Adam and Eve

If chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis set the stage for the development of humankind, Chapter 3 provides the frame. Chapter 2, verse 24 ended with a comment on how Adam and Eve felt after they had sex. The two of them were naked and felt no shame. How did they go from being naked and unashamed to being shamed? How did chapter 3 define the frame through which human relations came to be understood by millions of people?

A frame, according to the philosopher and linguist, George Lakoff, offers an ethical and political language in which to embed deep-seated and active values. (Cf. Don’t Think of an Elephant) Those who command the construction and interpretation of the frame determine in large part how we see and respond to the world. The vaguer the frame becomes, the more confused it appears to be, the more likely behaviour will be based on fears rather than on positive values and aspirations. Further, the more that one frame is reinforced by effective metaphors rather than logical arguments, by repetition, interpretation and other means, to that degree will possessors of the frame be able to resist challenges. For the frame is overwhelmingly unconscious and provides the conceptual basis for dealing with our lives and desires.

One interpretation of the Adam and Eve story has set the predominant frame in terms of which male-female relationships, from which all other relationships are derivative, are understood and entail certain types of actions and ruling out others. It goes as follows, recognizing that naming or branding them came later:

  1. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  2. Eve was tricked by an unscrupulous and shrewd snake to eat thereof.
  3. Eve then seduced Adam.
  4. After they ate, they recognized that they were naked and became ashamed of their nakedness and donned clothes.
  5. God suspected something was amiss.
  6. The man and his wife hid from God ostensibly because they were naked.
  7. God then knew that the two had eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and first confronted Adam.
  8. Adam said it was Eve’s fault.
  9. When Eve was confronted, she said it was the serpent’s fault; he had seduced her.
  10. As a result, the snake was cursed, forced to crawl on its belly and eat dirt, and there would hereafter be enmity between the snake and women.
  11. Woman was cursed a) with suffering extreme pain in giving birth and b) with a desire for her husband and c) acceptance that the husband would rule over her.
  12. Adam was cursed because he would be forced to work all his life by the sweat of his brow until he died.

Let’s call this the family conservative frame since if informs and is reaffirmed by most community conservatives. The frame is taken to mean what it apparently says, that is, it is perceived as a literal rather than metaphorical frame which makes it resistant to other interpretations. Desire and sex are viewed as the source of all evil, but a desire that neither man nor woman can avoid. Hence, the doctrine of original sin. Sex is then viewed as perhaps necessary to satiate uncontrollable desires and, of course, to procreate, but it should only properly take place between a man and his wife in a boundaried context of a mutual but asymmetrical relationship, the woman defined primarily by nurturing and bringing forth children in pain and suffering under the rule of her husband as the final arbiter.

Let us reread the text in terms of another frame, one which primarily accepts the narrative as a metaphor that requires interpretation. Further, instead of stressing negatives and prohibitions, it is a tale about overcoming superego trips for a life of creativity, responsibility and true companionship.  Though there are many variations, let us call it the liberal frame. It differs from the conservative reading in the following respects:

  1. God’s statement to man and woman is not a categorical command but a conditional claim – if you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will die; knowledge of your mortality will be the consequence of having sex.
  2. Nevertheless, God allows his consequentialist declarations to be perceived as absolute moral prohibitions, whereas the task of humans is to see through this critically and to reinforce the rights of self-determination in opposition to such an imposition.
  3. Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil entails man “knowing” a woman and a woman “knowing” a man, that is sex – this is the one common element of both frames.
  4. A consequence of having sex is both recognition of one’s mortality and that recognition is the ground and foundation for humans defining themselves in terms of ethics.
  5. The talking erect serpent is man’s penis seen by man as having a will of its own and is characterized as sly and subtle; the difference however, is that man must recognize this as an act of objectifying his own body, just as he objectified woman by conceiving of her as an extension of himself, and failing to take responsibility for his whole being and his actions.
  6. Most importantly, this reflects on the male disposition to separate his conscious life of objectivity and viewing the world from his unconscious life, so that the male is characterized as inherently torn between an embodied self and a disembodied self that uses language to bring things into cognitive existence through the simple act of naming. Recognizing thought as primarily an act of unconscious framing provides a major step in overcoming this schizophrenia.
  7. The female disposition, on the other hand, is to be embodied, to be sensitive to sensual appeals rather than repressing them, to see relationships as modes of contact and communication rather than objectification, but when such dispositions are asserted, they are readily interpreted by the possessors of the conservative frame as subversive, so there develops a countervailing disposition under social pressure to expand injunctions, to perceive them as superego commands opposed to eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to not even touching; ideally, the woman should be a nun.
  8. The real sin of both the male and the female is one of a cover-up, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, and not taking responsibility for their actions; it is the decision to hide, not the drift into having sex.
  9. Transparency is to be lauded and not seen as a matter of shame.
  10. God does not like them having sex – He intended the future Eve to just be a help-meet, not even a companion and friend let alone a sexual partner.
  11. Through the failure to see the narrative as a metaphor, man perceives his life of work as a burden and a duty from which he longs for escape – either at the end of his days or when he can return to a paradisiacal state of leisure.
  12. For the very same reason, woman sees her life exclusively and burdensomely as a nurturer responsible primarily for giving birth, raising children and subjecting herself to a patriarchal order.

How do we allow one frame to develop and eventually command the way the world is viewed? One is by being educated in art as well as science, by seeing art and the imagination as absolutely critical and central to self-definition. Secondly, it requires using science, using the power of naming, to unveil the unconscious. Third, nurturing must be accepted, not only as the responsibility of both men and women, not only of the role of both men and women in the family, but of the conception of government in which care of one’s fellow citizens is first and foremost followed by care for the rest of the world.

