Coloniser or Egophrenic?

columbus

Just as South Africans are ambivalent about Jan van Riebeeck, so Christopher Columbus is an enigma for America. For some, both are heroic explorers who brought civilisation to benighted continents. But for the native inhabitants of Africa and America these “civilisations” also brought a form of disease that turned us into cannibals. That is the theory of the late Jack D. Forbes, former professor of Native American Studies of the University of California at Davis.
In his book, “Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism”, Forbes argued that Europeans brought a mind virus which Native Americans already knew and had named “Wétiko”.

Those infected by Wétiko manifest attitudes where, Brutality knows no boundaries, Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. Arrogance knows no frontiers. Deceit knows no edges.” It is the opposite of what Africans call Ubuntu. In Xhosa it is Umoya omdaka (Bad spirits).
As one who doesn’t believe in the reality of a physical being called Satan, or in evil spirits, I find the notion of a mind virus intriguing. Even more so when I read the work of Paul Levy who builds on Forbes’ work in his book “Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil.” (2013). Drawing his insights from Jungian psychology, shamanism, alchemy, spiritual wisdom traditions, and personal experience at the hands of traditional psychiatry, Levy shows that hidden within the venom of wetiko is its own antidote, which once recognised can help us wake up and bring sanity back to our society.
Levy translates wetiko as “malignant egophrenia” (ME). The acronym “me” is not coincidental because the disease causes psychic vision to focus on “me” rather than on the needs of anyone else. This is not mere narcissism or self absorption either. Malignant egophrenia is the disease of industrial civilisation, an economic, political, and social arrangement which requires violence to maintain itself. Every inhabitant of industrial civilisation is infected with the ME disease, but Levy notes that “full blown” Wetikos “are not in touch with their own humanity and therefore can’t see the humanity in others.”

The disease propagates through the ego’s self preservation system which projects its own darkness onto others and then destroys them with sexism, racism, xenophobia, tribalism… the list is endless. And while it is important to name evil as it manifests, its eradication begins with ourselves. We need to become intimately acquainted with our own shadow and the difference between what Jung called the daemon (guardian angel or muse) in us and the demon.

“The daemonic,” says Levy, “is the urge in every human being to affirm itself, assert itself, and perpetuate itself; it is the voice of the generative process within an individual.” Loving our creativity and nurturing it is an enormous asset in transforming both internal and external darkness. But our fears of imagined threats from others stifle us from allowing the daemon to lead us and instead we become the demons of destruction in the lives of others.

How to avoid being President.

notpresident

Having been overexposed to the election and inauguration of the 45th president of the United States while being simultaneously overwhelmed by last year’s reportage on the president of this fair land I have come to a decision. I hereby give formal notice that I don’t want to be the president of the USA, RSA or any other country,… ever.
So determined am I never be nominated, let alone elected to the office, I have made up my mind to develop the following range of characteristics that will disqualify me from consideration.

Firstly, I will work hard at not being a bully. No matter how much power I may have, I will never use that power to strong-arm people into submission. My money, resources or position will never be a reason to humiliate and abuse weaker people or groups.

Secondly, I will continue to be inclusive of all ideas especially those that differ from my own. Aware that I have learnt most from people who challenge my thinking, I will consciously open myself to hearing views and opinions I don’t enjoy or agree with. I will try to understand how my opposers came to believe as they do.

Thirdly, I am not going to trust my ego to guide my decisions and behaviour. Suspicious of my tendency to be selfish and self serving and aware of how much I like to be liked, I will choose truth over popularity and fame. I will also remind myself that praise and blame are both imposters who don’t stick around for long.

Fourthly, I am going to see women, gay, LGBTQ persons and disabled people as deserving of exactly the same consideration as heterosexual men. Cognisant of my uniqueness, I will afford others the courtesy of being their own unique selves too. I know that gender, sexual orientation and physicality are not the measure of worth in people. Oh yes, and I will not mock or mimic people from these groups in an attempt to be funny.

Fifthly, when I do something to assist another it will not be to get something in return or to privilege someone from my family or friends. My guiding truth will be that every person is equal before the law and should have equal opportunity to compete for positions and profits without prejudice or preference.

Lastly I am going to sustain interest in the diversity of all people on the planet. Their cultures, languages, religions and customs fascinate me and I will try to learn from them without trying to make them conform to my code and my creed.

I believe the six values and habits outlined here are a sure way to avoid being a candidate for president. Being a person like this I know no one will vote for me and I will avoid having what some have described as the most stressful jobs on the planet.

