DiEM25 and the Future of Democracy in Europe (Part 2)

The Co-ordinating Collective

As noted by me in the Introductory post for this discussion thread, it is stated in the introduction to the Organising Principles, that: At the beginning, DiEM25 was put together spontaneously by initiators who conjured up, together and haphazardly, the idea of a pan-European association aiming at creating a movement for, simultaneously, democratising Europe in general and the European Union institutions in particular, enhancing democratic sovereignty at the local, city, regional and national levels. The time has come, however, to formalise this group that has been, since DiEM25’s inauguration on February 9, 2016, steering its activities into a Coordinating Collective.”

There is nothing unusual in this happening when a group gets together to organise opposition and resistance to some unpleasant or dangerous development in their environment. In fact, we should praise the initiators for taking action and drawing our attention to a situation that had really “crept up” gradually and unnoticed by many European citizens. That is what often happens. Fortunately for us, in this case, the boy who called “Wolf” was no longer a boy but an experienced adult, who with his knowledge and respected reputation as an international economist could be believed when he told us that there was a force building in the E.U. that had to be resisted. By resisting with his countrymen and countrywomen for as long as they could, he finally had to admit that this threat demanded a bigger response than one individual could command. Then working together with some like-minded spirits from different roles in life, they produced the idea for DiEM25.

In approaching this discussion I would like to focus my attention, and hopefully yours also, on certain current aspects of the Organising Principles that could become an Achille’s Heel, even for those of us who are not Greek!

From the beginning it is stated clearly that: “the proposed Coordinating Collective (hereafter ‘CC’) will not act as some central committee that makes policy”,

This clearly signals that DiEM25 is going to be a different kind of organisation. Again, we should applaud that statement. But now comes the problematical point. What kind of organisation is DiEM25 going to be? If there is no central committee to make policy, who will make it. It is implied in the sentence that policy making in DiEM25 will be different. I am worried by the use of the title “Co-ordinating Collective”. What does that mean? Let me digress a bit here to discuss some information about organisations as systems and its relevance to our discussion. If you are already familiar with this, then skip ahead to pick up the narrative further on in this document.

Organisations and the Open Systems Approach

The basic principle used here when thinking in terms of an organisation as a system, is as follows. A system is fundamentally a collection of activities that receives or requires an input, and then internally converts that input into an output. This implies that an organisation is separate from, but embedded in, its environment and so we think of it as having a boundary around it. (Sorry! I don’t have a graphics facility in WordPress to include diagrams!). Outside the boundary is the “environment” and inside the boundary is the “organisation”. Now when I use the words “organisation” and “system”, I am using them in a very general way. The United Nations, very big and complex, can be examined as an organisation, as a system. We could also describe a town or a village as a system. It could even be an individual person! It might even have been one of the very early atoms and molecules formed in the primeval slime at the beginning of planet Earth’s formation where single-celled creatures began to emerge. Is there a simple picture that we can draw to illustrate these? Can you think of a simple diagram that could apply equally as a model for the U.N. and for an individual person, or for a single-celled creature? Just think for a moment before moving on. Draw that model!

In the Open Systems approach the diagram we usually start with is a circle! Inside the circle is everything that comprises the system. Outside the perimeter of the circle is the surrounding environment. Now even that simple diagram raises questions. How does the system survive in that environment? The general answer is that it gets what it needs from its environment, works with those inputs and sends out what it produces or doesn’t need again. Why does it need inputs? Because its task is to survive while doing its primary (conversion) task. Just add boxes on the left with an arrow on each pointing to the system circle. Each box signifies a particular input. On the right hand side, draw arrows pointing away from the System circle. Each arrow represents a particular output. That’s the basic diagram for a system in an environment!

Now, take time out and imagine the circle is a system diagram of a factory whose principal task is producing cakes! List as many inputs and outputs as you can think of (quickly!). Good, now list the outputs that you might expect from such a system. (Again, just a sample will be sufficient). Finally, list the different “things” that need to be done to turn the inputs into outputs.

[Make a separate note of any lists you produce]

Again, taking the same basic diagram that we started with, answer the same questions but this time think of the system as your own body! Incidentally, what is the primary task of your body?

Finally, to bring us back to our topic, think of that basic diagram as DiEM25 and answer the same questions. It doesn’t matter whether you are “right” or “wrong” in any of these examples. In fact, there is no single “right” or “wrong” answer to this question in the real world. That is why we need an active discussion, comparing notes, discussing the similarities and differences, leading (one would hope!) to a consensus answer. At the moment, I just want to get you thinking in terms of “the system”. This last diagram will be very useful when we start analysing and planning for DiEM25.

Now for the €64,000 question. What else needs to be added to these diagrams so that each system produces the desired outputs and carries out its primary task?

Let me introduce you to two new words with which you are familiar but which I am using in a very specific way. These words are “Authority” and “Power”. How would you define them? Make a note of your answers.

Authority =

Power =

I use them as follows:

1. “Authority” is the RIGHT to do something.

2. “Power” is the ABILITY to do something.

[Important note: We very often use these two words interchangeably, as in the examples given in some of the online results. There is nothing inherently wrong in that. It will help, however,  in our discussion, if we stick to the different emphases I have given].

Think now, where does the “Authority” rest in the DiEM25 organisation? Where is “Power” located in the organisation. Put it another way. Who or what part of DiEM25 has authority. Where do we want them to be located? Who or what has power. If power rests in more than one part of the organisation, is there a difference in the kind of power available? What different kinds of authority can you identify in DiEM25? Use your own words to describe these differences.

So, how is the job of “managing” done in other organisations with which you are familiar? And how is the job of “managing” done in DiEM25? You tell me now!

  • Who (individual or group) will do the “managing things” that you and I have identified?

  • Where and how do they get the authority, the right, to do those things?

  • Who or what gives them the authority they exercise?

  • If they are a group, how should they make their decisions?

How would you describe the Primary Task of DiEM25? By Primary Task I mean the single, overall task that defines the organisation. Clearly DiEM25, like any other organisation or movement will perform many different activities but what is the over-arching task to which all the other activities contribute? Keep the definition of the Primary Task as brief and as focused as you can.

