Category Archives: Politics

Update on Jagmeet Singh and Cultural Inclusion

By Dr David Laing Dawson

A comment on my last blog asked what the question to Jagmeet Singh was and wondered about the relevance of his turban.  Well, the question posed to him by the CBC was if there were any circumstances in which he would support violence. The background to this was his equivocation regarding the Air India mass murder, and his attendance at gatherings alongside Sikh extremists.

Canada is a wonderful experiment. So far one hundred and fifty-one years of a gradually evolving, gradually improving liberal democracy of inclusion. The world needs to watch Toronto: People from a hundred different cultures speaking dozens of different languages living and working within one large metropolis and (as a friend put it with a tone of incredulity) they are not killing one another. This is unique in our world.

There has been a recent increase in gun violence in Toronto but usually it’s young men killing other young men from the same tribe (or gang).

We struggle with, argue about, but make accommodation for religious practice and the wearing of religious and tribal symbols. As long as it does not conflict with the laws of Canada and the rights of others we usually accommodate.

These symbols (dress, hair cutting or covering, metal adornments, tattoos, markings, face coverings) are statements of separation, exclusion, and speak of membership in a specific tribe, religion or cult that may or may not want to adhere to our evolved Canadian social contract. Hence we need to be vigilant and ensure that the practices within these cults do not contravene our laws and our charter of rights and freedoms.

But there is another unspoken but clear message declared by these symbols. And it is the very message we are trying to eliminate in Canada. And that is the message of superiority, of tribal superiority.

These symbols (wearing a cross, a turban, a ceremonial dagger, ringlets and yarmulkes) are statements of membership, but also of superiority. For the unspoken, subtle message is that “I am righteous and you are not; I am going to heaven and you are not; I am favoured by God and you are not.”

I trust that by living in Canada, attending our public schools, and finding life here not too bad, after a couple of generations most will relegate the wearing of these symbols to celebrations and yearly rituals, and think of them only as historical reminders, connections to a past of struggle and sacrifice.

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The Way of Politicians

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The other day I listened to Jagmeet Singh being interviewed by the CBC. He was asked a very specific question. He danced, avoided, interrupted, distracted for a good ten minutes. His performance reminded me of Marco Rubio when asked a direct question by a student: “In the future will you accept donations from the NRA?”

Marco danced around this question like a verbal Nureyev. “I’m glad you asked that question.” is always the first response of faux sincerity. Often followed by “That is a very important question.”

I wondered then if politicians all go to the same politician school.
The one that teaches you how to avoid a question and still sound smart, knowledgeable, reasonable, thoughtful, and absolutely of a firm opinion that something or other is the morally right position. And that “something or other” will be sufficiently vague to offend no one.

Or, slowly but surely, everyone.

No wonder we don’t trust politicians. No wonder we are willing to elect a bullshit artist like Donald Trump, or a Ford brother, because they are, if no more honest than the rest, at least more entertaining. It is almost refreshing to hear Donald Trump lie rather than avoid acknowledging a fact, a truth. He even boasts that he was making it up all along. And then denies that as well. In a funny way, we know where he stands. But not Singh or Rubio.

Politicians. Agggghhh.

But let me keep this close to home. Mr. Singh, you seem smart and modern. Perhaps you are ready to participate in our liberal democracy and lead one of our three political parties. I accept that you practice some clothing and hair worship that dates to the seventeenth century. Every cult leader invents some magical interpretations and incantations to keep his flock in line.

But please leave these historical tribal grievances on the continents from which they sprang and continue to be fertilized. Do not. I repeat, do not bring them here.

And a one act play from David Laing Dawson

Is Science Fiction Becoming Reality?

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Good Science Fiction takes contemporary science, knowledge and theory, and extrapolates, sometimes getting it dead on, or at least exploring in very imaginative ways the moral and ethical issues, the comfort and dangers that might arise from our “progress”. But two common themes have puzzled me over the years: While the heroes and villains zip around in space, or toil on ships, or cross inhospitable planets, the political structure imagined is often feudal, or fascist, or at least Imperial. Not an extrapolation of better and better liberal democracies but usually a dystopian vision of medieval governance with high tech means of citizen control.

The second oddity is private enterprise. In these imagined futures big and often evil corporations own the spaceships, orbiting platforms and planetary settlements.

And I thought neither of these two imagined futures was likely. Surely our democracies will win out, improve, flourish. And surely space exploration will always be the purview of governments and alliances of governments, ideally of the United Nations of this planet.