I will never be famous or followed but perhaps I will live peacefully with my soul.

Don’t underestimate the power of addiction.

fb-addictedA few weeks weeks into this year there’s a good chance your resolutions haven’t made it this far The idea that we can change our behaviour as easily as making a new year declaration is an ancient but impractical one.

Like the new year fireworks that dazzle for a few minutes and then are overwhelmed by the dark night, our good intentions glimmer with the hope of a different way of being, but soon succumb to the dark ruts of our well formed habits. Perhaps it is time we realise that what we regard as unskillful ways of living may be the only ways we are able to cope with the reality of our harsh lives? Maybe it is going to take more than intention, a self help article or a motivational speaker to get me out of the the rut that is my life?
One reason resolutions for change don’t work is we underestimate the power of our addictions. Many of the reforms we want to see in the new year relate to deeply entrenched habits we depend on to survive.

It is sad that our culture defines substance abusers as the only kind of people to be called addicts. That is a misunderstanding says Gabor Maté MD a Canadian doctor and leading thinker in the field of addiction recovery. Gabor believes that transcending genetics or bad choices, the root of our addictions grows out of childhood pain. His 2010 bestseller “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” spells out his perspective.
Addiction is a complex process that involves brain, body, emotions, psychology and social relationships. Addiction is any behaviour where a person craves and finds temporary pleasure or relief in something, despite suffering negative outcomes from that behaviour.
Addiction could be substance-related but it can also be sex, gambling, eating, shopping, work, extreme sports, relationships or cellphone use. It could be anything. It’s not the activity as such but rather that it provides temporary relief or pleasure from our pain? Maté calls addictive behaviour “self-soothing”. It’s an attempt to heal a deep hurt.

Does this behaviour create craving when you don’t have it? Does it create negative consequences, and is it difficult to give up despite those consequences? If those are the case, it’s an addiction.

Maté is clear. At the core of all addictions lies childhood trauma. Adverse childhood experiences increase the risk of addiction later on in life. It may not be that bad things happen, it could be that good things don’t happen when they should. A child has fundamental needs for emotional development and also for brain development and these development thresholds have to be met by the environment. If not met, the brain’s reward circuitry is impaired because when the reward centres should have been nurtured awake, stressed and busy parents did not have the time, energy or skill to nurture their children.

Our culture breeds addictions which may kill us, but they may also be the only way to cope with our alienated lives.

Link to talks by Gabor Mate’

A Tale for Twenty Seventeen

brokentoolsWith all the rage about decolonising and stripping all signs of our European past, I am not sure we should speak about colonial history in 2017? Let’s do it anyway, for despite our hindsight smugness there are inspirational tales worth remembering.

by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913
by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913

One of these is of Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917). A successful British medical doctor, Jameson had Paul Kruger and Matebele chief, Lobengula as patients. Sadly he is best remembered for an abortive raid he led against Kruger’s wealthy Boer Republic, in an attempt to bring the Witwatersrand Goldfields under British control.
The raid took place from December 29th 1895 to January 2nd 1896, one hundred and twenty one years ago. The strategy was to use the unhappiness of expat foreign nationals on the goldfields, rudely called “Uitlanders” by the boers, to back Jameson’s Rhodesian police raiders.

mapJameson set out from Pitsani in Botswana and marched through the night, but by the time he reached Zeerust, Kruger already knew of the raid. The riders managed to get past Randfontein when they were confronted by over 400 boers and were forced to surrender 30 kilometers from Johannesburg.

The failure of the plan meant Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes couldn’t admit to colluding, so Jameson was scapegoated as a renegade and shipped to England for trial. His reputation in tatters, this honorary Matebele induna, and Administrator of Mashonaland was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment by a British High Court. His life seemed over.

Noted for his “Jameson charm”, the disaster did not get him down and after serving just three months he was pardoned on grounds of ill health and returned to Africa. Jameson went on to lead the Progressive Party in the Cape Colony and on winning the election, became Prime Minister of the Cape from 1904 to 1908.

This depth of character led the famous British writer Rudyard Kipling, a frequent visitor to the Cape, to pen a poem for his son John based on Jameson’s example. You know the poem well. It is titled “If”.

kiplingHere are some excerpts. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating… If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:… If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son.”