That role of nurturing extends from government to all of civil society, including business and industry. Government is responsible for our health and well being, our safety, our use of public resources, our communications. Without highways and airports, telephones and the internet, our role as humans to facilitate contact and communication will be subverted. Further, and most audaciously, while interpreters of the conservative creed and the literalist interpretation of the core narrative code are perceived as allocating responsibility primarily to the family, the metaphorical interpretation views it as a prime responsibility of government to educate its citizens that government’s prime concern is caring and protecting, not retreating from its responsibilities. Adam Smith does not describe the wealth of nations simply to characterize businesses in open competition in order to maximize themselves, but as trustees served and protected by our governments to enhance the well-being of all. Though corporations may have a propensity to be self-serving, it is the duty of government to establish moral sympathy as the foundation stone and ensure, by means of regulations, that all businesses serve the public good.

Politics are grounded in an ethics of responsibility and accountability rather than an abuse of ethics to cover-up and hide, to be devious and celebrate deviousness. That requires offering your own narrative and interpretation of that narrative, framing and naming experience and thereby your own experience. It means making nurturing and empathy – traditional feminine values – as the core, rather than repression, hard-nosed discipline and patriarchy. The biblical tale begins with the latter, but with the message that it is up to humans to bring forth the former for otherwise the patriarchal God, Elohim, the God of power and domination, will never discover His other side, his mercy and that He is Adonai and not just Elohim. History is the vehicle for the education of both God and humanity. History is not reification but discovery and learning.

God is NOT the source of defining right and wrong. Males are NOT the source of defining right and wrong. Both have a history of failure. But both also have a history of learning from that failure and altering the framework through which they understand the world and act in and upon it. At Passover services the most interesting child is not the wise child who has learned all his lessons by heart, but the contrary child who raises questions about those lessons even as he mistakenly distances himself from the community in so doing. God begins by defining Himself as a strict disciplinarian, as a severe deliverer of tough love for His people, but discovers over and over again that tough love only leads to disarray and destruction rather than preservation and security. Reread the Adam and Eve story as an imaginative exercise with a very different frame.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Sex and the Single Man

We suspected it all along. But we are approaching certainty. Donald Trump will be impeached, even though he attacked Syria ostensibly to destroy some of the capacity of an evil regime which sacrifices its own nationals with chemical weapons in contravention of international treaties and the rules of war. Trump, reading from two prompters, gave his finest presidential speech ever in explaining what the U.S. and its allies were doing in their missile attack on Syria and why. Pat Robertson, the evangelical preacher, even interpreted Trump’s habit of sniffing while he reads a speech to be a sign that he was breathing in the breath of the Holy Spirit. However, the speech stank from insincerity. By sometime next year, if not earlier, Mike Pence will become president of the United States.

A reader of my blog sent me a very insightful article by Meghan O’Gieblyn in the May issue of Harpers Magazine called: “Exiled: Mike Pence and the evangelical fantasy of persecution.” The article not only paints a picture of the character of Pence’s Christian beliefs, but also provides insight into how he and other Christians could vote for and support Donald Trump no matter how much he lied, how much he fornicated with other women than his wife, how much he took to the media to berate and belittle his own appointees and government administrators. Mike Pence belongs to a branch of the Christian evangelical religion that takes its archetype for political involvement and activity from the story of Daniel and the emperor Cyrus.

In his 2016 book, God’s Chaos Candidate: Donald J. Trump and America’s Unraveling, Lance Wallau claimed that God spoke to him and revealed that candidate Trump was like the Persian King Cyrus cited in the Bible. Cyrus decreed that the Jews living in captivity in ancient Babylon could return to Israel and rebuild their temple. Voting for Trump entails a sacrifice to achieve a greater cause and objective.

First, the thesis presumes that Christians in America now live as aliens and a threatened minority in their own historic land. This is the same theses that Martin Luther King put forth in his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech fifty-five years ago on the Washington Mall on 28 August 1963: “the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” This is how Evangelical Christians, and Lance Wallau in particular, currently portray the current plight of Evangelical Christians in America. They are living as a persecuted minority as exiles in their own land.

Second, they will be redeemed, not through good works and social justice, but by getting in bed with a pagan who will serve as God’s means to deliver them once again to the Promised Land and their rightful home. They will return from exile and once again build a commonwealth based on strict Christian (priestly Jewish) teachings (a kingdom that never existed in history as much as some Jews tried to create one). The rule of a new High Priest would esteem purity and ban homosexuality, drive strangers out of the land and revere ethnic homogeneity. The Black narrative is first appropriated and then applied to themselves in a competition of imagined victimhood.

Could anything be more miraculous than the pagan Donald Trump rescuing Mike Spence from political decline and obscurity following the farce of the anti-gay legislation he introduced in Indiana? Could anyone imagine anything more miraculous than Donald Trump no sooner – or even before he won the presidency – proceeding headstrong towards self-destruction? Yes. The story of Daniel in the Torah is interpreted to mean that, “God’s people can survive in exile—even under the fist of a despotic ruler—so long as one of their own tribe advocates on their behalf in the corridors of power.” One can have faith and serve Babylon at one and the same time. Because Babylon with a pagan, tenacious and willful ruler unintentionally will serve as a mechanism of return as Isaiah foretold (45:1).

א  כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, לִמְשִׁיחוֹ לְכוֹרֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר-הֶחֱזַקְתִּי בִימִינוֹ לְרַד-לְפָנָיו גּוֹיִם, וּמָתְנֵי מְלָכִים, אֲפַתֵּחַ–לִפְתֹּחַ לְפָנָיו דְּלָתַיִם, וּשְׁעָרִים לֹא יִסָּגֵרוּ. 1 Thus saith the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him, and that the gates may not be shut:
ב  אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ אֵלֵךְ, וַהֲדוּרִים אושר (אֲיַשֵּׁר); דַּלְתוֹת נְחוּשָׁה אֲשַׁבֵּר, וּבְרִיחֵי בַרְזֶל אֲגַדֵּעַ. 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the doors of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron;

Trump will be the wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness and substitute religious correctness for Israel’s sake so that the nation can fulfill its divine assignment, and for America’s sake so that Christian nationalists can once again regain their proper place in the sun.