The Primary Task of DiEM25 is to

……………………………………………………………………………………(20 words or less)

Now look at the political system in your own country! We use elections to select individuals who tell us they have the ability to lead the country. In other words we give up some of our authority over our own lives and transfer it to our representatives to enable them to have the RIGHT to organise society on our behalf. Do you think those given that RIGHT also have the required ABILITY to make the decisions on your behalf? If they don’t have the ability or if they make bad decisions, what sanctions, or what controls are available to us then to control them?

That’s enough about Systems theory for the moment. Let’s take up the discussion where we left off

Applying the Systems model to DiEM25

So let’s now re-examine the statement in the Organising Principles that The proposed Coordinating Collective (hereafter ‘CC’) will not act as some central committee that makes policy”.

Co-ordinating is one important function, or set of activities, in the role of management in an organisation. But it isn’t the only one. Take time to think, from your experience, what other functions have you seen taken on by management? List them.

Functions of Management:

(or describe them as groups of activities with a common purpose)

[Make your own notes before proceeding further]

Managers make decisions, don’t they? They communicate with one another, with those senior to them, with those in other departments, with their workers, with customers, suppliers, and so on. Can you think of any other functions?

Some functions of management have been defined by those who study organisations. Carry out a web search if you want to get a wider variety of options. But, in fact, the list of management functions usually narrows down to four or five. Click on the link to find their answers. Do they agree with your ideas?

What then is the role of the CC? What do you see as the main activities and functions of the CC? From where and from whom does it receive the authority to carry out its activities? Most importantly who or what finally has the authority to give the “go ahead” for activities?

It is also stated in the Organising Principles that: “The CC will recommend to the Validating Council disciplinary action against members who have grossly violated DiEM25’s principles and/or Manifesto.” The duty of taking disciplinary action is a very serious responsibility. What is the defined role and source of authority of the V.C.? Is it right to give the responsibility for such decisions to a group of people who were selected at random, and who receive no remuneration because they are not expected to spend a long time on any of their activities?

Furthermore, in regard to the DiEM25 Principles and Manifesto, on whose authority were these principles drawn up. Who approved them. Where does it specify that the V.C. has the authority (remember, “authority” = the right) to do so? Who gives them that authority?

I am puzzled by the statement that “the CC will be assisted by (my italics) several Co-ordinators”. This statement and earlier descriptions of the activities of the CC suggest that the CC actually has a managing role and its co-ordinating role is part of that managing role. Does the CC have other managing roles and, if so, where does the authority for each of these functions come from? I understand the reluctance of those who founded DiEM25 to use any terminology that might suggest the the CC had a traditional management role because it might appear to contradict the evolution in democracy that DiEM25 represents. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the reality that while the intention is to disperse the management role, it would be ridiculous to omit some management functions. Or would it be ridiculous? What would happen if… If there is no managing role then the only result is anarchy! On the other hand, democratic management, where the activities of the management role are continually monitored and subject to sanction by the members is a revolutionary statement and principle which will require major relearning by members in regard to how we move in an evolutionary way to that desired goal without tearing the Movement apart.

It is also specified that “the CC will meet once a week … and will be chaired on the basis of a rota system that ensures a high frequency rotation of the chair (ensuring rotation at least once every three months). (So much revolving of chairs is making me feel dizzy!) Again I understand and support the concept enshrined in this sentence. I wonder, however, would it be better to use the word “moderator” (of the proceedings) rather than “chair(person)” which is a quite different role. My experience of working with intact groups (and also having watched a few of the CC videos) is that when the members are strongly committed to the work of their group, the role of the moderator is one who ensures that every member is listened to and gets a chance to voice their views. This also allows every member of the group to exercise leadership when needed or desired. The role of chairman could be perceived as anathema to this approach.

It is unclear from the same paragraph whether the statement “no provision is made for a Secretary General or President” means that “no provision has yet been made” or “no provision will ever be made”. Again I understand the motivation and the sensitivity implied by this statement. Nevertheless, making that statement before the organisation structure and system have been finalised is unnecessary and reassures no one it will never happen. Perhaps the founders are being unduly and guiltily modest lest such ambitions might be imputed to them!

In regard to the Election/Selection of the CC, I have already noticed and responded to some comments and observations in the various labyrinthine corridors of Slack where there appears to be considerable confusion about the duration for which those selected will serve. If individuals can stand again immediately after being selected to make way for potential replacements, then I don’t really see the need for the elaborate ritual of six being selected (or did they offer themselves?) but then available again for re-election. This process will in no way prevent some effective or popular people being continually elected whereas the intention appears to be to prevent that happening. I suggest this whole area needs to be examined, especially in the light of the statement towards the end that “there will be no term limits for membership of the CC”. Again, I must emphasise that I believe that the intention is good, but thDiEM25 and the Future of Democracy in Europe (Part 2)e implementation is rather ponderous and potentially disruptive. We are a Movement, and a very idealistic movement, but that does not mean there will be no political motives evident!

The statement in regard to the minimum period of membership required for members to be eligible to vote draws attention to the possibility of “rogue registrations” prior to an important vote being used to sabotage the Movement. What would or should happen if it appeared that existing registered members were behaving in a concerted and “rogue” manner to undermine the status quo of the Movement. I suggest that this could be a dangerous assumption and have a bad effect on confidence of members in one another.

End

You are invited to move now to the next section which deals with the Validating Council.

How is it all going to end?

Is it possible for us to think outside these two boxes and the fixed beam that joins them and gives them motion?

because it is a fiction that we have created, we feel the need to hide the savagery of the process by giving it a few coats of the varnish of civilisation to conceal the pain.

I have just been reading #NotesfromUnderground by #Fyodor_Dostoievsky as part of a reading list on Existentialism I have downloaded to my Samsung phone. This relates to my ongoing struggle with Life and Living and my present angst arising from the struggle between interminable feelings of regret, failure, and depression and, on the other hand, the inexpressible joy of having savoured Life and Living, tasted the happiness, integrity, and exhilaration that come from a job done with ability and courage whether or not it was deemed successful or merited accolade from others.