Sadly, Kipling’s only son died in WW1 aged 18.220px-my_boy_jack_john_kipling

The past is passed, what new chapter awaits?

photos

It’s a common practice. No matter the place, no matter the era, humans need to make marks as we pass through the tunnel of time. The days of our birth, anniversaries of significant life events, and even the date on which our lives end are all recorded and remembered. It’s as if the stream of time is too inexorable and its current too strong that without markers on the banks, our lives would seem to be a chaotic flood. As the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote in 1719, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Yet in spite of all our remembrances we don’t really know how to explain time. No lesser mind than Saint Augustine was as puzzled as we are and wrote, ‘What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know.’ (Confessions 397-400 CE)
What Augustine hints at it the reality that we each have a unique understanding of ourselves in time. Each person has collected a set of snapshot memories for the year 2016. These memories lie in our minds like a box of jumbled photographs in no particular order. If one were to stack the photographs and flash through them, the sequence would make no sense at all.

Videographer Ti Tracy illustrated this with two YouTube videos.
Both were filmed over a minute just before midnight on 3 June 2015 on the Las Vegas Strip, the videos contain the same set of a few thousand images.

In the first, the time ordering was scrambled; the second shows the images in the original time sequence. The video with the scrambled images makes no sense.

The second is quite logical as the brain can process the flow of images through the traffic in a logical order.

It is a mysterious property of our minds that connects the random events of life and threads them together into a logical flow which can make sense. We sort our memories into story sequences to give life logic and meaning . Eduardo Galeano wrote ‘Out of fear of dying, the art of storytelling was born.’

Tonight 2016 will tick itself to death at 23h59m59s and in the very next second 2017 will be born. In that moment will anything have changed? It’s hard to know. What is clear is how much we need an opportunity at least every three hundred and sixty five days to believe that a page has turned, the past has passed and a new beginning awaits.

Tonight we will paint the past with nostalgia, and bravely face our fears and premonitions of what awaits. We will hope, we will hug, and be as human as all who have gone before us in time.

May chapter 2017 of your life story be filled with meaning and peace.

Happy new year to us all.

We’ll do anything to appear normal

homeostasis-300x209It’s called homeostasis and describes the process of living organisms to balance their physical and chemical environments to maintain life. It is homeostasis that maintains the hydration of the cells in our bodies, our blood pressure and even the rate at which we perspire.

The concept was described by French physiologist Claude Bernard in 1865 and the word was coined by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1926. Despite originating from the study of human organisms the term homeostasis has expanded to physical control systems like thermostats and even to social systems in psychology and sociology.

What these studies have revealed is that dysfunctional or diseased systems may continue to function with an imbalance through adjusting to disease as if it were a normal state. This happens in the case of smokers and substance abusers where body chemistry adapts to the foreign chemicals ingested allowing the system to function despite the presence of life threatening toxins.

Similarly in family and social systems homeostasis is achieved by the dysfunctional family adjusting to destructive behaviour as if that were the norm. This adjustment is referred to as “equilibration”. Just as we calibrate the instruments of an aircraft to reflect the actual altitude, level and speed that a plane is travelling, so a dysfunctional family will equilibrate to addiction or violent behaviours and assume that is normal life. Imagine an aircraft that has been flying with its wings tilted at forty five degrees for so long that the pilot has adjusted the instruments to define that angle as level. That’s equilibration. The naming of what is abnormal as normal. The problem arises when the plane does eventually fly level and all the instruments start screaming that it is in trouble!

It is because of equilibration that rehabilitation programmes seldom succeed. The “sick” person is removed from the distorted system and “cured” only to be reintroduced to the off balance family where homeostasis demands that the person return to their previous behaviour so that everyone can feel normal again. As bizarre as it may seem this eqilibrating behaviour can be seen all around us.

This past week saw the ANC’s national executive committee equilibrate to the dysfunction of its maverick and unmanageable president, by adjusting for the deviance and pretending that everything is normal within the party. The party that has been losing credibility and contact with its constituency for years decided this week to adjust all its instruments to say that this is the new normal for South Africa. “The fact that we have not forced a president of the ANC to step aside means that we have affirmed him as president of the ANC and the Republic.” Secretary Gwebe Mantashe said in a press statement on Tuesday, after a marathon NEC session where Zuma’s recall was suggested.

Such denial is symptomatic of a diseased system. It’s what stops couples coming for marriage counselling, families of addicts from kicking them out, and what keeps recalcitrant presidents in power. Fasten your seat belts!

Food or Shopping? Black Friday blues.

black-friday

If Black Friday’s shopping frenzy leaves you as frazzled as it does me every year, you may be interested in its counterpoint called, “Buy Nothing Day”?
Founded by artist Ted Dave in Vancouver Canada in 1992, Buy Nothing Day or BND is an international day of protest against consumerism. In North America, Britain and Sweden the day is observed on the same day as Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and in other countries it is on the Saturday after Black Friday.