I had started to write this blog early Friday morning, but was sidetracked because of a request of one of my sons. I never got very far into it. On Friday evening when I was off to synagogue, at the corner of Nina and Bathurst Streets, I saw a vision. In the sky to the south at the bottom of the steep Bathurst Hill, there was a large hand in the sky. Beneath that sky, cars were driving towards the heavens and disappearing into the clouds. Of course, the huge hand in the sky was but a reflection in the misty late afternoon of the hand signal that warned pedestrians not to cross the street. The cars in the sky disappearing into the clouds were but reflections of the cars driving down the Bathurst Street hill. An unusual confluence of mist and air, and the sun remaining invisible, allowed what was on the ground to be reflected much larger than life in the sky. The heavens mirrored earth. It was an illusion.

Though this naturalistic explanation was correct, what I saw was a miracle nevertheless. It was a vision almost worthy of Daniel. God’s hand was so powerful that it could make cars and traffic disappear. Such is the power of God’s hand and His outstretched arm! Such is the willingness of humans to sacrifice their neighbours in the name of purification!

My theme in this series of blogs has been about etzem and how identity, or sameness, and independence can be reconciled. I wrote about Adam’s fantasy that woman was merely an extension and projection of man, woman more as possession than as objectification, though both misconceptions prove to be complementary. It is this tale of master and slave, of men as masters and women as their servants, that is even more fundamental than one ethnic group, one religious group or one race, subjecting another group to slavery.


כז  וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ:  זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בָּרָא אֹתָם.
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.

Even in Genesis I, when God created man and woman, only man was made in the image of God. That is why in man’s dream, in Adam’s dream, woman is viewed as created, not this time as an image of himself, but as a physical extension and projection of himself. Only man in the image of God can say and it will be. Only man can name and classify and bring the categories of thought into being. Woman is simply made as a physical help meet of man – at least as told in the Biblical narrative of the faulty path of human illusions.

The biblical narrative begins, not with human independence, but interdependence, with man dependent on God and woman dependent on man. It is an asymmetrical interdependence. Man is beholden to God, not simply for his life, but for being created in the first place and for being given the position in turn of master over the physical universe. Man is the surrogate of God. Woman, on the other hand, is viewed by that man as simply his physical extension in the original doctrine of possessive individualism. But just as God is dependent on man for being recognized as the creator and master of the universe – animals and plants certainly cannot do that job – man is dependent on woman for serving his physical needs.

However, there was a fundamental difference between man and God epitomized by the two trees that God planted in Eden. One was the Tree of Life. God was eternal. Man was not. And man would not eat of the Tree of Life even though man deluded himself initially to believe that his destiny was to have eternal life.  A second tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of moral discernment. Here, man had it over God. Because God was not a physical being. God did not have a sexual partner. Man, on the other hand, could know woman, could have sex with a woman and thereby discover the foundations of a moral universe. If God brought humans into the world in this archetypal mythical tale, man and woman would bring morality into the world. It was not sufficient to recognize the good, to wonder at the beauty of creation. It was necessary to understand evil as well and its source. As you will see, it is not sex.

How? Because the two trees, the tree of life and thee tree of knowledge of good and evil were also interdependent. Man was warned that if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, if man knew woman, if the two had sex, they would know that they were mortal and were not like God, would know that one day they would surely die and that they never would be able to eat of the tree of eternal life.

The story of the second creation of Eve, the creation of Eve in the imagination of the male, is about an Eve who is but a physical extension of man, an Eve who exists simply because man is lonely and, further, because the man that is lonely does not even recognize that he needs Eve as his companion and, further, that being alone is “not good.”

Woman is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” And the two become one flesh in reality when they mate. But they do not, simply thereby, become partners in life.  For man does not see woman as his equal, does not see woman as an independent self-conscious being with whom he must establish and build a relationship. Look at how the mating game begins in Genesis III.

א  וְהַנָּחָשׁ, הָיָה עָרוּם, מִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים; וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה, אַף כִּי-אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן. 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’
ב  וַתֹּאמֶר הָאִשָּׁה, אֶל-הַנָּחָשׁ:  מִפְּרִי עֵץ-הַגָּן, נֹאכֵל. 2 And the woman said unto the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;
ג  וּמִפְּרִי הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹךְ-הַגָּן–אָמַר אֱלֹהִים לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, וְלֹא תִגְּעוּ בּוֹ:  פֶּן-תְּמֻתוּן. 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’
ד  וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה:  לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman: ‘Ye shall not surely die;
ה  כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע. 5 for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.’
ו  וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
ז  וַתִּפָּקַחְנָה, עֵינֵי שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּדְעוּ, כִּי עֵירֻמִּם הֵם; וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם חֲגֹרֹת. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves girdles.

What do we know about the serpent? We know it stood erect. We know that the serpent was subtle and devious. In fact, the serpent is an outright liar for he describes sex as a divine experience when that is precisely what a Hebrew divinity can never experience. God did recognize what is good and not good (loneliness for man); God had not yet come to recognize what is evil.

The serpent insists that if Eve eats of the tree of knowledge she will know good and evil and that will be like being a divine being who knows good and bad, good and evil. We know that the serpent spoke to woman. We can surmise that when first mentioned, serpent is a euphemism among a host of euphemisms in the Bible. We may currently give a penis a proper name – Peter or Oscar– or call it a boner. The biblical writers were prone to use a wide variety of euphemisms to refer to a penis, such as “basar,” “flesh” in Exodus 28:42, the same word that is used in Genesis 2:23: “flesh of my flesh,” בָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי. Woman then means bone of my bone, penis of my penis. Another euphemism for penis is erva עֶרְוָה or “nakedness,” as 3:7 above, עֵירֻמִּם.

