Thursday, July 21, 2016

Liberation and Lingering Ethos 

Ethos, noun: the characteristic spirit of a culture, era or community, as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations
New Oxford American Dictionary, on my computer’s ROM (Read Only Memory)

In a novel by Stephen King, 11/22/63, a high school teacher time-travels to blend in as a substitute teacher back in the 1950’s. In that conformist “real man” time, a high school athlete meets with the teacher privately, to wimp out, to say that he doesn’t think he can be a lead in the school play… because other athletes are ridiculing him, and because, as he says in a low voice, he’s stupid.

The teacher from the 21st century knows better. “…You’re a C student because, as a football player, you’re supposed to be a C student. It’s part of the ethos.”

“The what?”

“Figure it out from the context and save the dumb act for your friends. … Listen to me. People automatically think anyone as big as you is stupid. Tell me differently if you want to; according to what I hear, you’ve been walking around in that body since you were twelve, so you should know.”

(By the way, if you like my essays, then I think you’d like Stephen King’s book)

Today I’m thinking about the word King’s character used. “Ethos.” The ‘50’s was a time when popular people didn’t wear glasses, gorgeous cheerleaders were not interested in science—when heck, half the student body, the female half, was officially “not smart enough” for science, and not capable of achieving the sort of self-esteem that comes from being competent… (Except in women’s spheres) The ’50’s is my favorite decade… but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Q: Can you surpass the ethos of your era? A: Yes!

I first learned how personal liberation was possible from a novel by Robert A. Heinlein, “If This Goes On—” (Published in Revolt in 2100) The hero, John Lyle, is a sincere trusting fellow, raised in a future U.S., in a totalitarian-style theocracy. Naturally he believes what everyone else does.

John thinks the Prophet (Ayatollah) must not be questioned, a person charged is guilty until proved innocent, one can be “sinfully proud,” unbelievers deserve death if caught outside the ghetto after curfew, and sex is wrong. John learns otherwise only by taking action, talking with others and reading forbidden texts—he keeps looking over his shoulder as he reads, feeling scared and guilty.

Like something out of Orwell, the phrase “separation of church (mosque) and state” is simply not in John Lyle’s vocabulary: therefore not thinkable. (I wonder if Arabs today feel safe to discuss separation) By the end of the story John keeps his religion, while he is finally able to say out loud, at last, that clerics and leaders, being mortal men, can lie about being the political voice of God.

Too bad too many Mormons still today cannot say that about their prophet Warren Jeffs, even after he has been tried, convicted and is serving life in jail.

Liberation doesn’t happen overnight. In my own time, at the dawn of feminism, the housewives of the women’s liberation movement found they had to have meetings in the kitchen, “consciousness raising” they called it, to reinforce the new teachings—and to create new knowledge together. I think even if you do layer on new words, and recite new ideas, reciting them often enough to counterbalance the old messages, then under the new layers the old un-new, un-improved you still remains. If tomorrow I time-traveled back to the 1950’s, or even walked down the road to the church, I would know instantly what swear words not to use, what topics not to mention. The old me remains, somewhere inside.

As I write this, I would be disrespectful towards my U.S. readers if I ignored the war they have undertaken: It’s common knowledge the terror-exporting nations, despite their Arab Spring, are having difficulty in believing in democracy, or in the 1948 UN declaration of Universal Human Rights. Since Muslims seem to prefer their Islamic past, I guess there’s no Arab national effort for having conversations about becoming modern. As far as I can tell, Arabs aren’t waving the flag and beating the drum in an effort to reinforce a consciousness-raising campaign for achieving democracy.

But I have hope: Seeds were planted during their spring, seeds that might bloom in 30 years. Or less. After all, a bloom happened in Canada for a fellow Albertan, Gladys Taylor, as she described in Alone in the Boardroom.

QUOTE (page 63) I heard Betty Friedan speak in Toronto one afternoon in the late 1950’s or early 60s. She said things I had long been thinking but never dared express. Before hearing her I hadn’t found anyone who shared my free-the-spirit ideas. Once I heard her my unspoken yearning for independence seemed legitimate. I was not a rebel without a cause. Some 30 years later when it came time for me to go out on my own, the seeds she had sown made it easier for me. I would probably never have sought independence on my own—I was still too steeped in the Victorian ethic—but once it was presented to me I was able to accept it more readily because I had assimilated a feminist outlook from Betty Friedan and her book The Feminine Mystique. UNQUOTE

Next I will dwell on liberation, in order to develop the subject of ethos, to then lead back to the plight of Arabs.

Here in North America I get a kick out anyone doing whatever is necessary to get liberated: to shrug off constraints and achieve personal growth. On the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio recently I heard an interview of an enthusiastic young lady who had won a music prize. Turns out she grew up in my old Canadian municipality of Surrey, “in White Rock and Vancouver” where she explained she had felt dismayed, hadn’t felt at home, because she saw so few “people of color” like her around. So she went to Jamaica and G. (Guyana or Guinea, I forget which) and now she is back in Canada and feels “quite at home.”