Promoted by the “not for profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment”, Adbusters movement, BND wants to raise awareness about the destructiveness of blind consumerism and how it affects people and the planet.
Some of the activities BND participants undertake are the public cutting up of credit cards, dressing up as zombies and wandering aimlessly through malls as a parody of shoppers, as well as public protests.

At this time of year we watch our mailboxes and magazines bulge with advertising flyers all convincing us that we cannot possibly live without the wares displayed within. So we do know just how powerful the search for bargains and special deals is. Do we ever stop to ask, “Do I really need this?”

The BND organisers realise that one day will not change consumer behaviour but they do hope to raise awareness about the insidious power of advertising to manipulate our consciousness and unleash frenetic spending. So in addition to the Buy Nothing Campaign, Adbusters also runs anti-ad campaigns blaming advertising for playing a central role in creating, and maintaining consumer culture. They argue that the advertising industry goes to great effort and expense to link our identity with commodities and brands. “Are you a (product name here) man or woman?”

These movements need to be seen against the recently released figures from the Department of Statistics, Community Survey 2016 which show that 3,3 million South African households reported running out of money to buy food in the past year. The Eastern Cape total for this phenomenon was 464 838 households. The survey also measured the possession of household appliances and stated, “Ownership of household’s goods is crucially important in measuring the standard of living for the household. Ownership of some household goods such as a cellphone, electric stove, TV, fridge, washing machine, DSTV, motor vehicle and a computer have seen significant increases in 2016 as compared to in 2011.” (the last census)
It is great that more people can live comfortably, but one has to ask how many of those appliances were bought on credit? And could debt be the reason that there sometimes isn’t money for food in over 3,3 million homes?

Christopher Lasch the American social critic and author of “The Culture of Narcissism” wrote, “It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life.”

Let’s be careful not to destroy our families while shopping for them.

Diabolical definitions

newdevilsdictionaryDuring the 1870’s, French novelist Gustave Flaubert had a custom of creating humorous definitions for words. These were eventually published as a “Dictionary of Received Ideas”.
Here are some examples:

  • Absinthe – Exceptionally violent poison: one glass and you’re a dead man. Journalists drink it while writing their articles. Has killed more soldiers than the Bedouins.
  • Architects – All idiots; always forget to put staircases in houses.
  • Omega – Second letter of the Greek alphabet.
  • Waltz – Wax indignant about. A lascivious, impure dance that should only be danced by old ladies.
  • Englishwomen – Express surprise that they can have pretty children.
  • Old People – When discussing a flood, thunderstorm, etc., they cannot remember ever having seen a worse one.
  • Sex – Word to avoid. Say instead, “Intimacy occurred…’.

Simultaneously, American Ambrose Bierce a columnist in the “San Francisco Newsletter” from 1869 onwards produced definitions titled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” These were later gathered into, “The Cynic’s Wordbook”.
Here are examples of his work:

  • Conservative – A statesman who is passionate about existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
  • Cynic – A scoundrel whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.
  • Egotist – A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
  • Faith – Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
  • Lawyer – One skilled in circumvention of the law.
  • Marriage – A household consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in total, two.

Pretending to be a writer of similar calibre, I came up with my own “Diabolical Definitions”. Somewhat more colloquial and provincial. Enjoy!

  • Phone – a device filled with apps to distract you from actually making calls.
  • Taxi – a life threatening vehicle less concerned with transportation than disrupting orderly traffic flow.
  • Radio – used by people who want to look elsewhere whilst being informed.
  • Television – used by people who don’t want to do anything else while being misinformed.
  • Public protector – an historic office used to protect the Constitution from abuse by government. Currently under reconstruction to reverse that process.
  • President – historically a person of morality and honour leading their nation. Currently in USA and SA, the person best able to embarrass themselves and all citizens.
  • Judiciary – a sacred fortress against chaos. Constantly under attack from dark forces of government.
  • National Prosecuting Authority – a collective of legal minds and tools.  Some being applied inappropriately.
  • SARS – the body tasked with collection of state funds to be used by government without accountability to the funders.
  • Springbok – an emblem previously used to designate the best rugby players in the country.
  • Investor – a person to be completely ignored when formulating Presidential decisions.
  • Constitution – a historic document like the Bible, intended to guide and protect life. Largely ignored by those in power.
  • Social Media – a forum for conducting the trial of accused persons before they reach court.