Last night we went to hear The Hot Sardines at Koerner Hall, a terrific retro jazz band with superb musicians and even a tap dancer – see and hear them if they are in your neck of the woods – they play Vancouver at the Orpheum later this month and in Winnipeg in May – or if you go to New York, they perform at Joe’s pub. They put on a tremendous show. They are crisp and exacting musicians with a great horn and wood section. And they are funny in a sly and witty way, just as are some of the tunes they play from the days of dirty jazz in which all types of interactions with fruit were used to refer euphemistically to sex and passion.

Note the following about the biblical tale of the erect penis:

  1. Man objectifies his own penis and sees it as Other.
  2. That Other, unlike woman, is viewed as an entity with an independent being.
  3. That independent being, in contrast to the naïve Adam, obsessed with his naming ability and, thereby, bringing things into existence, is characterized by guile.
  4. Woman is seduced, not by a man, but by his penis, by woman discovering what a delight a penis is to the touch and the sight and the taking the penis in as food for the body and the spirit.
  5. Only in this way does Eve teach the blissfully unaware Adam, who does not even recognize Eve as an independent being but characterizes his penis as having independence from himself, that he too can take pleasure in his physical being.
  6. In discovering their nakedness, in discovering the penis, in discovering the wonders of sex, they are both ashamed.

Why do Adam and Eve feel shame? And what does sex and shame have to do with independence and autonomy?

To be continued.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Bone of my Bone

Yesterday I wrote about etzem suggesting both identity (sameness) and independence and asked how two such apparently opposite meanings of the same term could be reconciled. Earlier this month I had also written about salvation versus resurrection (wordpress 2018/04/07) These were the opening paragraphs of that blog:

Resurrection is very infrequently cited in the Torah. In its rare expressions, it is most often interpreted as a vision of glory at the end of days. But try reading it as a nightmare of the end of days when ignorant nostalgia governs, when dead zombies take power, when the shades enter daily life and hide the rays of sun behind a dark cloud, when those who sleep in the dust of the earth on gold-plated beds awake to reproach all others and spread abhorrence and hatred. (Daniel 12:2).
The vision of resurrection is not something to be celebrated, as the rabbis and Jesus did, but to be feared and eschewed. The monster in the black lagoon may now be coloured green as in The Shape of Water and in our imaginations and apparitions, but the real danger lies in the monstrosity of breath entering the dry bones of a dead past, dry bones covered with sinews and flesh, dry bones made to breathe and live again, when those should have been left in the slow decaying heap where they belonged and left to return to dust. (Ezekiel vv:1-2) The goal should be to deliver the Promised Land to our children and our children’s children and not to those lifted out of their graves.

Yesterday, however, I wrote about Adam falling asleep in the Garden of Eden story and God removing one of his ribs to fashion a woman viewed by this archetypal male as simply an extension of his own body. In this story, Eve is created out of a living bone, not a dry, dead one. It is not a story of resurrection, but of material projection. Recall that in Genesis I, on the sixth day of creation, long before this night dream of the creation of woman, God had already created man and woman, though man alone was created in His image. This, contrary to most interpretations, is not a blessing but a curse.  For the Jewish God is a very unimaginative one. He has little sense of the music of the spheres and of artistry. He is a craftsman with an attention to detail and precision. He is a scientist, absolutely marvelous at bringing objects and things into existence.

Humans are an example. They are embodied creatures, fertile, capable of reproduction, but also of rule. For man was made in the image of God to rule over all created things. What is created is viewed as good (or bad) and not as beautiful or ugly. God cannot smell. God cannot taste. Everything has been made for utility. God can pronounce what He creates as good, but not as embodying the beautiful. The sun and moon are placed in the heavens to dominate, to separate light from darkness and allow consciousness and knowledge of the external world and its exploitation to take place. God is also a mad scientist who can give birth to a monster out of a desire to objectify Himself in the flesh. And then that creation blessed with a divine spirit will do what God does, blame others for all the problems that result rather than taking responsibility for His own mistakes.

How was that initial rule based on responsibility for the creation but irresponsibility for the management demonstrated? By giving man the power and the ability to engage in taxonomy, to use his brain to classify and categorize all things. Not to relate to them as things to touch and smell and wallow in their beauty. And not even to manage them properly. Man is given the power of naming, the same power God had but with one difference. God named, and the thing came into being. Man named what already existed and the thing came into being in thought, in consciousness. However, unlike God, images and fantasies came into being in and out of the human imagination.

Why did Adam, why did man need a helper? It was not to name things. He could do that on his own. It was for the same reason God created man and woman in the first place – to be His toadies. Man and woman were to be His surrogates in managing the material world. After all, God lacked a body. Man and woman were created in the image of God with the capacity to rule and administer. Man, however, right from the get-go, dreamed he was like God, that woman was created as his own projection, as an extension of his own flesh rather than as an independent being. For man, only God has independence. Only God has absolute autonomy. Embodied being entails dependence.

But as the stories unfold in both Genesis and Exodus, it becomes very clear that what man lacks most is a sense of independence and responsibility – for himself and for another. This is also true of God. God depends on man. God needs man to execute His will. Further, God is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. I shall be who I shall be. God is the god of self-revelation.

One reader of my blog informed me of Jerome M. Segal’s book, Joseph’s Bones. (I have not as yet obtained a copy let alone read it.) But my reader informed me that the book “ends with the burial of Joseph’s bones at Shechem. This action represents the ongoing wishes of the Israelites for a just God who will judge individuals instead of the collectivity. Joseph represents what Israelites want God to be: the One who knows us as individuals and the One who can forgive individuals. The Israelites brought two arks through the desert to Canaan. One was the Ark of God’s law and the other the ark containing the bones of the compassionate Joseph.” Therefore, I want to jump to Joseph’s bones to thrown light on the creation of Eve in Adam’s imagination as “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

