Whiteness is Goodness

On the eve of the 10th annual month-long Tapestry, Celebrations of Diversity, I am looking around at my environment just before the launch of the region’s LGBTQ communities’ “Pride on King,” and asking what has changed in the 10 years since I created the event – or rather umbrella brand for a series of events each year – that recognizes diversity and inclusion. In an age where the media reports on the likes of Anders Breivik’s horrific actions, or the constant reminder of intolerance by the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, is there evidence of diversity as a social strength?

Here in Canada, in Waterloo Region – do we live in fear of our neighbors, or do we have a chip on our shoulder about the ‘others,’ a malfeasant colonial habit that creates homogenous stereotypes of those that are, well, different? Can I even perceive oppression as a white Canadian? Though one that was not born in this country, it didn’t take long at an early age to be assimilated into the white race of dominance in our culture, much more say than my father who has struggled with an accent that admittedly is different from the majority of Canadians.

 It was easy for me; I had the language of the playground and North American television, and I grew up in a community where my high school graduation photo looks more like the UN General Assembly.  We all had to get along from an early age back then in the North Mississauga neighbourhood. Moving to Kitchener and Waterloo twenty-odd years ago was more of a culture shift with its Bavarian influence and monoculture. That had changed by the early millennium. I remember pitching the idea for a series of diversity events one day 10 years ago and walking back to the office I was amazed that I did not see one white person on the short trip. I new the time was right for Tapestry.

Is Tapestry still relevant? I think so, if for the reason’s that racism and the unspoken edict that ‘whiteness is goodness’ still exists in our Canadian society. Just take a look at The Canadian Immigration Reform Blog and you will get a sense of the seething fear laced with stereotype and fallacy. It’s slightly contradictory but – my warning – it rings true unless you begin to deconstruct racism or the post colonial realities of continued oppression. In this context it’s unendearing bullshit. Hopefully most of you will see through it quickly enough that you will pass it off as falsehood, but the fact that this exists is provocative. The fact that this is in many respects close to a mainstream view – I say that because there are many more militant examples of paranoia out there – you can see people with this kind of thinking exist all around us.

I was in a bank several months ago when two gentlemen from, and I apologize for the assumption, an African country, greeted one another as they passed each other by. They were rather loud compared to the quietness in the bank, and I was impressed by the happiness they displayed with their greeting as if they were old or true friends. Did I say they were speaking in another language? That’s the important part; Important enough that as they paused, the white gentleman in front of me ‘huffed’ a bit. Then, he shifted his feet. I could tell he was annoyed for some reason and I could feel it coming. He spoke out loud enough that others in the bank could hear:”Why don’t you speak English!” Apparently the two Africans didn’t hear as they carried on their way smiling and laughing lightheartedly. The man with the annoyance turned to me and said, “Can you imagine that?” All I could say was, “What?” He huffed and turned back in line.

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The God Article – no shit!

Fellow parishioners of a soulful life, I had the opportunity tonight to take in the blog The God Article and it meets with my sensibilities. It’s a curse I may have that searching for answers takes me so far into uncharted territory and I apologize for my opening sentence, it only means that I am convinced that we are able to develop human conditions that extend our existence beyond biological functioning enough that tolerance and the ability to live civilly are possible, regardless of beliefs. It is diversity that makes us unique. I kinda like these progressive Christians who take a similar approach though with God front and centre. Big up!

Back to The God Article. The blog is substantially contemporary in its coverage of politics, feeding flames of outrage over North Carolina’s recent anti-same-sex legislation, and it makes no apologies for being involved in politics at any level. It may be the only place that I find walking on egg shells for me at least, but I have to delve deeper into this later, after all, it’s contemporary stature is enough to see the difference in approach to politics in such things like “All=All” in reference to a Christian approach to “god’s Children” in a positive and tolerant sense. It’s not undermining other religious beliefs.