In my undergraduate days at #UCC, I was elected President of a small College society , called the #Academy_of_St.Thomas, which was a constituent part of the #IrishAssociationofCatholic UniversityStudents, and through that affiliated to the international #Pax_Romana movement. On one occasion we had a scheduled monthly meeting on the topic of “Existentialism”. Needless to say, back in the days of the 1960s, as an Engineering student, I was not expected to know anything about Philosophy; but the secondary school catechism (bold print part only) after a Catholic upbringing, – a definite ‘yes’, -the Bible, a qualified ‘yes’ provided it was hierarchy approved and not the King James version, – the Beatles, a definite ‘yes’. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was not the only one toTeilhardP_1947

Teilhard de Chardin

dream and to sniff revolution on the breeze. I had been given a present of “The Phenomenon of Man” and didn’t get beyond the first few pages as I my mind could not cope with the translation from French of the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin about the evolution of consciousness on this planet. Nevertheless, as President of our little College “Republic of Thought”, I was required to step into the breach when our visiting Philosopher pulled out of the engagement due to illness. Yet, he kindly forwarded his script to be read at the meeting. At the hastily called meeting of our Committee, and faute de mieux, I was given the job of reading the script. I do not remember volunteering but, “as the boy stood on the burning deck,” he remembered his duty to God and Country. Either that or the awakening in me of a gene from the distaff side. My mother was a concert contralto singer and regular performing member of the Cobh Operatic Society. Theatre was in my blood. Argol! I thought it was my duty to respond.

I skipped some morning lectures and afternoon practical to sweat the text. Fortunately for me there were enough clerical and ex-clerical students in U.C.C. in those halcyon days upon whom I was able to rely for explanations of the hard words and prayers of support to prepare me for the ordeal ahead. In any case, some of them would undoubtedly be attending the lecture. They usually studied Arts and spent the afternoon in the College restaurant drinking in coffee and the ambience of student freedom. #Gaudeamus_Igitur!

The remainder of the day is still a blur of conscience-stricken ignorance, a churning stomach, of Thomistic support, and a certain je n’ sais quoi, which I recognised many years later as what happens when scales fall from the eyes with the attendant vigorous stirring of the little grey cells and a further leap in the evolution of one human specimen. For thus, without my realising it at the time, had begun with toddler steps, my thirst for the writings of Camus, of Sartre, of de Bouvoir, for the music of Brel and Piaf, as well of the emerging Left in European literature, and of an addiction to the Theatre of the Absurd. This unscratchable itch has stayed with me, unsatisfied, irritating, threatening yet attracting, like a vaguely discerned shape perceived behind a permanent veil of unknowing.

More recent social, political, and related developments in Irish, European, and global affairs have been like patches of dried skin that have appeared occasionally on my right leg! I now know better how to deal with the latter, especially since I became familiar with energy healing, acupressure, and somatic effects relating to the left side of the brain and its connection to the right side of the body. This has now brought me to strive beyond our current binary model of either/or, black/white, yes/no, good/bad. Is it possible for us to think outside these two boxes and the fixed beam that joins them and gives them motion?

That two-dimensional system, like the cinema screen, gives us an illusion of certainty, of a three-dimensional world, that we would control. We can ignore it if we don’t like what we see. In our democratic fervour, every time the see-saw changes, we claim that “The people have spoken”. Excuse me? Even when we have accepted the will of just 51% and ignored the will of the other 49%? Sorry, but you must accept the will of the majority! Why? Why not? When we draw a line of difference in an intact group, community, or society, yet wish that unit to survive as a unit we must also provide a process, a mechanism, for the effective integration of the differentiated parts into a new picture of the old reality. This is the primary problem facing the American people of the U.S. at present. It is a recurring phenomenon in the course of our lives.

The glaring but sad reality seems to be that we do not yet know how to organise and administer systems in which there are, apparently, inherent presenting contradictions. This then leads to the lauding of one view and the vilifying of the other view. This generates spite, anger, fear, resentment, recriminations, and general negativity on both sides, but not necessarily of the same kind or of the same magnitude on each side. The longer this division lasts the deeper the division grows and the more difficult it becomes eventually to resolve the problems generated by the binary or two-dimensional system. This, in turn, leads to each side finding further justification for their views and stance in the contrary beliefs and perceived dissident behaviour of the opposition. The dimensions of the reality perceived on each side are concretised and measured in the resulting total system where they are further separated and perceived in consequence as separate irreconcilable and opposing realities. Yet because it is a fiction that we have created, we feel the need to hide the savagery of the process by giving it a few coats of the varnish of civilisation to conceal the pain. But that varnish is not rust-proof. The truth will out. Just as applying cosmetics to the face of a corpse, and replacing the former shroud with nice everyday clothes is merely an effort to negate grieving by pretence and to deny Death and Dying as unavoidable aspects of Life.

The question that arises for me then is this: would the result have been different had the inherited framework used and accepted for decision-making in politics and in life in general been different. If Pain and Differentiation are inevitable, how and when can we introduce Joy and Integration? Most importantly of all, is it possible to design and use a decision-making process that caters for both and, if possible, at the same time?

In broad terms the dominant feature of Western social systems is compromise, whereas in Eastern social systems the dominant feature described is one of consensus. In the West we tend to give virtually the same meaning to both words, “compromise” and “consensus”. I have lived and worked for extended periods in the East and in the Middle East, where I have experienced fundamental differences in meaning between the two. They each belong to different realities. These differences have resonances and subtleties that are reflected in the cultures and philosophies developed broadly across each of two halves of the globe. They have been modified with some mutual accommodation in the regions of contact and overlap between the two major spheres of influence. Compare the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius. Compare the belief systems of indigenous tribes, of Muslims, Jews, Christians in war-torn areas of the Middle East,of the same groups in Europe, Australia, America. How did they see the world? How do they make decisions?