Why did Joseph exact an oath from the children of Israel that they would bring his bones up from Egypt? (Genesis 50:24-26) [I have drawn much of this material from my daughter, Rachel, and several of her lectures on Joseph’s bones, primarily her class on the nexus between homeland and exile, a lecture she delivered at Hebrew College this past Monday.] Why was it so important to bury Joseph’s bones in Shechem? And why is this an archetypal tale of redemption and the fulfilment of God’s promise to redeem Israel? What is wrong with the interpretation of Daniel’s vision of resurrection coming at the end of days as consisting of individual resurrection as promulgated by many rabbis, most Pharisees, about the messianic age during the late Second Temple period in opposition to the Sadducees? (Josephus, Antiquities xviii) A plain reading of the text suggests that the Joseph reburial narrative is a parable of the reuniting of the two kingdoms and the resurrection of Israel as a nation. (37:2-11)

“These bones are the whole House of Israel.” The dead bones represent the consciousness of Jews in the diaspora who had lost hope in Israel’s resurrection. Spiritual death is the loss of hope. These are not the bones of Daniel divided into those who lived just lives and those who did not, with resurrection reserved only for the just. Rather, a Jew is not simply an individual, but one deeply embedded in a family and a nation. In exile, as refugees, the spirit of a people lives to some degree in suspended animation. (Cf. Jon D. Levenson (2006) Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life)

Note that in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 22 about Eve as a projection of Adam, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, there is no staging as in the resurrection where the bones are first covered with sinews and then flesh and then skin and finally they are infused with the breath of life. Eve is instantly created as a living being from a bone. It is a very different kind of parable, one of fantasy rather than hope. God created man and woman. They were equal except in one sense. Only man was made in the image of God. And that was not something good. For man, unlike woman, was prone to fantasize that he could be like God, that he could aspire as a narcissist and megalomaniac to envision himself as the ruler of all humanity as well as of all the rest of nature. Such a visions of rule began with a belief that woman was not an independent conscious being, but an extension of himself.

How do we know this vision of the bringing to life of woman is a male fantasy? It takes place when Adam is asleep. It runs contrary to a plausible tale told in the previous chapter that humans emerged from the brine of evolution together. Man is borne by a woman and is born from the womb of a woman; man suffers from womb envy. As in dreams, there is no staging; the events spring seemingly out of nowhere. Rule is envisioned as solitary rather than shared. Rule is envisioned as a projection of self rather than a responsibility assigned to humans as nations, as collectivities. It is a classical narcissist fantasy – the other is merely an extension and reflection of me.

But why bones? Why flesh of my flesh? Because the other then only has a material existence. Only the male is an embodied spirit. Adam in his fantasy world has pulled off a coup. Why? To get away from parental (and responsible) governance, only to become totally dependent on woman. He is someone who clings to his wife. In the quest for divine power, the male becomes a supine infantile creature. And the self is envisioned in terms of possessive individualism and a material existence where the woman is the objectification of a male fantasy. At the same time, underneath it all, that selfsame male reveals himself to be a clinging male totally dependent on the Other for recognition and acceptance. Beneath the boastfulness and the bravura one can only find a whimpering infant needing appreciation from the very same creature he views simply as an objectification.

In contrast, Joseph dies, period. His resurrection involves only reburial in the proper place for the birth and rebirth of a nation. Further, Joseph is the most feminized of all the male characters in the Torah. Whatever the necessity for a martial spirit in defence of the nation, whatever the need to engage in manipulation in the exercise of power, the spirit of the nation must be one of compassion, one of caring, one of attention and sensitivity to others. Further, to live on hope and realize aspirations, one must be able to interpret dreams, to distinguish fantasy from reality. Consciousness may entail naming and categorization, classification and objectification. But etzem is a product of the imagination.

It is on that psychological, social and political foundation that the spirit of a nation will emerge and develop. This is the base for conveying how identity, how sameness, can be reconciled with independence.

To be continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Master and Slave: Independence

Israel’s Independence Day starts next Wednesday evening at sundown and is celebrated on Thursday 19 April 2018, a shifting date on the English calendar, for the date is set in accordance with the Hebrew calendar on the 5th day of Iyar 5778. In Hebrew, it is called Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות. Yom means day and ha’atzmaut means independence. If we want to understand what we are celebrating when we take joy in the festivities – whether Jew or gentile, whether Israeli or member of another nation – we must understand what independence means for a nation, and, before that, what it means for an individual.

A week from today in the evening, the holiday of Yom Hazikaron, יוֹם הַזִּכָּרוֹן, begins, that is the Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives in battle or otherwise in the defence of Israel and for those who have been victims of terrorism – Yom Hazikaron l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah (יוֹם זִּכָּרוֹן לַחֲלָלֵי מַעֲרָכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְנִפְגְעֵי פְּעוּלוֹת הָאֵיבָה).  It is a very solemn day.  For 24 hours, everything is closed; it feels like Yom Kippur. A siren sounds this evening Israeli time at 8:00 pm and all traffic stops for two minutes of silence. This is repeated on 18 April at 11:00 am Israeli time. The end of the siren wailing is followed by a memorial service and recitation of prayers at military cemeteries. If we want to understand what independence is, we must understand what sacrificing one’s life for a nation means.

Further, both holidays follow less than two weeks after Passover, Pesach, פֶּסַח, the week when Jews celebrate their exodus from slavery in Egypt and the quest for freedom. It is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the feast of Matzah, the festival of freedom from slavery. To understand the point of these two holidays next week, it helps to have a brief review of the holiday that just passed.

Passover is a celebration of God’s efforts to bring Jews forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow and pain into joy and happiness. Likewise, next week we repeat and reinforce the experience over two days of going from mourning into festivity. As we celebrate Pesach to re-enact this redemption, this movement from slavery into freedom (Exodus 13:8), the moment must be re-experienced, must be repeated over and over. We must re-experience that journey. We must recognize that it is a spiritual and physical trip that we ourselves must make. We must recognize our personal redemption. We are obligated to see ourselves as if we left a state of bondage for freedom. (Deuteronomy 6:23)

What does it mean to experience being a slave in Egypt? One can think of it as simply physical slavery. Eritreans fleeing their oppressive country have often been enslaved by traffickers and held for ransom until they were redeemed. Slavery does mean enforced servitude. Freedom means being free of such external coercion. But that is not all it means. When a slave is in bondage to a master, he or she is not only forced to work for and supply the needs of the master, he or she must also recognize the master as his Lord and Saviour, he upon whom the preservation of one’s life depends. Further, he or she recognizes the master as his or her superior, and, therefore, himself or herself as his inferior.