While I may not crack the fundamental questions of existence myself, the Progressive Church movement in the United States seems to be comfortable enough with themselves that they invite “intellectual questioning,” in fact, it is one of their tenants. Not sure how this plays out as my inability to step over the threshold of a Church has still left me out on the sidewalk, but it’s a start. Maybe the conversation can exist in virtual reality and on facebook as I will hopefully invite some participation by friending in the near future. By the way, any progressives out there, you can find me on FB at Brian W. Scott, from Kitchener. And the rest can find The God Article on facebook as well. Don’t have to like them – just take a look. And oh, take a look at Progressive Christianity on Wikipedia.

Still seeking the path: not for the light of heart…

The thought of living until a ‘ripe old age’ may not be well-wishing. Statistically we are living longer, but are we overlooking quality of life? And more so, how is that quality, from a rational perspective, impacted by the choices we have already made today, or even yesterday. Can we remove ourselves from the past and start fresh with a ‘new lease’ on life? Can we stop the clock all together if we meditate enough?

A conversation I had recently leads me to think that what we have done in our lives, our behaviors, as unpredictable and non-determined as they are through their course, have the effect of determining our longevity more so than what we can do about them in the future or even the present. Perhaps I am being fatalistic just a little bit.

We refer to this in a number of ways inadvertently in common parlance: We oppose as self-guilt what we may have to spend a lifetime making up for, though we try to overcome this by living in the present and applying techniques such as mindfulness and other therapeutic encounters oblivious to the challenges of existence. There is enough to worry about here; are we merely settling, or are we trend-searching?

On the other hand we may take off down the path of reinvention by adhering to strict diets and exercise to stave off an early passing only to replace one form of self loathing with another or one form of compulsion with a new addiction. It is little wonder that stress is the number one risk factor for an early death and we are more likely addicted to stress culturally.

The conversation made me think of lack of foresight that most of us have. Most of us lack the attitude unconditionally of leveraging our lot in life. We rail at the one per cent, and we are slowly being dragged to a stop by alternative philosophies and pseudo-science that coincides with our defensiveness and inability to handle the guilt and shame we were taught since we were young. Get over it! When did we break out into collective catatonia?

I am waiting for the return journey from my incredulity here. It will come, I’m sure, when I have more time to think (and feel ashamed); balance in the world will be restored but I have to accept the idea that we are still trying to realize the perfect in our imperfection. Maybe evidence of a truer picture will come my way, but there’s one thing that I hope I will still believe, and that is that we are walking contradictions; this time around. It seems I need a little more meditation.

Atheism’s Time Has Come?

I recently posted about faith in which I suggested that the unknown is a precursor to theological belief, and that reason is epistemologically unsound. That is to say, we have certain imperatives we conveniently take for granted including knowledge of ourselves which have more akin to faith than truth.

 A certain confluence of ideas has lead me to look more closely at atheism and its apparent expanding influence as a form of activism if the recent article “Why Atheists Have Become a Kick-Ass Movement You Want on Your Side” posted in Network for Church Monitoring is to be taken at face value and there is no reason it shouldn’t. It is an interesting thread weaved through possibly more loosely connected circumstance that indicates a movement of atheists – a collective action.

I am not trying to criticize the article however I am looking for leadership, and that’s one of the pitfalls of the atheist edict. It has luminaries, Dawkins and the late Hitchens, and even charitable organizations such as The Foundation Beyond Belief.  I am just looking for an institution. Perhaps this is science itself. Maybe it is reason. But these don’t collect dues and encourage piety on their own. Even ethics play only a small part. Who do we look for in leadership if the greatest claim to discovery and understanding is peer reviewed? Perhaps we can stand behind the periodic table.

What I am going to suggest – borrowing from science – is that atheism is itself emerging as part of a complex system involving the sharing of ideas through technological advancement.  There are at least two reasons for this: The article indicates that the response of atheism to societal issues is based not on an unwavering dogma, but on the flexibility and timeliness of information through channels. Citing several examples of internet-based outcries, atheists are able to combine to produce effective results in a spontaneous network alliance. The second reason I am suggesting is that effective mobilization is greater and more impactful than its actions. There is the potential for a tipping point: the language of atheism is more recognized, there are more organizations forming, and lessons are being learned.  Put it this way: perhaps it’s ‘an idea whose time has come.’