I have to smile: As a shining example to people everywhere, both religious and atheist, she has done “whatever it takes.” I wonder if other young people might put in only a half-effort, and then only feel half-happy.

I’m living in Alberta on the Great Plains. If you watch the teams on Hockey Night in Canada you might think my country is a sea of Europeans. Not so. Part of this illusion is that, besides good players being recruited now from Northeast Europe, many players traditionally come from the heart of ice hockey: the cold prairies, where kids like Geordie How would be taking shots on the ice until it was too dark to see.  Back when I was boy the third largest group in Canada, after Britain and France, was from “the Ukraine.” They were whites from the endless Eurasian steppes who had settled mainly on the vast plains. That was during my Grandpa’s time. Times change. The last I heard, Canada’s third largest group was Chinese. The two cities I have spent my adult life in, Vancouver and Calgary, are quite cosmopolitan.

As a teenager my high school in Surrey had one black family, (the boy was in my chess club) one Japanese family (the Aokis) and one Chinese (Kevin was in my elementary school class, his family owned the corner store) Things have changed. It was around when I moved out from home that things went va-voom! Surrey has since incorporated as a city, with a population to rival nearby Vancouver, and both of those cities, like Calgary, are cosmopolitan. When that young local woman said she felt left out, she didn’t mean there weren’t lots of Non-Europeans around—of course there were, both East Asian and South Asian: She meant there weren’t persons of African (sub-Saharan) heritage.

For me, from my late teens onward, “diversity,” to use the latest buzzword, has been normal.

Have you ever been to Phoenix? I never made it to that city specifically, but I at least I drove in surrounding cities that had sprung up since the postwar spread of air conditioning, and I gazed at big open canals, surely a postwar project. I was there to attend a big outdoor music festival, where most of the fans came from Tucson (I heard) and there were about 27,000 fans per day (I read in the newspaper)

Lingering Ethos
Arriving a few days early, I was shopping and going around to nightspots before the festival started. (To me Hispanics look European, unless they dress old-fashioned) You may have guessed: I was a day into the festival before I clued in—because a young gatekeeper was black—that all I was seeing in the cities and at the festival was Europeans: fans, food vendors, musicians and their sound techs, state troopers—everybody. I hadn’t noticed. Despite my four decades of cosmopolitan living, a European neighborhood remained normal to me. Still. After all these years.

This means an ethos has staying power. This means, during the War on Terror, if Muslim governments wish to “divide and conquer” to prevent their subjects from achieving democracy, then, I’m sorry to say, for the rulers “dividing” will be easy child’s play. Easy, that is, unless every Arab now living remains vigilant all his life not to fall back, not to fall back into believing that violence is acceptable against Arab Christians, or Sunni Muslims, or women and children.

Not to fall back into believing Muslim men and women don’t deserve the Universal Human Rights declared by the UN after World War II. As American immigrants from the Middle East could tell the Arabs: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

As I write this, under a vast prairie sky, one of my little joys in life is getting liberated.

You too?

Sean Crawford

Today's Late Breaking Comment,  July 21:
Today Toronto Metro News staffer Gilbert Ngaio reported on Europe, headlined On Canada's Good Example (in the Views section, next to Rosemary Westwood) I don't see it on the web, so I can't  link to it.

Context: The European Union doesn't believe in diversity as we know it. You may recall best-selling writer and Dutch Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali explaining after 9/11 how Europe believes in enclaves and all-Muslim schools rather than integration. Has anything changed? 

Ngaio reports that children in "welcome classes" in Germany have to arrive and leave at different times than the other students at their primary school. "Because the new kids are immigrants and don't speak German yet, they're completely separated from other students at school, to avoid any potential conflicts." Not like how Canada treats our 25,000 Syrian refugees. 

My contribution: I don't expect Europe to be capable of an American-style assimilation. Sorry.

That said, if Europe wants to switch from enclaves to integration then, as with other social movements (and like a vast hospital staff reforming to become "world class") there will have to be lots of dialogue and consciousness-raising between people, not solely in the media. And there will have to be lots of celebrating small successes—again, as with Canada's Syrians.

If you are a European reading this: Go to your media and urge them to send staff to Canada to report back on how a new vision is possible. If a traditional hospital staff can learn to change their ethos, then so can a European city.

~Speaking of getting liberated, although writer Robert Heinlein had a reputation for being a practical engineer skilled at algebra, I think he was in fact an artist. He once wrote that when he realized he couldn’t cry he resolved to teach himself to do so.

~ During my lifetime I’ve witnessed growing liberation around disabilities. President Roosevelt, who served in the White House during the Great Depression and then during my dad’s war, has left to history (as best I can determine) only a single picture of him using his wheelchair, and that picture was taken from behind him. Time passed. During my boyhood President John F. Kennedy, who served as a PT boat captain during the war, was sometimes photographed with his crutches. (Bad back)

Today, in contrast, the Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, a man who played on my community college ice hockey team, and with whom I served on a club executive back in university, has used a wheelchair during his entire political career. Meanwhile, the Minister of the Department of National Defense is visibly a member of the Sikh religion. Both ministers, of course, are duly elected Members of Parliament.

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