This recognition is double-sided. Mastery supposedly defines an ideal. The slave is in bondage to a false idol, another human perceived as superior to oneself. ‘Freedom from’ will mean both freeing oneself from physical bondage, but also freeing oneself from the mental bondage branded into one’s soul so that one is conditioned for a long time to retain a slave mentality, to see oneself as dependent on another for one’s life and to perceive that other as the epitome of life.

That is NOT accomplished by following the guide of Yerachmiel Israel Isaac Danzigerof Alexander (Poland 1853-1910) who in the Yismach Yisrael Haggadah (p. 107a) interpreted the obligation to re-experience one’s freedom from slavery as a process of recognizing one’s “essence,” atzmo, citing Exodus 24:10 – “It was the very essence (etzem) of the heavens for purity.” To quote: “This is an allusion to the inner divine spark found in each of us. A person must strengthen this holy spark no matter how low a state he reaches. In Egypt, we were so deeply mired in impurity that the Prosecutor said ‘both the Israelites and the Egyptians worship idols.” If strengthening the “inner spark” sounds retro as well as new age, it does. I suggest that etzem has nothing to do with an inner spark, and nothing to do with a process of purification, though it certainly has to do with casting off idolatrous propensities.

Exodus 24:10 reads:


י  וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.
10 and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.

The phrase the “like of the very heavens,” the translation of וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם

is interpreted by this commentator in a Platonic way, envisioning transforming and raising up an inner spark into a purified state akin to the heavens, a variation of realization of a pure pre-existing form. However, is we read the biblical text where etzem appears, independence as in Yom Ha’atzmaut, יום העצמאות, the reference is indeed to sameness, but to physical sameness.  Genesis 2:23 reads:

 
כג  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת. 23 And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

Etzem of my etzem, bone of my bone, עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

Genesis 2 follows the six days of the creation story with the seventh day of rest. The earth still did not have humans nor, for that matter, any vegetation or crops. For it had not rained. Then a mist went up from the earth to water the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils, and the man became a living soul, that is, a man of flesh and the breath, the spirit of life. There is no discussion of purity. There is no reference to an inner essence, a divine spark. The imagery is water, earth (flesh) and air and not fire. Then God planted the Garden of Eden and placed man in it to groom the trees and plants.

Three things then happen. God tells man that he is free, free to eat whatever he wants from the garden. With one exception: “of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.” Why? Because if you eat of it, you will have knowledge of your certain and inevitable death. Second, God made birds and beasts. And Adam gave them their names – cows and goats. Third, Adam was put to sleep. Why? Because God saw that man needed a help meet. Not man. Adam did not even know he was lonely.  When Man was asleep, woman came into being for Adam. Woman for Adam is a projection of his unconscious. In Adam’s dream, the woman was an extension of himself, made from his own rib. It is then that man pronounces that woman is “now bone of my bone,” etzem of my etzem: עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי

If etzem means independence, but woman is here envisioned as simply a physical extension and projection of man, one might reasonably conclude that these are opposite states. To be merely viewed as a physical extension of another would appear to be the opposite of independence. How does this make any sense? Unless, of course, the tale is read ironically. Though the woman is perceived as an extension of man’s physical self, she in reality is the true expression of his real self. The real self is not a hidden spark within, but a real presence of another outside whose independence and otherness is not initially recognized. Man discovers his own independence by and through discovering the independence of another. Initially that independence is that of a woman.

One answer is that etzem means “essence,” the bone marrow of the matter, roughly, the heart of the matter, “the essential fact of the matter.” However, Exodus 12:51 reads:


נא  וַיְהִי, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  הוֹצִיא יְהוָה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–עַל-צִבְאֹתָם.  {פ}
51 And it came to pass the selfsame day that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. {P}

The same day, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם

Like bone of my bone, the stress is on sameness, not difference, not autonomy, not independence. This is also true of Leviticus 23:14.


יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד-עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.  {ס}
14 And ye shall eat neither bread, nor parched corn, nor fresh ears, until this selfsame day, until ye have brought the offering of your God; it is a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. {S}

The sense is that of identity, as oneness with oneself, oneness with another, and oneness with the experience of escaping oppression. Again, in Leviticus 23:29-30 we once again find etzem translated as sameness.


כח  וְכָל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה:  כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים, הוּא, לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
28 And ye shall do no manner of work in that same day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.
כט  כִּי כָל-הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תְעֻנֶּה, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–וְנִכְרְתָה, מֵעַמֶּיהָ. 29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from his people.

What is going on? How is repetition and sameness equated with independence and freedom? How is a woman projected as simply a physical extension of man connected to independence?

To be continued

With the help of Alex Zisman

Salvation versus Resurrection

 

ישעיה כו:יט יִחְיוּ מֵתֶיךָ נְבֵלָתִי יְקוּמוּן הָקִיצוּ וְרַנְּנוּ שֹׁכְנֵי עָפָר כִּי טַל אוֹרֹת טַלֶּךָ וָאָרֶץ רְפָאִים תַּפִּיל. Isaiah 26:19 Oh, let Your dead revive! Let corpses arise! Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust! For Your dew is like the radiant dew; You make the land of the shades come to life.

Resurrection is very infrequently cited in the Torah. In its rare expressions, it is most often interpreted as a vision of glory at the end of days. But try reading it as a nightmare of the end of days when ignorant nostalgia governs, when dead zombies take power, when the shades enter daily life and hide the rays of sun behind a dark cloud, when those who sleep in the dust of the earth on gold-plated beds awake to reproach all others and spread abhorrence and hatred. (Daniel 12:2).