One such idea is that there can never be an institution of atheism. Atheism has therefore an uphill struggle against those that have staked out territory. Atheism – the absence of deity is imperfect. It raises no buildings to itself, it raises only more questions. It is limited in its creativity and tied to our time and experience. It debunks mythology and soul searching. It cleanly erases faith. Why then should we be enthusiastic about this movement at all?

In my mind it is balance. I observe balance when one side has been too powerful and exhibits the out of control ideological patterns of dominance and gain. It’s a collective evil of group think to allow continuous advancement without caution in global change. The need for a new balance comes from experiencing conflict and desperation in humanity. It comes from pain and suffering, neglect and isolation which need to be eradicated – if possible. I can only hope that I am right to see the opportunity for balance with such a system as atheism. I want a strong counterweight if I am not allowed to have faith.

The arts should receive a better welcome mat

I have had the opportunity in the past to support the arts in Kitchener in a direct way, acting as a catalyst for community based arts projects and achieved some success. At last, the grand experiment – the way that I saw it – came to an end with a combination of institutional restructuring and personal misfortune due to health reasons, but I’m looking once more at this recent past and wondering what can be learned.

An  article in the Vancouver Observer discussed the exodus of arts organizations and artists from the community due mostly to gentrification – though even that is now debated as other markets such as Toronto have seen increased support for the arts. Gentrification, the article suggests, only goes so far and other dynamics need to come into play to thwart the hoards of land speculators such as embracing the arts, and creating markets whereby art is consumed readily.

I do like the comment that the arts are paid lip service by being put in a box to the side and brought out every once in a while to coincide with political agendas, and yes, there are enough examples in Vancouver where greater politicking can leverage support although the demise of The Playhouse illustrates just how tenuous a reliance on government funding can be during fickle times and with awkward business models.

Locally, my experience paralleled some of the comments made in the article around development and nurturing. The article ends with a tip-of-the-hat to building more effective relationships with governments that do little other than dole out funds without entering the murky world of cultural development where my experience begins. I have seen this in action. As I have said, my direct involvement has tapered out over the past couple of years though I understand the lessons that those willing and healthy enough to make a difference should learn in order to walk ahead of the crowd and not watch culture roll up its welcome mat in Waterloo Region.

First and perhaps the most useful lesson is that more is in fact better. Now obviously there are some conditions to this as those that eschew competition will attest to. The ability to collaborate in the marketplace of consumer choice is an advantage but there are enough niche fulfillments (happenings) to persevere. This is what the buzzword vibrant means: To vibrate. I always think of it as the “and so on,” factor where people will bring a friend to a show, who will in turn eventually invite two more, “and so on,” especially since word of mouth and social media creates primary opportunities for promotion. Just check my inbox.

My second value of a cultural scene is the willingness of development partners to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.  There has to be a combination of outspoken advocacy at all levels and an urgency of responsiveness to the landscape. There has to be an effective mixer beating the batter into a vibrating mass, and this involves a long term commitment. I hear terms all the time like “support for the arts” but they are hollow without a mandate. I’m noticing a silence of late locally and I am paying attention. I have not heard a clear message or announcement on arts development in several months and I remain connected enough to hear. Where has all the momentum gone of Regional initiatives and rhetoric of hope?

The last, but by all means not the least important value is development from the ground up. I have personally been involved in projects that started with an idea and have emerged as arts organizations, taking root when the ecology of risk and support has allowed growth (re-read above.) This is the community development approach to the arts. It looks around at the network-shifting nodes and engages in conversations about possibility – how do we move this forward? Who do we need to connect with? Where are we going to get a space for free and can we get this printed please? The answer is yes. For some reason corporations like to institutionalize support around policy and procedure – call it bureaucracy. The unfortunate circumstance is that we access – especially in the arts – resources differently. We are more informal at the outset. We have particular identities – heck, we claim identity as motivation – and we are in most respects non-conformist. On the front lines you here this over and over again: the arts are not defined by a business model and the skill sets need to be developed in conjunction with creativity and support for content – not the cart before the horse. This is called enabling. It’s not a dirty word!