This basic mode that I have described, of differentiation and integration is again perceived in the subordinate regions of each global sphere of interest and culture and power, where regional units such as islands, countries, nations, and tribes predominate. Within each of these, further processes of differentiation and integration are involved. We thereby arrived eventually at what we chose to describe as the fundamental building unit of the human

220px-Homo_erectus_pekinensis_-_archeaeological

species, namely “Man”. Yet within the relatively tiny duration of my personal life-span, that “fundamental” unit has been challenged and re-construed as “Wo(man)” or “Woman/Man”.  Yet further these definitions were re-defined more precisely recently as “Woman-Man”, an expanding range of human individuality with seamless transitions from one sub-division to the next, from “All-woman to All-man”, portraying a rainbow of subdivisions spanning the scale. A romantic and gentle picture of differences. This panorama is reflected in the basic building block of Life, in the DNA molecule where the blueprint for differentiation is laid down and the propensity for differences in future generations have been labeled by scientists.

This is where the problem begins. This is where “Wo(man)”, as “God”, or as replacing “God”, can, or may, or must decide the future of conscious Life on this Planet. What would you do? Would you use Science, an as yet incomplete body of experimental data and therefore subject to further change and revision as the result of incremental data? What moral and ethical principles would guide us? With what degree of certainty can we produce laws and metrification to guide us in the inevitable choices we shall have to make? Given what I have written above, how will we govern society and make decisions for the human species and all its relatives? Are we so afraid of Death, Disease, and Dying that we must strive to eradicate them and to produce the Immortal Human? Will Woman, Man, or Androgyne be the norm? Should we have brought Spirit into our discourse before now? What difference would that make to the Story of Life?

Or would you choose Nature as the model for the future of our Planet? Would you be able and willing, as our ancestors were, of necessity, to live with the reality of Death, Disease, Dying and the attendant faults in the DNA that lead to disability, to fatal abnormalities, of aberrations from the anticipated development of human life and of, as yet, unrevealed and un-encountered variations in life forms? Who would decide when an intolerable Life should end or be sedated until natural death intervened, or how would such decisions be made? And, as for Science, is there a role in Nature’s Story of Life for Spirit?

© 2017 Tony Pratschke

NOTE: I plan to develop this thesis further and to expand my ideas with further detail. I would appreciate readers leaving critical comment, opinion, and questions on this topic in the Comment box below.

 

 

 

Holmes meets McCabe!

… the obvious conclusion must be that she was digging a very big hole for herself if it were subsequently discovered that she was prevaricating or concealing information. Why would she do that?

“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, is the truth.”

(Sherlock Holmes’ advice to Dr. Watson)

Rodin - The ThinkerAs I listened to the headlines on the RTÉ ”News at One” (Monday, 13th Februaaray, 2017) and heard, yet again, a statement from the Garda Commissioner that she would not be standing aside, I was minded of the quotation above. There appears to have been an assumption in the public arena that Nóirín O’Sullivan “must have known” what was going on in the whistle-blower controversy. Add to that, the thinly veiled but apparent threat/promise from Jim O’Callaghan (F.F./T.D.) in an interview with Seán O’Rourke earlier in the day when he insinuated that RTÉ had questions to answer about a “recent radio interview with the Garda Commissioner”. I had listened to that interview and the very personal nature of her story made me wonder why that interview was taking place.

I should state at this point that I have a strong personal interest in this entire whistle-blower scenario. Back in 1979 I was a member of a consultancy and management training team assembled by NIHE Limerick (now University of Limerick) to run the first management training programme in the Garda Training Centre at Templemore, Co. Tipperary, for Garda Chief Superintendents. My role and expertise related to Leadership, Group Behaviour, and Organisation Culture. In particular, my approach is based upon experiential principles where participants learn from guided analysis and examination of their own work and life experience leading to highly personal and relevant learning. For example, instead of teaching participants about Motivation and Maslow’s Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs, I would ask them to reflect upon their work experience and identify a time when they were really happy about their work and felt confident in what they were doing. Similarly for a time when they were unhappy and uncomfortable in what they were doing. By grouping their answers into “Good” and “Bad”, it quickly becomes apparent that the “positive” factors are mainly concerned with internal factors such as feeling competent, liking the work, feeling happy whereas the “negative” factors deal predominantly with external factors, such as work environment, pressure from others, relationships with team members, superiors, and subordinates. This approach, as the saying goes, “reaches parts of the psyche that traditional teaching based upon the studies of others, of experts, cannot reach” because it comes from inside the learner and bypasses the Ego resistance to change thus leading to profound changes in behaviour.

In the setting of the Templemore Centre this approach gave me valuable insights into the culture and belief systems of the Garda Síochána at that time as a national institution. In brief it was a national institution which had internalised traditional standards of moral and ethical beliefs and related behaviour patterns that were increasingly thought to be not relevant and so were increasingly not widely accepted or practised in the Ireland of the time. This was summarised on one occasion during the course by a Detective Chief Superintendent who, in response to my question as what was the greatest change they had witnessed during their careers, said that “the greatest change was that (they) could no longer recognise a criminal by the ‘cut’ of him.”

I later made use of this and other related information I had gleaned to make a detailed contribution to the Garda Training Committee Report on Probationer Training (published by the Stationery Office) which was presented to the Garda Commissioner, Lawrence Wren, in December, 1985. This was the first of a series of Reports on Education and Training for the Garda Síochána. Further reports were planned for In-Service Promotion, Specialist, and Higher Management Training. I made specific recommendations as to how the culture of the organisation should be changed so that the Garda Síochána would be empowered and supported in dealing with a rapidly changing society. In particular, I was drawing attention to the undermining and then immanent failure and collapse of the traditional icons, symbols, and sources of authority in Irish society. From personal contacts, both formal and informal, in the course of the past fifteen years (since returning to Ireland in 2001 after a further twenty years of overseas work in developing countries and transitional economies) I believe that little has changed. It is against this background that I make the following comments.

nine-of-wandsIf Commissioner O’Sullivan had known nothing as she has stated repeatedly about the alleged victimisation of Garda Sergeant McCabe and others, the obvious conclusion must be that she was digging a very big hole for herself if it were subsequently discovered that she was prevaricating or concealing information. Why would she do that? If she had genuinely been unaware of what was happening, how was that possible? If we allow for that possibility though, then however improbable it may seem, we must also allow for the possibility that she was deliberately not informed by one or more senior members of her management team about what was going on! Why would they do that? Did one or more of her team fear that a woman Commissioner would not sympathise or identify with a traditional male ethos? What else has yet to be disclosed? Does she even yet know who has been hiding information from her? Is that the reason why she is determined to remain in office until, like a good police officer, she flushes out the mole in the organisation? Is this yet another example of “The Case of the Dog that didn’t Bark in the Night?”