The vision of resurrection is not something to be celebrated, as the rabbis and Jesus did, but to be feared and eschewed. The monster in the black lagoon may now be coloured green as in The Shape of Water and in our imaginations and apparitions, but the real danger lies in the monstrosity of breath entering the dry bones of a dead past, dry bones covered with sinews and flesh, dry bones made to breathe and live again, when those should have been left in the slow decaying heap where they belonged and left to return to dust. (Ezekiel vv:1-2) The goal should be to deliver the Promised Land to our children and our children’s children and not to those lifted out of their graves.

“Dry bones, ’dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord.”

In an age in which a consumer machine with the reach of Amazon, a surveillance machine with the reach of Facebook and a search machine with the power of Google, command the high reaches of our culture, filled in with hordes of more minor players, in an age in which it is so easy to brainwash all in the name of delivering freedom, choice and judgement, in an age when E.M. Forster’s spiritual command to “only connect” has been perverted in the extreme in a connect but totally uncommitted culture, I pray for salvation.

We live in an age of crony capitalism in which real competitive capitalists are exiled as those at the centre of power seek to reduce the independence of the judiciary and laud law and order instead of the rule of law as they create disorder and the rule of whim, in an age in which the political centre can ally with a powerful media network committed to perpetuating and elaborating the same lies instead of holding up truth to power, in an age of political gerrymandering that echoes the corrupt political days of old and power politics is based on a unity of white male elites who cry foul when not permitted to have their cake and eat it too, when simple and arbitrary connects replace commitment and commitment is gutted and converted to sloganeering, when NGOs that are transparent and dedicated are blasted as part of a hidden international conspiracy, when projection onto externals replaces taking responsibility for one’s own actions, when abuse of others replaces critical self-examination of oneself, I pray for salvation.

When those in power wallow in self-pity and victimhood, when the tactics of the powerful weaponize culture to instigate emotionally dominated culture wars, when a nostalgia for the greatness of a nation displaces a historical and critical examination of the past, when anyone committed to the universal oneness of humanity is blasted as a traitor and enemy, when the efforts to improve are turned into a piñata for abuse and calumny, when revenge rather than forgiveness has become the dominating immoral passion, when politicians with a noble conservative heritage turn into impotent patsies of populism, when illiberalism displaces liberalism and when crude nationalism shunts aside true national pride, when the graves for the death of democracies are being excavated, I pray for salvation.

When in the face of feuding sectarianism, shape-shifting allies and local government corruption one turns on one’s heel and retreats, abandoning long-suffering allies, taking with you your military toys, the path is open for corrupt coercion instead of coercion used in the defense of values, I pray for salvation.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Police and Large Data

The first item on the CBC radio news last evening concerned criminality, the criminal use of data in elections. Not the issue of Russian interference to facilitate the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Instead, CBC reported on the four hours of testimony that Canadian whistleblower, Chris Wylie (a data scientist who helped found Cambridge Analytica and an advocate for Britain leaving the EU), gave before a committee of the British parliament on the role of data aggregating firms hired by Vote Leave with respect to Brexit and led by Cambridge Analytica funneling money illegally to the Canadian company, AggregateIQ (AIQ), to collect Facebook data and, in the last days of the Brexit vote, influence “persuadables.” Further, he opined that it was reasonable to conclude that the effort altered the outcome of the Brexit vote.

Two criminal acts were allegedly involved. First, aggregate data was illegally collected. Second, money, significantly in excess of that permitted to be used by Vote Leave, was funneled through several data collection companies in order to appear to fall within the limits permitted. On this charge, Wylie backed up the testimony of another whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, who provided concrete evidence of the breach of spending limits to Parliament. Of course, the companies continued to insist that they had complied with all legal and regulatory requirements.

Wylie testified that the British vote was but one instance of such efforts. The activities ranged around the world, from the Trump election to the Kenyan presidential race, clearly implying that Cambridge Analytica and its parent and related companies were systematically involved in manipulating voters illegally and undermining the democratic electoral process. This past Friday, the Walter Gordon Symposium dealing with “Making Policy Count: The Social Implications of Data-Driven Decision Making” in its first panel took up the issue of Contemporary Policing and Surveillance.

One message came through loud and clear. Police departments are barely into the computer age and are ill-equipped, to say the least, to deal with law enforcement related to abuses in the use of data analytics. Electoral Commissions do not have people on staff that even comprehend let alone are trained to counter such efforts, whether used by Russian hackers or domestic cheats.

Rosemary Gartner, the chair of the panel and a Professor Emeritus from the University of Toronto program on Criminology & Sociolegal Studies zeroed in on how the issue of large scale counting can be unfair when it comes to individual cases of blood alcohol levels, meting out punishments, or even deciding on what is considered a crime worthy of police attention. In light of the big news items, these concerns, however significant, seemed picayune when our whole faith in democratic institutions has been under attack.

Paul Sloly, former Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Force, who now works for Deloitte, did zero in on mass surveillance and digital crime at its broadest, from cyberfraud to cyberbullying. However, police lacked the most basic servers to do their work let alone counter such criminality. At the same time, there has been an exponential increase in surveillance. The ethical issue of most concern seems to be privacy. In the name of privacy, cameras cannot be used to record and charge speeders who race down our residential streets endangering the lives of children. Automatic Speed Cameras (photo radar) were phased out in the mid-90s. When the Conservatives regained power in Ontario in the mid-1990s under the leadership of Mike Harris, the experimental use of such cameras was phased out.

A report by Drive Safely Michigan stressed improving safety on residential streets by proposing alternatives to surveillance, that would decrease speed or reduce through traffic on local residential streets and in general developing a “traffic calming program” (stop signs, speed limit signs, turn prohibitions, one-way streets, warning and portable signs, speed bumps, rumble strips, street closures, traffic diverters and even road narrowing) to control speeds, but, at the same time, warning or “advising” drivers with permanent markings or signs about the cautions introduced. We have all seen the huge multiplication of these techniques, but I personally – and this is clearly anecdotal – have only observed increased speed on my residential street.

