that political Progressives lost so much in the Heartland of America.  Those people felt ignored and demeaned.

Third, it draws attention to the idea that horizontal development is just as important as vertical development.  This means that within any given level there is a lot of personal work to be done.  Integral theory is not just about levels.  Lines of development are just as important.  Making progress in all lines of development such as emotional intelligence, social interaction and spiritual development all are going to have an impact on successful transition to higher levels, not to mention that good, even development just does a lot to help make a good person.  Similarly, shadow work is an essential component at every single level, playing a huge part in the positive vs. negative characteristics.  As I read somewhere recently (can’t remember or I would give credit) and evenly balanced compassionate Amber person is in many ways much better company than a Mean Green person, just as a “nice” ten year old is often a better person than a disturbed adult.

If this is truly a pattern, it should be apparent in the Red / Warrior level.  I feel that it is, with independence and personal achievement being important qualities on the positive side, while lack of empathy, egocentrism and lack of nuance becomes a problem in our modern society.

Similarly, there should be positive and negative aspects to Teal / Turquoise, although I’m not really prepared to go into those here at this time.  Unless the switch to Second Tier magically changes the pattern, it is something that should be seen as an important factor in transition and inclusion.  And since “magic” is more of a Red / Amber thing, my money is on the pattern replicating.

THE POWER OF CEREMONY

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Personal Whining

Yesterday I had the honour of conducting a marriage ceremony for an old student/friend and his bride.  I’m not really qualified to legally notarize a marriage, so the couple was married the day before in a civil procedure by a judge.  However I am sure that the date of yesterday’s ceremony will become the official wedding anniversary.  Why?  Because when it comes to the true meaning and spirit of a wedding, it’s not the stroke of a pen that is significant, but rather the gathering of people who witness a symbolic union.  Part of it is the exchange of rings and the reading of vows, but even more importantly it is the supportive witnessing of the ceremony by friends and family.

This is the nature of ceremony.  It goes beyond signing a document or making a simple proclamation.  There’s a power in ceremony that comes from something beyond words and straight cognition.  Symbolism and ritual go further than words, adding layers of emotion and meaning that penetrate more deeply into consciousness.  People can proclaim something and the result is a shallow understanding.  Ceremony results in an understanding which is deeper and more long lasting.

Modernism often wants to strip out ceremony and symbolism replacing it with practicality.  As a result we’ve forgotten the benefits.  This is particularly true of ceremony related to rites of passage.  “Primitive” and traditional cultures have had ceremony surrounding rites of passage for children, adolescents, adults and seniors, many of which have been abandon or forgotten.  As a result passages through critical stages of life are hollow and aren’t paired with the kinds of symbolic meanings and responsibilities that would permit more authentic transitions.  The transition of an adolescent into an adult is too often punctuated only by acquiring a driver’s licence, getting drunk or sexual conquest.  There is no other ceremonial rite of passage in normal society to facilitate and elevate this transition.  Marriages outside of religious doctrine are often stripped of deeper meaning because alternatives are not easily found.  Post modernism has introduced some “New Age” approaches, but this doesn’t sit well with many people.

The value of ceremony is independent of religion or even cultural expectations.  It can be spiritual, but only need be so in a general way that touches something deeper in our minds.  But it is an important part of our culture of transition and growth that we must reconnect with.

Eventually I want to get to the subject of the surge in vandalism and hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and many other sectors of society.  But first…

Traveling gives you a deep understanding and respect for the fact that civilization is often based on a thin veneer of civility.  By that I mean that for many, human nature hasn’t changed that much over time and from area to area.  When walking through the ruin streets of Pompeii I considered how superficial many aspects of our so called “progress” actually were.  Stripped of laws and institutions, what we normally regard as civilized or even progressive societies could easily revert to an egocentric and warrior like state.

When the civil rights revolution took place in the southern U.S. at the end of the 60s and through the 70s, there was a radical difference in the way that black people were treated.  It wasn’t a perfect situation and there was a lot of residual discrimination and racism.  Obviously, there still is.  But, by and large, a lot of it was submerged and the overall state improved dramatically.  Not because people changed, but because the standards and expectations along with many of the actual rules shifted strongly in the direction of civil rights.  And so it has remained, with racist, pre civil rights sentiments, percolating quietly below the surface, unfortunately still manifesting from time to time, still being addressed in law enforcement, incarceration and many other areas.  But one cannot say that there hasn’t been significant improvement, to the point that a current debate is whether discrimination and inequality still exist, or whether “white privilege” exists.

We see that thin veneer in other areas as well.  Several years ago, here in Canada, riots broke out in Vancouver that surprised everyone.  It was in response to a sports event.  For one strange night the rule of law was suspended and people let loose with their more primitive, violent selves.  This is not unusual, and one can’t help but wonder what the results would be if our society lost the ability to enforce the consequences to the rules and laws that define our society.  What would happen in a natural disaster or an epidemic where police and other emergency resources were unavailable?  Would our better natures take over or would the primitive self lash out in self preservation.  People concerned with survival in such situations are not overly optimistic, claiming that 10% of the population would have little hesitation to stealing your supplies and around 1% might be willing to kill you in order to eat … you.

It’s an old question, often told in literature and films.  My feeling is that a rather large percentage of society is constrained by a very delicate and easily broken veneer of civility, held in check by fear of consequences.  They secretly harbour a world view that places them at the top of the priority heap.

[For clarity, let me explain that I do not hold all people in such regard.  When I’m talking about “human nature” here, I’m thinking about the more primitive, irrational aspects of it.  I’m not even talking about people with a conservative or traditional world view, as it is plain that hatred comes from all parts of a political spectrum.  Our society is progressing and evolving, and there are many who don’t fall into this category.  Unfortunately there are also many who do.]

Herein lays, in my opinion, the basis for the current shift in vandalism we’re witnessing.  Many uncivil people, normally are constrained by the standards of society by which they’re surrounded by rules, examples and expectations.  When you have a prominent person like the President of the United States purposefully taking a sledge hammer to that veneer of civility, many people see it as permission.  They are emboldened by these brash and uncivil expressions of anger and hate, misogyny and racial profiling exhibited by a person who is a powerful symbol and icon of what the social standards should be.  The President’s status in such matters cannot be overemphasized.

Donald Trump has seriously damaged our society, not just in the U.S. but all over the world, by trashing civility and empowering Neanderthal behaviour.  Many things such has his comments about women and encouraging violence and intolerance at his campaign rallies (among so many other things) have set a new standard.  Now nothing keeps in check the base attitudes and opinions which were previously closeted by people because social standards were opposed to them.  Those social standards are no longer in control.

In this light it is easy to understand the bomb threats and vandalism of Jewish gravestones.  It is not reasonable to believe that hatred will be directed only in the limited direction that the U.S. administration chooses.  Hatred is a primitive thing.  Once unleashed it will find its own way into the heart of all people who have been harboring frustrations and prejudices, whether it be against Muslims, people of colour, Jews, gays or whatever is at hand that provides an opportunity to lash out against someone different.

Jews seem surprised at this recent violence and persecution.  I’m not.  It may easily spread to other groups.  Once you open Pandora’s Box, the consequences are out of your control.  Trump did, and it is.  And it will take a long time to reverse.