Where do we go from here?

A gap is opening between Government and people. It is widening to a gulf of not knowing. And it is not just in Ireland, but in many other countries that regard themselves as democracies.

NOTE: I began writing this blog about one month ago on a Monday morning just before Christmas.

I have just been listening to the Sean O’Rourke programme, which featured an interview with An Tánaiste from Greece informing us about the progress in arrangements to bring our quota of refugees to Ireland. Earlier there was a discussion about Garda pension arrangements, trade union recognition, et al. Then an interview with Mr. Irwin, founder and now retiring CEO of the Jack and Jill Foundation about the work done by them over the past twenty years or so. Over the week-end I had listened to discussions around Irish art and culture reminding me how wonderful and unique we Irish are. Then, as I sit here listening to “O Holy Night” on the Ronan Collins Show, I check in to Facebook and the first item in my Facebook page is a comment from one of the “anti-water protest” pages objecting to our welcoming of refugees while homeless Irish people are living and dying on our streets. And that is just in the past two hours. Add to that the kaleidoscope of disturbing images and snippets from different media and I find myself torn apart, struggling with conflicted emotions.

I promised myself as I started to write this piece that I would not use adjectives or any words that carried emotion or judgment. I failed but I have gone back and edited those words so that I took the emotions back into my psyche and owned them. The result is that I now feel angry, despairing, powerless, dirtied, complicit, confused, useless, but still determined not to give in. I am listening to the RTÉ news telling me of summary executions of non-combatant civilians in Aleppo in Syria, I can’t be sure that I can continue to process and control these emotions as I write.

dreamstime_s_46142943

Nevertheless, I have devoted my whole life, sometimes with conscious focus but more often than not driven by an unconscious, inexplicable, internal tumult to confront the Unknown, and possibly Unknowable, in an effort to make sense of this chaos.

A few rocks of logic have given me a handhold to survive. And I would like to describe these before making an appeal. It is part of our human condition that we must admit and accept that we struggle to understand what Life is about. Some people accept the tenets of a received religion which gives them a measure of consolation provided they maintain their “Belief in the Unbelievable” (G.K. Chesterton’s description of religion) which appears to be based upon an assumption that “God is Good” albeit not understandable to the human mind, and “Evil” is attributable to a separate entity. Others develop the assumption that there is no “God” and that Life, the Universe, and Everything, is some kind of glorious happenstance that doesn’t require a meaning other than that “it is”, and “après moi”, not only is there no “la deluge”, there isn’t even a tear drop. Truly Theatre of the Absurd!

I began to see a glimmer of humanist hope in the middle 1970s. I had returned from a four-year contract in Zambia, working on the second largest underground copper mine in the world, where I had reached the level of Chief Training Officer. The challenge of working in a different culture and different working environment had opened my mind and led me to question many of my inherited certainties. Back in Ireland after a short spell in consultancy in the UK and Angola, I was introduced to the work of the Tavistock Institute and the work of Melanie Klein, a psychotherapist, who had studied under Sigmund Freud. Without going into the theoretical details of her work which dominated my work and my world for the following thirty years, I can summarise in lay-person’s language the essence of her work.

The Lion Sleeps tonight

Melanie Klein was a psychotherapist who focused on studying young children up to the age of two in order to understand how the human psyche (total mental system) learned how to understand and respond to the world around it. In essence she suggested that the child discovers by accident and by experimenting that there are “good” things and “bad” things about the world that can please or upset, love or hurt, and a mental boundary is thus created between Good and Evil. The good things are internalised/eaten and give pleasure, the nasties are spat out, thrown up, put beyond the boundary that was created in the psyche and externalised. This way of dealing with “objects” is imprinted in the psyche before the child has developed speech to describe its feelings and these “bottled” experiences become the basic mechanism we use throughout our life for dealing with the people and events that impinge on us. This means that we unconsciously reject anything that upsets or offends us and “project” it, like a slide onto a screen, and see it in someone or something external to us. This gives us some consolation but it doesn’t last very long because it is only the association with the external object that is projected. We are still left with the feeling response of disgust, or anger, or fear that was generated initially.

I emphasise that this is done unconsciously. But every time I see, hear, or read a rant on facebook or a report in a television/radio interview that seems to be biased, I am reminded of that mechanism and wonder what can be done to bring about a resolution of the unconscious reaction. We have been fuming with anger against those who have imposed austerity upon us, we are angry with the Government for what we believe they are doing to us. But while the anger burns away at our souls, and people suffer evictions, and loss, and pain in their lives, nothing seems to happen as a result of that anger. Innocent people, adults and children find their lives reduced to bare survival. Why? The inequalities in society are worsening. Why is nothing being done?

five-of-cupsI believe that it is essential for our very health, physical and mental, that we learn to understand this psychic avoidance mechanism. We live in an  increasingly dangerous and uncontrolled environment. Yet, if we are to survive we must come to terms with these learned responses that once served a useful purpose but nowadays are a time bomb ticking down the seconds to our destruction. I am thinking in particular about the anger, violent and palpable, that is expressed by so many people in response to the increasing violence we experience from society, from government, even from those close to us. For that reason I have been asking myself is it worth the risk of putting my head above the parapet to draw attention to this violence. Because much of it is an unconscious, “knee-jerk”, reaction to the pain experienced by so many people our instinctive reaction is to deny it. That is my reaction also, hoping that it will go away, or that someone else will take up the cudgel to attack it. That is why I have held back on posting this message since just before Christmas.

A gap is opening between Government and people. It is widening to a gulf of not knowing. And it is not just in Ireland, but in many other countries that regard themselves as democracies.

Birth of the Ampersand et al.

As I invite you to follow me into one of the larger stone buildings, please do not distract those hard at work at the sloping wooden desks.
Come with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic

This is the Scriptorium, the Room of Writing.