Advocacy and animation are two sides of a coin in my experience. Being light on your feet and willing to take a risk add another coin to the purse. We aren’t speaking of large amounts of funding. We are speaking of catalytic forces. I am particularly fond of the term “Flying Squad,” from its original and informal pronouncement with the London (UK) Police derivation of a special unit that knew no bounds. It is this kind of approach that provides the best results of mashable, vibrant success. It’s also based primarily on the application of human capital, where one individual with the right mandate can leverage outcomes. More than one individual with this approach would be a luxury in a community. The lessons, while left for the reader to debate or refute, are experiences that were developed through the learning and possibility philosophy I called ‘engage and activate.’ They shouldn’t, however, be treated lightly. They need to be a part of the strategy. They ought to see light again.

Ill-tempered Children are a Common Breed

Is it me and my selfishness or is Canada becoming more polarized socially? A friend of mine calls it “tribes of belief” instead of breaking out into original thought or reasonable discourse. We are too often spoon-fed dogma; someone else’s.  Go team! Pro this or anti that, the landscape has become a flat pitch onto which opposing sides battle mercilessly. It’s all too easy to spew vitriol at the opposition.

In addition to my friend’s insights, others have squared the blame on social media though I am not convinced: maybe perhaps the advance of media where a tweet is not worth a thousand words and explanation and attention are in short supply. I suppose these ills are apparent; however I intuitively feel it is deeper than that, a kind of discontent with the present where powerlessness is felt not just by those youthful enough to consume the fleeting.

I’m looking at several examples. The first would be the reaction by a majority of Canadians to the Quebec student protests. It appears as though anyone willing to identify a cause and march in support these days is risking an ire more akin to petulance – something you wouldn’t expect from those liberalized boomers that created the tactic of demonstration and mobilization for a cause.  Or are we seeing the spoiled aging cohort take on a more sinister face; the post-war boom becomes “only us,” we did it, and no one else can have the privilege thereafter.

I’ll take the annoyance factor one step farther. Soon you will not be able to demonstrate anonymously behind a face mask, bandana or kerchief. You’ll be in violation of the legal right of law enforcement to establish your identity – ahead of any malfeasance. But let’s not riot in the streets just yet. There are many other examples of polarization. Take the political left and right. We may be entirely influenced by verbal jibes from south of the boarder in a run-up to a presidential election – where histrionics appear as part of the play book. The US Republicans accuse each other of not being conservative enough and an industry has grown up around this to tackle everything from climate change to human reproductive rights.

Sitting across the border, we are apparently lacking of a few lessons from the South as their approach is piling up. Local backbenchers bring forth private members bills that would see the opening of debate on abortion in a thinly veiled exchange of legal review.  This is the thing of fascism, where the anonymous and powerless masses sit by, and willingly pay tribute to their favourite side. I put this down to our economy and our leadership at the moment. To not engage in debate only serves to strengthen the narrow ideals of a few. Let’s face it, economically we have all been kicked in the guts recently and there is no end-zone in site if you believe the dailies.  The global threats to our social safety net are mirrored by the adjustments being made at home and supported by ideologues that are only accountable every four years.

Listen up folks, we are hear for quite a while on this earth so we better get used to working together. Intolerance and peevishness result in a lose, lose scenario where we are forced to look over our shoulders every day. My next door neighbor felt the force of a querulous so-and-so who called the police because their jack-russell was making far too much noise. Admittedly the thing is a bit of a yap but the altercation heated up with accusations that the supposed ill-tempered beast caused complaints by all of those within earshot. Not true, or else I would be on the phone complaining myself.   After all, I can be just as petulant as the next guy.