But I am naïve as usual. Once again the Sci Fi writers may be prophetic. It seems they already imagined the Elon Musks and Donald Trumps of this century. Space exploration may devolve into competing profit-driven private corporations. Our current space station, if Donald gets his way, may become a Disney World/Jurassic Park for well heeled adventurers. And our forms of governance in the 22nd and 23rd century? Who knows?

I watched an old science fiction film the other day. I remembered the first time I saw it it’s impact was minimal, a forgettable entertainment. This time it seemed more closely allied to a horror film. The questions it posed about robots and AI are now upon us. When they, bots, are doing all the work, what will we be doing? When will AI become simply I? And might it turn on us?

It even seemed to me, reading Huxley’s Brave New World, that it was unlikely in our future that some of us humans would be living lives of leisure with our magic technologies in protected cities while thousands of other humans would be living in primitive squalor outside these cities, a step away from being Soylent Green. But now this seems all too possible as well.

Many of these science fiction writers imagined a future in which Big Brother, the Overlords, the Government, the Oligarchy could watch us, listen to us, and then manipulate us with messages designed to fit our psychological profiles. In these stories we are already there; it is already fully developed. Few of them explore the early phases and try to explain how we got there.

Well, now we know. Social Media plus Cambridge Analytica plus Robert Mercer plus his useful idiots. The future is upon us and we need to move quickly to not let it become the dystopias imagined by Huxley,  Wells, Asimov, Dick, and Ursula Le Guin.

And now, for your enjoyment, David Laing Dawson’s musical MacBush – Macbeth done as Bush:

A Porn Star May Be Our Last Hope

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), and Germany’s vice chancellor, Franz von Papen, formally signed a concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich on July 20, 1933.

Hitler had been appointed Chancellor in January of that year.

But this Concordat was just one of the incremental events that opened the door for a criminal dictatorship to evolve and unleash the worst of human potentials.

Trump is not Hitler. Hitler harboured some extreme ideologies and hatreds from the beginning. Trump’s ideology is Trump. America in 2018 is not Germany in 1933. But, like Hitler, Trump is systematically undermining the safeguards of democracy.

Today Trump does not need an agreement with the Vatican to stay away from politics. But he does need, just as Hitler needed Papen, the generals, and the aristocrats – he does need the leaders of the Republican party to treat him like a useful idiot, to faun over him, to excuse him, to believe they are merely using him to achieve their own goals and maintain their power.

Trump has rendered the fourth estate powerless. Any one of their reported scandals and satires might have unseated a politician years ago. But today it all feels like a reality TV show, and thus more entertaining than consequential.

So we are left with an independent judiciary and independent law enforcement. But now it appears we are entering the end game.

I have described Trump as mentally and emotionally about 14. He says he is a “stable genius”. I would dispute the “stable” qualifier, but he just might be a genius, an evil genius, an evil genius with the emotional stability, cognitive apparatus, and vocabulary of a 14 year old. His methods, be they accidental or planned, of commanding the news cycles, provoking others to do his dirty work, testing the waters (“Maybe we should kill the drug dealers”), sewing the seeds of distraction, sewing rumours, bold lies repeated and repeated, and first killing off the ground support of any major impediment – this may be narcissistic and sociopathic, but it is clever.

And now, one of his few major obstacles is Mueller. Nunes, Fox and Friends have been kicking at Mueller’s shins. And now Trump, unfettered, is attacking him directly. There is talk of a “constitutional crisis” if Mueller is fired. But it seems to me it will only be a crisis if the Republican party and the judiciary object.

Our last hope may be Stormy Daniels. God speed Stormy, bring this monster down.

The Ungovernables

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In response to an anarchist destruction spree in Hamilton

The sixteen year old tells me he doesn’t think he should ever have to do something someone else wants him to do. He should be able to go to work when and if he wants to. He should eat lunch when he wants to, not at “lunch break like a bunch of sheep”. He should be able to come and go as he pleases. There shouldn’t be rules.

He goes on in this vein as an infant in a large male body. The egocentricity is astonishing. Sometimes it is the product of a recent failure or loss. Sometimes I can see anxiety and depression in the background. Sometimes I wonder about the parenting, and the grade 11 teacher who says to his students, “Call me Steve.” Usually it’s a phase, a brief developmental phase. The carefree egocentrism of the child bumping hard against the challenge and complexity of the adult world. The smart kid throws in a bit of existential philosophy. The not so smart kid just wants to keep his bong in his bedroom.

They have usually grown past this phase in a couple of years, developed some empathy for others, found some satisfaction and confidence in completing something and being praised for it, lost some of their fear of this big clumsy chaotic but organized world.