I am launching an appeal for the preservation of the “.”
Yes, the much maligned, abused, and misunderstood Full Stop or Period. Restore our Mr., our etc., the I.R.A. Shun the abusive use of USA, UK, EU, and their likes! Omitting the humble <.> is a sign of ignorance, an absence of respect, and a further decline into willful barbarity.
Why do I write with tears of desperation misting my smart phone. Why do they still use a special key for the simple, unpretentious <.>! Quite simply because the dumbing downers have misunderstood the advice that “Brevity is the Soul of Wit”.
I beg you, Friends, Romantics, and Fellow Countrymen, lend me your ears, just for a mo. And in that short phrase at the end of the previous sentence lies a clue!
Lay aside you concerns, your petty irritations, turn off the radio or television, and open your mind and imagination to the greatest gift that our Irish ancestors gave and gave freely to Europe and to the world at large.
Come with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic off the Western coast of a mysterious island marked on the maps of Roman and Egyptian seafarers as Hibernia, the Island of Saints and Scholars, and departure point of leather boats and currachs for Tír na n-Óg, the Land of the Ever Young.
As I invite you to follow me into one of the larger stone buildings, please do not distract those hard at work at the sloping wooden desks. This is the Scriptorium, the Room of Writing. Here you see the Scribes at work. They have prepared their pots of ink from natural materials. Some of those raw materials have been delivered by traders who traded their way up the original Great Atlantic Coastal Way extending from the Mediterranean in the South to the Hebridean Islands north of Scotland. That was a time when Europe was thickly forested and wild animals marauded in the wilderness between isolated communities.
Some Scribes are sharpening the points of their goose feather quills. On the sloping work surface of his desk another Scribe has fixed the prepared calf hide upon which he will apply the ink with the quill. But first he must mark out the space which will be his page. Nowadays, of course, with your P.C., or your iPad, or your smart phone, this is done automatically for you. Left or right justified? Italics? Bold? Which font, what colours? Just set your requirements by tapping the relevant icons and off you go. Not so then! Not so even when I was starting out as a student!
In 1959, I had just completed my first year as an engineering student at University College Cork. I had spent part of that year learning the basic skills of engineering drawing which involved blocking out the different sections of the drawing including penciling in the text boxes where I would insert the explanatory text. My father, with intriguing foresight or perhaps just wishing to pass on to me his skill in the calligraphy required when preparing important legal documents such as leases, contracts, and wills, introduced me to the subject.
He sat me down at my own Dickensian desk in his office in Cobh, Co. Cork, complete with the tools of the trade, a sheet of waxed paper, an array of nibs, a wooden pen-holder, a razor blade, and a little bottle of black Indian Ink. Any error or blob of ink had to be dried and the stain that was left carefully and delicately scraped off. Then the roughened surface was rubbed with a chamois leather cloth to warm the underlying waxed surface to restore the original smooth, glossy surface of the vellum. It took a whole day of writing to reach the standard required before I proved that I could be trusted with the actual job in hand. It was worth it.
Years later when I became interested in studying ancient manuscripts and translating from Latin and Irish to English I found that early experience invaluable when deciphering the manuscripts.When I, like the ancient Scribes, embarked on writing my manuscript I had to plan how many words and letters I would fit into each line. The spacing had to be uniform on my documents. The Scribes had a different problem that in some ways made their job easier. They didn’t put spaces between words! They just wrote uninterruptedly from the first word to the last word of the document! Yes, the whole page. I think that the modern equivalent is the help files supplied with software programs where you need to know the answer to your question before you can understand the turgid prose of the author who is supposed be helping you find that answer. Those manuscripts were hard to read!
Now the early Irish Scribes were way ahead of today’s help file compilers. They listened to the feedback they received from the sponsors who commissioned the manuscripts as the following (imaginary!) dialogue demonstrates:
King/Lord/Abbot commissioning the manuscript: “The formation of the letters is very pretty and I really like the animal and bird decorations but I feel like a right gargoyle dick-head when my guests and my friends don’t dig it if I run out of breath halfway through the story. I need something better if you are to continue receiving my bags of gold.”
Chief Scribe: “I hear what you’re saying, King/Lord/Abbot Boss. Leave it to me.”
So the C.S. called the team together for a brain-storming session. He used motivational techniques common at the time to encCome with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic cosmic-yin-yang-symbolourage the team. Phrases like “that’s your bonus package for Paradise terminated if …”, “No more trips to Tír na n-Óg for you, Brother …”
And it worked. A sequence of lateral, vertical, and horizontal thinking exercises and the team came up with some of Monastic Ireland’s greatest contributions to world literacy and literature. Firstly they invented the FUCome with me now on a magical, mystical journey back through time to a small cluster of little stone buildings clinging to the side of a rocky island breasting the rolling waves of the unknown Atlantic cosmic-yin-yang-symbolLL STOP to indicate the point at which one part of the message ended and a new part started thus providing a discrete cue for drawing breath. And thus was the SENTENCE born. Shortly after that some bright spark added the gloss of decorating the first letter so that Kings/Lords/Abbots would remember where they stopped if they had lifted their eyes to check quickly which of their so called friends and guests had fallen asleep or slipped out for a quick chat with one of the temping, and often tempting, serving wenches. [Thanks, Google predictive for that opportunist pun!👍].
Thus did our Irish ancestors invent and introduce CAPITALS. To put this in context, if Monsanto, or Nestlé, were involved in such an invention today, they would demand copyright control and charge a hefty fee for every time we used them. Instead those brilliant and entrepreneurial monks took vows of poverty and anticipated the GNU Commons License. Well done, lads!
Nevertheless, as we usually find in Life, solving one problem exposes another. In those days they didn’t have access to consultants who would, as part of their investigations, show conclusively that there really was no problem there at all that a little re-organisation of resources couldn’t eliminate and that a spin-doctor could prove was in fact an “opportunity” and not a “threat”. So they had to find a solution to this new problem.
No matter how hard they tried to plan ahead it was virtually impossible to finish a line of text at exactly the same point as the previous line. And Kings/Lords/Abbots did so love their fully justified text with its military precision of left and right edges being parallel. They must truly have been idealists because the natural world in which they lived was certainly lacking in straight edges! But thus was conceived and brought into existence the concept of the “abbreviation”, the crowning achievement of our Irish Scribes!
When you come near the right edge of your text block and you have to fit, for example, the word “September” and there is space only for four or five letters, then you feel like screaming and filling in “shit” just to release your frustration. But no, Brother Scribe taps his nose with his right forefinger, and inserts “Sept.” and thereby saves the day and the vellum. This <.> is now no mere prompt for an indrawn breath. It is an indicator that the preceding letters are a generally understood and accepted ABBREVIATION. That was really putting it up to the educated elite to prove they were educated and knew the codes.
These abbreviations proliferated giving us a donkey-load of useful ways, not only of fitting a big word into a small space, but also of fitting more text into the same space. This is basically the foundation also of Shorthand, a defunct skill now that we have voice recorders. With the increasing use of Latin as a lingua franca for the educated elites across Europe, our Scribes gleefully used abbreviations that had to be understood to be deciphered in a text. A delicate touch of monastic one-up-manship! Not unlike the way that today we use slang and jargon to parade our expertise or professional connections. Thus, the Latin glosses and their abbreviations, such as “et cetera” meaning “and others”, abbreviated to “etc.” with the <.> signifying that it is an abbreviation. The ampersand symbol “&” is an imaginative and artistic squiggle based on the letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ of the Latin “et” meaning ‘and’. Even today legal eagles become scrotally damp with excitement at opportunities to parade phrases they no longer understand.
This brings me to the abbreviations I listed at the beginning of this homage to ancestors. The <.> used in each of the, U.S.A., E.U., etc. is an indication of an abbreviation deriving ultimately from the practices of our early Irish Scribes. They, writing in Old Irish, then in Early Irish, and Latin, preserved not only Irish oral tradition but, together with Latin and Greek scholars aided and abetted by Islamic Scholars in the Middle East, preserved the first written literature and mythologies and hitherto oral traditions of Europe, a treasure-trove of European culture and identity that might have been lost forever during the Dark Ages.I have it on the reliable evidence of a previous Irish President, that at that time the adventurous Colmcille opened discussions with European tribes about rolling out the concept of Europe. Even though Hibernia was at the edges of the then known world, our hearts were at the centre of the Europe to be.
I wonder is it a coincidence, or perhaps even a synchronicity, that the countries and cultures listed above, Latins, Greeks, Irish, Islam, the Middle East, are the ones suffering most today under the lash of neo-liberal capitalist exploitation? Just a thought.
I believe in, and I am passionately committed to, that noble heritage from my Irish and European ancestors. I would not like to see that heritage destroyed because of a lack of understanding or a barbaric obsession with the destruction of what we do not understand. Perhaps it’s time for another diplomatic and cultural assault on the Goths and Visigoths of Europe.
Troglodytes of the World Unite before they beat out our Brains.