Do you have some to add?

FYI and BTW texting has taken over our relationships

There was a time when the parting greeting to a friend was, “Call me.” It meant that at some time the friend would make a telephone call and set up another date to meet.
In it’s day the telephone revolutionised life. No longer having to wait for letters to be delivered sped up social interaction. The ringing of a phone was a strident demand to be answered and the very first call made on March 10, 1876 by inventor Alexander Graham Bell was an instruction to Mr Watson, “Come here I want to see you.”
Ever since, telephones have continued to boss our lives. Older people still cannot possibly ignore a ringing phone. It was only in the 1980’s with the the rise of the telephone answering machine that we were empowered to screen our calls and decide whether to answer the call once we heard whose voice was on the other side. Around the same time caller IDaa enabled us to look at the first ever telephone screens and see the number of the caller before choosing to answer.

texting1
So when cellphones first appeared they were essentially mobile telephones. Wireless devices that we could use anywhere. Voice remained the medium of calling and because a person could be anywhere it became etiquette to ask, “Can you speak now?”
According to the American Nielsen ratings, 2007 was the moment when the voice call fell from popularity and for the first time ever more text messages were sent than telephone calls made. Voice calls have continued to decline worldwide.
That is why we no longer call them cellphones but rather devices, because making calls is no longer the main application. We email, we text, we check the weather, the stock market, the news and our health. We read books and even use our devices to get directions. I for one, no longer own a separate Global Positioning System (GPS) , because the GPS manufacturer now sells an app that does everything on my phone for cheaper. I used the money I saved on the cheaper app over buying a separate GPS to get a power bank which keeps my phone alive whilst I am travelling.
The question arises who we are becoming as people no longer so keen to talk as to text?
As a writer I know the power of text, but I also know that text has to be carefully crafted and if shot off without reflection or editing is bound to create havoc, conflict and misunderstanding. Racial slurs and embarrassing photos sent to hockey moms are just some recent South African blush-bloopers.
The cellphone networks have fuelled the transition to text from speech. First Mixit and currently WhatsApp are cost effective ways for ordinary people to avoid the prohibitively high costs of making cell phone voice calls.
But what will happen if we only communicate in brief bursts of text? What will our relationships be without prose and poetry?
OMG, BTW, FYI, I’m out of words.

Protect yourself against the Office Bully

When I think of a bully it’s usually in a schoolyard and the bully is an oversized and awkward, sycophant-surrounded adolescent male. It’s an old stereotype and really needs updating in terms of the places bullying happens. Most readers are aware of the relatively new species called the cyber-bully who, abusing social media platforms continues the reign of terror transferring it from the school playground and toilets to the target’s tablet and phone.
There is however a lesser recognised but equally obnoxious genera of bully many readers encounter every day. It’s the office bully. More subtle than the teenage version, these are older and have had time to hone their deviance. Workplace bullies are every bit as unacceptable and need to be rooted out.
Psychologist, TV personality and author, Dr Michelle Callahan writing in the Huffington post had this to say, “Being a target of a bully not only affects your work life, but can also affect your health, possibly causing headaches, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, insomnia, clinical depression, panic attacks and even PTSD.” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the condition suffered by soldiers after combat which goes to show what kind of battlefield some offices have become. 2014 statistics from http://www.workplacebullying.org show that 27% of Americans have experienced abusive conduct at work and that 72% of employers deny, discount and even encourage bullying to get the job done.

office-bullyThe statistics also show that 69% of perpetrators are male and 68% of the targets are women. Of the 31% of female office bullies, other women are twice as likely as men to be their targets.
Callaghan comments that women bullies most likely are threatened and want to stop you before you outshine them or expose them. They have perfectionist personalities combined with superiority about their skills and abilities. They cannot manage stress and may have mental health problems or a personality disorder.
Dr Callaghan offers “Ten Tips For Dealing With Being Bullied At Work”
“Don’t get emotional”. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational. “Don’t blame yourself.” Know that this is not about you; it’s about the bully. “Don’t lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent.” It’s a mind game, not based on your actual work performance. “Do your best work.” The bully’s behaviour will seem more justified if you aren’t doing your best work. “Build a support network.” Instead of allowing the bully to make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your coworkers so that you have their support and the bully can’t turn them against you as well. “Document everything.” Keep a journal (for your eyes only) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources or the CCMA, you have the information you need to make your case. Keep emails and notes.
Bullies always underestimate their targets, prove them wrong when you expose them for the cowards they are.