Some don’t grow out of this phase it seems and they become “anarchists”. They have learned enough to use that word to describe their state of mind, their second hand philosophies, without learning about the historical consequences of anarchy. They crave an absolute freedom that always breeds a terrible tyranny.

Fortunately the very concept of anarchy is antithetical to organization. Anarchists can’t get together and form a club and expand that into a movement that holds and succeeds.

At least that was not possible until Social Media. Now with social media it is possible to gather together at least a small group of “anarchists”  and wreak havoc for a night.

I don’t know if the “Ungovernables” or anarchists appreciate the irony of being organized for a night of havoc, destruction, and terror. Fortunately their very rebellious nature precludes a large and persistent and successful organization.

Social media has made it possible for some very good gatherings and organizations to occur, and these can grow and flourish and stay organized and bring about positive change in our social contracts and societal rules. So I think we needn’t be horrified when a small group of so-called “Ungovernables” manage to wreak a night of havoc. No matter their rallying cry and their stated childish grievances they are just adolescents engaged in some thrill seeking vandalism.

We should simply investigate, arrest when possible, and apply our laws and our due process.

Looking At Trump and Thankful for a Constitutional Monarchy

By Dr David Laing Dawson With an Addendum by Marvin Ross

Mike Pence looks upon Donald Trump with besotted eyes. Six months after the election Trump can get a crowd chanting “Lock her up.” I watch Jeffrey Lord, once an acolyte of Ronald Reagan, crawl through semantic swamps to throw himself at the feet of The Donald.

I read many accounts of how and why Donald Trump won that election: The forgotten citizens of the rust belt, of coal country and small town America. The rise of a populist leader sewing division, preying on our instinctive distrust of the other tribes who may covet our watering hole.

But I am also aware of very many successful cult leaders, men who can grow a following of thousands (or millions) in order to steal all the gold and the young women. To say nothing of tin pot dictators, cruel despots, and other false prophets.

It all speaks to a flaw in our human character, and a flaw, like many of our flaws, that once had survival value.

I’m sure when we lived in the jungles, even when we rode horseback on the prairies, and our tribes were beholden to a single alpha male, when we even sometimes thought of this alpha male king as a God king, we were stronger as a tribe when we offered blind allegiance, when we never questioned his decisions, and when we overlooked his indiscretions and malfeasance. Not that long ago we would shout “For King and country” as we rushed off to war.

This all implies an ability (a tendency) we have to project unto our leader, our king, the strongest of our desires and wishes, to assign to him the kinds of wisdom and compassion and strength that we would wish to see in our leaders, and in ourselves. We see such a leader, not as he really is, but as we would want him to be. Donald was right when he said his base would still vote for him if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

With the checks and balances of the American Constitution, with the equally powerful House, Senate, Judiciary, and with the fourth estate intact, America may survive this despot and our very human tendency to see someone as we wish to see ourselves.

But I write this really as a plea to keep our constitutional monarchy in Canada. We humans need a King or Queen and a Royal Family, as long as they have no legislative power. Then we can project into them all that we wish to. We can revere them, talk about them, read the gossip and inside dope, admire their wealth and stateliness. We can argue about their usefulness and cost. We can enjoy the pomp and circumstance. They can be our symbols of power and goodness. They can be the embodiment of our collective.

And as long as we have a monarchy it will let us see Justin Trudeau as a guy doing a half decent job as a member of parliament and, for now, our Prime Minister. Fully human, entirely replaceable. Even though he made the cover of Rolling Stone, we will still listen to what he says and watch what he does, and judge him accordingly. And we and our parliament will hold him accountable for all that he says and all that he does.

Addendum

Aside from the existence of the Electoral College, the biggest problem with the US system is the separation of powers. Because of that, the executive branch headed by the president is separated from Congress.  While the Vice President resides over the Senate, the president has the power to veto all bills passed while not sitting in either the Senate or the House.

In a Parliamentary System, the Prime Minister (PM) or the premier in Canadian provinces is an ordinary member of the legislature elected by his constituents in a local riding. He or she becomes the head person when elected by the party. As such, the PM sits in the legislature and is responsible to it, the local constituency and to the party. During question period, members of the opposition have the opportunity to ask questions of the PM and the cabinet in what is often a very heated exchange. That heated exchange is televised and often clips are on the nightly news.

If this institution was part of the US system, Mr Trump would have to sit in the legislative branch and be grilled on his policies. That would make for great TV.