A Greek god helps the Homeless

Quite clearly then Apollo was a Champion of the Homeless, he had no hesitation in fighting against and defeating the stinking Python, who like the Government, was responsible for spreading mischief!

People sometimes look strangely at me when I say that I believe there is no such thing as “coincidence”. I prefer to use the word “synchronicity” which suggests that two apparently unrelated events “click” with one another under certain circumstances. For example, have you ever had the experience of thinking about someone and within a short time, sometimes minutes, the phone rings and it is that person. Or you meet someone whom you haven’t met for a long time. I am sure you can provide other examples from your own experience.

It is as if those two events in the coincidence were waiting to happen in parallel realities, and then for some unknown reason they become connected in time. As if they existed in different worlds, but for some reason it happens that they “touch” and they happen at the same time. The important thing is that when they do “click” they become relevant to one another. That means that by comparing one event to the other we can get insights that we would not have arrived at by logic.But that approach is ridiculed, why?

Since the Enlightenment in the Middle Ages, Science has taken off in a big way and we have been told that those notions we had before the Enlightenment were stupid and primitive. Now Science has developed rapidly so much so that the logical real world is the only one that matters. Measurement is more important than feelings. Economics is a more important measure of the state of the country than is the morale and health of the people, the individual is more important than the group. If you can’t touch it, prod it, test it, break it, then it doesn’t exist! Imagine yourself in the middle of nothing and tell me how big you are.

picture-of-appollo
Why are Greek statues naked? Click here

I am sorry, I beg to differ, strange and all as my views may sound to you. Let me now tease you with this one. Do you recognise this man? His face, I mean! It is Apollo the Greek god after whom that now famous but previously unoccupied building in Dublin was named. Wait till you hear what he was famous for!

Apollo and Artemis were two twins born by the king of the gods Zeus and Leto, a daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. Zeus was already married to Hera. Leto was a very gracious and loveable deity but was hated by Hera, the wife of Zeus, for having seduced her husband. So when Leto became pregnant and Hera found out, she explicitly forbade any place under the sun to offer shelter to the sinful womanThere seemed to be no place all over Greece willing to offer a shelter to Leto, so she was wandering around desperately and aimlessly. As well as that Apollo  was the god of many things, including: music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, plague, medicine, sun, light and knowledge. He was associated with oracles which was the Ancient World’s equivalent of a professional consultant, one to whom you went when you wanted advice about serious questions or advice on how to solve a particularly difficult problem. It is based upon psychic skills which are very difficult but not impossible to explain in modern scientific terms.For example, how does a water diviner locate underground water sources using a forked branch or a pendulum? It works, so suspend judgment until we hear more. Delphi was the place where the star diviner of the time lived. There was a creature with the body of a snake at Delphi. Wherever the Python went, it gave off an obnoxious smell and spread mischief and death. This Python was once sent out by Hera, the wife of Zeus, to chase the pregnant Leto, a lover of Zeus, so that she couldn’t settle anywhere to give birth.

Apollo was worshiped as one of the primary sun gods in the ancient world. We all know how important the sun is to life on Earth (as in, it wouldn’t exist without it), and though they did not quite understand the science behind it all, the ancient Greeks knew well that pleasing the sun god was vitally important. They described Apollo as driving his chariot across the sky every day carrying the Sun! Apollo was therefore a very popular and highly worshiped god who was also associated with healing.

Quite clearly then Apollo was a Champion of the Homeless, he had no hesitation in fighting against and defeating the stinking Python, who like the Government, was responsible for spreading mischief!

[For lots more information about Apollo, just do a search on “greek god apollo” and you will find lots more to set you thinking!]

So, in summary, Apollo was into music, poetry, art, did a lot to bring light into the world, protected the homeless and was a really genuine nice guy! I wonder did the people who built and named Apollo House realise that one day the qualities of Apollo would be required to protect the homeless, and that artists and musicians would participate in the celebration of human rights, and be an important symbol in the fight against oppression of the ordinary Irish man, woman, or child by powerful people and institutions that seem to think that they are gods and know better?

In the light of the Court’s decision earlier today, which of the “coincidences” dealing with Apollo do you think wlll now be  most important in achieving what Project Apollo stands for? Which of the mythological characters or deities do you identify with the Government’s position.  You are welcome to leave any comments below.

 

And that is how a prince can pass through the guts of a beggar.

I admire you, #Lynn_Ruane, and the work you do. More, nay, most importantly you are the only Irish politician that I have heard using the words “his/her soul”, in such a meaningful context. When someone takes their own life there is shock and bewilderment, why did they do it. The “father of Sociology” described suicide as the “greatest crime against society.” I have seen that phrase parsed and analysed as meaning that the one who took their own life had, in some way, sinned against society because society, their community, perhaps even their family hadn’t helped them. I am beginning to see and unravel another meaning there.

I have my own spiritual beliefs but having come from a Catholic background in Ireland, and examined other religious systems, I practise no religion that has created by men, women, or their so-called “God”. Let me explain, because in the situation up to now, suicide  has been interpreted as “murder without a reason or an explanation” as if the individual had set out to hurt society. I see suicide as the end of a chain of suffering inflicted on the individual by society, including other less final events, or states of mind, earlier on in their life. But we are not introduced to examining these “little things” because either we don’t know how to respond, or we don’t understand, or perhaps even, if we did notice anything, we were blind or too fearful to look at it because we don’t know how to respond effectively. I now believe that suicide should be described as “the greatest crime against the Spirit committed by society”

Rodin - The Thinker

Let me explain what I mean.

People, in general, and very specifically here in Ireland, treat their “Body-Mind-Spirit” triad combination in that descendng order of importance to them. The Body, however, is equivalent to a space suit, but gets the most attention, It is useful for carrying the Brain, i.e, our built-in human computer module, around with us, as it senses and interprets our reality. The Mind is like the software package that comes with the computer. Like the software package that comes with your manufactured computer, it provides a structure and a set of instructions for the Brain to do its computing. I have read recently that the “software for the mind” is loaded from the DNA that we inherit through our parents from our ancesters, our culture, and add to by our experience of life. That is perhaps why C.J. Jung, the psychotherapist, wrote that every child born arrives with a complete history of the evolution of the world in its psyche  The Mind manages the Brain just as the Operating System manages the computer.

I believe, however, and my apologies if anyone disagrees with me and feels hurt by what I write, that “Soul” is our “energy source” that powers our life with only one single charge. Nothing new in that! Most people describe death as the Soul leaving the Body. But after that scientific statement, things get kind of confused. Atheists seem to have missed the point, and agnostics haven’t bothered to get that far yet, but both claim to believe that the Cosmos is just some kind of accident or nasty joke that happened and that it is going nowhere and has no intrinsic meaning for us. They imply that we are wasting out time trying to unravel the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Even stranger when you thing that many prominent atheists announce that they are scientists.  Their advice is “just get on with it.”

When we, die the Body dies. What is generally described as the “Soul” is, in modern terms, like a holograph of the entire Cosmic Spirit/ Energy/ God (not as in OMG), that is, a realistic picture composed of minute versions of the large picture (just like the holograph on your bank card or credit card which gives the illusion that you are looking at the picture in three dimensions, looking at the sides, the top, the bottom as if it were an actual object in front of you). Now that image enables and forces me to look at every individual, good, bad, or indifferent, as the full image of the Unnameable, the Unimaginable One that powers the Universe. It helps me to explore and understand a truth that may exist in the phrase “children of God” but gives it a whole new meaning for me. That is why I believe that the act of suicide is a despairing cry of belief that Life could be so much better, if society stopped believing in lies, put the triad in a different order, writing “Soul, Mind, Body” instead of “Body, Mind, Soul”. We can’t see Spirit or Soul or the Mind but we can examine and know the body. The Body is composed of star dust, created by the the nuclear explosions in dying stars. As a result of that death of a star, dust comprising the atoms of hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur, and all the other chemicals we find in our natural world, have over billions of years floated through space, driven by solar winds, carried on comets and asteroids, eventually reaching Earth. You see, the Bible and other holy books, tales passed down from mythological time, carry a simple message, such as the Christian one that God picked a handful of that star dust, breathed on it and created human beings. That is a very simplified story but essentially scientific and reasonable.

That is also why I stated earlier that we must begin to re-evaluate the message that wasn’t written by the person who ended the life of their own Body but expressed that message nonetheless. Just because it wasn’t written down as a note, doesn’t mean there was no message in their action. To understand that message we must first understand the process of the life of the Body. It has come from another human body, which has fed and nourished itself on plants and animals containing feed that had been absorbed from the earth composted plants containing that same star dust mentioned above. When our human body dies, it also is composted and broken down again into star dust to join the star dust of every other living creature throughout the planet which has died and decomposed and became ready to be recycled. And if there is no doubt but that the bodies of all living things having died, decomposed with their handful of star dusk returning to the composting earth, then it is inevitable that what I refered to earlier as my space suit is actually made from recycled material from previous living beings, then there is no reason to doubt that the material of our body has been recycled and is the home of the hologram of the Cosmic Spirit. As the Gravedigger in Hamlet remarked “and that is how a prince can pass through the guts of a beggar.” I believe that we must turn our attention to Spirit and Mind, and cease from putting Body ahead of Spirit and Mind. I think that we must do this if we are ever to understand why someone dear to us has apparently taken their own life without a reason. We should be examining our Selves and our society to find out why  collectively we have created a society that stalks those are threatened by what they have seen when they looked into the heart of Darkness.

Peace and blessings be with all who grieve.