 

The Rise of the Far Right

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In the 1988 presidential debates Mike Dukakis was asked whether he would support the death penalty should his wife, Kitty, be raped and murdered. A long time opponent of the death penalty, Dukakis responded to the startling question from CNN’s Bernard Shaw, “No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life.”

It struck me at the time that Dukakis missed a moment in which he could be human, present himself as fully human, and at the same time as worthy of being a president.

He could have answered, “Of course. If a man raped and murdered my wife I would want to disembowel him; I would want to kill him in a manner that caused him maximum pain and suffering. Which is exactly why we have laws, and courts, and due process. Which is exactly why it cannot be my choice as victim or survivor to decide in the heat of the moment what should happen to the accused or convicted. Which is exactly why, to remain a civilized people, we must decide on appropriate penalties that will keep us civilized, that will not harden or poison our souls, that will not undermine our social contract. If the state does not value life, why should its people?”

And herein lies a human dilemma. We are biologically not far removed from chimpanzees and great apes. Our instincts, our immediate emotional responses, have been honed for years as jungle tribes. We guard our own watering hole. We are reluctant to share. We distrust the other. We are greedy. We are vengeful. We are easily brought to rage.

But, at least since the second world war, with many attempts before then, we have managed to overlay our primate instincts with a social contract that includes the rule of law. We have elected many leaders who could see beyond their primate selves and form alliances, be inclusive, share watering holes. We have created international forums, unions, agreements. At least in much of Europe and North America.

But those primitive instincts remain, the ones that led to the Holocaust, the massacres in Bosnia, the plight of the Rohingya, the destruction of Syria, the building of walls. They lie not far beneath the surface of each human. It is our collective that can overcome them, and that collective must have leaders and lawmakers who can see beyond their immediate fears and desires. Leaders and lawmakers who appeal to our better selves.

We always have had would-be leaders who could reach in and stoke our fears, fire up our distrust and hatred, get us ready to pick up torches and weapons, defend our watering holes from thirsty strangers, set upon those unlike ourselves in our villages. But, for the most part we have rejected them and chosen instead the Merkels and the Obamas. Trade has flourished. Europe has seen a long period of peace, cooperation, and open borders. Overall the people of this planet live longer and healthier lives than ever before.

I am writing this because a cousin asked me to write about the current struggles in Austria, where a far right fascist party has gained enough support to become part of a coalition government. This is happening seventy-two years after the death of Adolf Hitler, 90 years after the early Nazi’s received only 779 votes in a general election in Austria (1927), and 79 years since Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

I know little of the intricacies of Austrian life and politics. But this resurgence of the far right neo-fascist movement is occurring nearly everywhere in the west. Its leaders are appealing to our primate instincts, our rat brains. And this time, just as in the years between 1927 and 1938, they are finding more and more people responding to their simple message.

They stoke our fears and our grievances. Some of these are real. Most are manufactured or displaced. They point the finger at the other, the cause of our trouble. We respond and chant “Lock her up.” “Build a wall.” “Divorce Europe.” “Stop Immigration.”

We should have learned, especially Austrians, where this can lead. But apparently we didn’t.

Neo-fascism, jingoism, isolation, the breaking of alliances, the undermining of cooperation and the weakening of our international institutions will not fix our problems. And from recent history we know exactly where this trend can lead.

Our instant access of unfiltered world wide information, some truth, some fake, has us grossly exaggerating our risk. We find ourselves afraid of events that have a miniscule chance of occurring. We fear a terrorist attack more than we fear riding a motorcycle, when clearly death by motorcycle is far more likely than death by terrorist. Donald Trump can make us fear illegal immigrants when that, statistically, should be the least of our worries.

We do have real problems, problems big enough to spell the end of a habitable earth.

Paradoxically, these real problems can only be addressed by the unified, cooperative, inclusive, citizenry of one planet. These real problems cannot be addressed by walled off, exclusive, defensive separate states, each populated by a homogenous group of humans who feel they are the chosen.

We are really all at risk because of an interrelated set of developments:

  • Over population
  • Extremely uneven wealth distribution
  • Man-made global warming.
  • And a large subset of problems that flows from these three.

We can change this, turn it around, make progress, but only if we can function as the citizenry of one world, only if we have strong international institutions, only if we recognize that we will survive together or perish alone.

Trick or Trump

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I had in my office yesterday an 11 year old who was in a bit of trouble at school. His defense was “Kevin did worse than me and he didn’t get in trouble.”

I laughed and then explained to the parents that I had just read a Donald Trump tweet along the same lines, “What about Crooked Hillary and the Dems.”

The parents smiled warily, but the boy took offense. He did not like being compared to Donald Trump. I tried to explain that deflecting the blame, or trying to do that from an immature sense of playground fairness, was quite appropriate at his age. He was still unhappy that I had compared him to Donald Trump.

Then I saw a 12 year boy, a little fire-plug of a kid who happens to have a mop of blonde hair, a square face, and a passable rendition of a Donald Trump pout. I asked if he was going to go out Halloween as Donald Trump. No way he told me. There are too many Donald Trumps. He was dressing as a robber. Besides, Donald Trump is stupid.

So, at least, I concluded, the fear that Donald Trump might be a role model for our children, at least our Canadian children, is unfounded.

Trump And/Or God?

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In Richard Russo’s novel, “Nobody’s Fool”, Rub Squeers, sometime friend of Sully (played by Paul Newman in the movie), often says with a stutter, sometimes to Sully, sometimes to himself, “You know what I w-wish -t?”

His wish is usually for a small improvement in his circumstances, never realized. Yet, he is optimistic and quite endearing.

The moment science reported that those among us with a modicum of optimism live longer, recover faster from illness, and tolerate chronic illness better than pessimists, a poster went up in the hallway of a mental health center I visit, proclaiming HOPE in bold letters. It has since come down.

I thought of these things while watching a bunch of religious (or faith community) leaders praise Donald Trump and the power of prayer in the oval office. One went as far as to announce that we all know prayer works. They each thanked Donald within the same paragraph they thanked God, knowing, I’m sure, who really had the power to dispense favour at this moment.

Of all the players in these three separate stories I think I prefer the simple honesty of Rub Squeers. He wishes, and momentarily it gives him hope and small pleasure, but he has few expectations as he trundles on getting by.

And prayer itself. I have always had a problem with prayer. Okay, it can support hope; it can strengthen community, but this juxtaposition of the stroking of Trump’s ego and the appeals to God certainly drew a clear parallel. For prayer itself implies that before God might notice my suffering, I must praise him. Not just praise him, but prostrate myself before him, beg him to intervene. So that image of God, that particular concept of God, involves an ego even bigger than Donald Trump’s. God the narcissist.

And as long as they have prayer I suppose they can continue to pave over the wetlands, ignore the disrepair of the damns, dykes, levees and drainage systems, cut taxes, remove environmental regulation, promote unfettered growth, and ignore climate change.

The Obama Legacy

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I have had a lifetime of sitting in a comfortable chair, walking safe streets, and observing the struggles of our neighbour to the south. Beneath their constant boasting I witnessed their progress, through Kennedy, desegregation, Johnson, Alabama, Martin Luther King, until finally they elected a black president. Which meant, I thought, that at least half of the population of the United States had worked through their demons of oppression and slavery, of segregation, of racism. Their future looked bright. And if the future of the USA looks bright so does that of the rest of the world.

But when I listen to Donald Trump, to Steve Bannon, to Harvey Weinstein for that matter, and many other white male Americans of age, I realize how much their terrible history is still in play. For beneath all of their bluster, their provocations, their aggression, there lies a deep pool of fear and guilt. Or guilt and then fear, which would be the correct order. Guilt to fear and then to aggression.

It is embodied by Donald Trump. It is being played out by Donald Trump on the world stage. His narcissism is astounding, as is his ability to lie, but he embodies another dynamic that must be addressed if the USA is not going to implode. And that is Donald’s fixation on Barack Obama.

With much of what Trump says he leaves unspoken a final sentence that is beginning to ring loudly in my ears. And that is the removal of the “stain” of Barack Obama; the castration and lynching of Obama, expunging him from history.

The dynamic is guilt (guilt from deeds and thoughts and a denied history) which leads to a fear of retaliation, which is quickly turned into aggression.

It is risky applying individual psychology to the behaviour of groups and nations but over the past 50 years I think I have been watching Cognitive Behavioural Therapy being applied to America’s history of slavery, violence, segregation and racism. Superficially much progress has been made. “We shall overcome.” But I think they need Desmond Tutu. Some truth and reconciliation. A full catharsis if we are not to see this cycle repeated again and again.

That is (and perhaps it will be possible in the backlash choice of president after Donald Trump), they need to really face their history, the truth of slavery, the remnants of the civil war, their guilt and fear. It could start with a loud and public discussion about all those civil war monuments and what to do with them.

After that they could look at the guilt they must feel for the destruction they unleashed on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Perhaps if that is ever faced we will no longer read that 50% of Republicans are in favour of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.