Why not assign officers to monitor traffic? How many? When? Use warnings or tickets? Two problems – the large cost and the effectiveness is restricted to only those periods and places where officers are deployed. What about Automated Speed Enforcement Devices, that is, speed radar and a 35 mm camera interfaced with a computer that could or could not be equipped with issuing automatic tickets? If a vehicle travels down a residential street over a preset threshold speed, the camera photographs the vehicle and its license plate. Tickets could be automatically sent out indicating the date, time location, posted speed and travel speed of the vehicle. Instead, in most jurisdictions, only warning letters are issued. Enforcing speed limits by general surveillance is viewed most frequently as an unwarranted expansion of surveillance. The fact that such surveillance might be significant in analyzing traffic problems that induce speeding and suggest intervention measures, gets slipped to one side in the debate.

There seems to be a misfit between the ethical principles at stake and the nature of contemporary crime. When I interview people on the issue, their concern is not privacy per se, but theft and fraudulent use of private information. They are not so much concerned with keeping their personal information private as preventing its misuse and criminal use. Perhaps, instruments to build in “Privacy by Design” might be helpful, but detection and intervention with actual criminality might be a greater issue.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah from the Department of Sociology raised the issue of race and the criminal justice system with the old issue of carding, collecting information on “suspicious” individuals, a process that disproportionately, and significantly so, focused on visible minorities, a practice evidently detrimental to policing itself and the integrity of the criminal justice system. Surveillance of what police do in their interactions with the public has undermined almost completely the practice of carding. I thought I had received a double message. On the one hand, traditional values, such as fairness and privacy were critical. On the other hand, in order to protect those values, the police themselves had to be continually subjected to surveillance.

Dr. Valerie Steeves, Associate Professor in the University of Ottawa Department of Criminology, directly addressed the issue of big data and the search for patterns using algorithms to both prevent crime and apprehend criminals. For one, big data can and has been used to undermine the thesis that harsh measures of incarceration cut down criminal activity and to establish that the decline in traditional crimes has taken place independently of such efforts. As far as prevention is concerned, using large data sets and algorithms have not proven to be useful in identifying potential criminality. The feeding frenzy accompanying the mastery of large data and analytics seems to her to be misguided and one must be humble in presenting proposals, implementing them and evaluating the results. Relying on efforts to create smart cities with monitoring sensors everywhere may also be misguided. Steeves was very wary about the process of privatizing the public sphere.

My sense was that the panelists were more concerned with traditional ethical concerns of privacy, transparency and fairness – valuable as those concerns may be – but totally out of touch with the need to understand and be equipped to counter the pervasive kinds of criminality in the use of big data now given almost free reign by the absence of both tools and training to even detect let alone interfere with this raging epidemic. Just because individuals generally are not being killed does not mean that enormous harm is not being carried out – from the pervasive fears that someone will steal my identity and hack into my financial accounts to the undermining of the very political structure on which the health of our society depends.

Hegel in his writing on police in the Philosophy of Right noted that the police were part of civil society and not the state, that they were given exceptional powers of coercion, but only to serve and protect the members of civil society, including, and most importantly, their right to vote in fair elections. The administration of justice is first and foremost needed to ensure that offences against property and persons are negated and the safety of persons and property sustained.

Police and the system of justice more generally were created in a modern nation-state first and foremost to deal with a subjective willing of evil – whether that evil be predatory sexual behaviour, racist victimization or criminal mischief-making. The latter activities, quite aside from a myriad of other pressures and influences, undermine the ability of individuals to make rational choices. Private actions outside of our individual or collective control that either do or could injure others and wrong them must be prevented and offset or compensated for when offences are committed. This is why traffic cameras to monitor speeding and automatically issue tickets should be instituted – not because they are perfect instruments, but because the benefits to personal safety and well-being far outweigh risks to privacy or error.

For the issue is not merely countering injury, but reducing the possibility of injury to as close to zero as is feasible given the need and desire to protect other norms. If police lack the training, if police lack the tools – and I use police in the broadest sense to include institutions such as an electoral commission – if police lack the budgets to counter both actual and possible offences of this order, instead of preventing and limiting harm, the system of justice will be abetting such harm.

This does not mean that surveillance need become ubiquitous. Rather, careful judgement and weighing of ethical norms as well as effectiveness are required to mediate between suspicion and commission of criminality, between suspicion and surveillance, between suspicion and inquiry, between suspicion and what is actually injurious as distinct for what is believed to be injurious, and between what is supposedly suspect and what is claimed to be injurious but is really innocent.

Let me give an example of a failure of policing and the justice system having nothing to do with large scale data and analytics. It was the second item on the CBC 6:00 p.m. radio news last evening. The issue had to do with the case of sexual predatory behaviour at Michigan State University. Yesterday, a former dean of the university, William Strampel, was charged for not preventing a sports doctor, Larry Nassar, from sexually harassing students. It had already been proven that Larry Nassar had for years violated girls and young women, particularly gymnasts, with his finger examinations. This once world-renowned sports physician was sentenced to 175 years in prison.

William Strampel was the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine and was responsible for oversight of the clinic where Nassar worked. Strampel failed to enforce orders by, at a minimum, not allowing Nassar to examine students unchaperoned. Nassar was eventually fired in 2016, but between 2014 and 2016, when Strampel had been fully apprised of the risk Nassar posed to students, he failed to set up procedural safeguards thereby allowing Nassar to commit a series of additional sexual offences.

However, in the process of the investigation, evidence turned up that Strampel’s computer had 50 photos of female genitalia, nude and semi-nude women, sex toys and pornography. Further, Strampel himself had solicited nude photos from at least one student and had harassed and demeaned, propositioned and even sexually assaulted students. Strampel insisted in his defence that he was not guilty of any of the charges, but that the problem of enforcing Nassar’s practices rested with the university’s Title IX investigators and not himself. Whether true or not, why was the university itself not charged with negligence with respect to its duty to serve and protect its students?

This is an old-fashioned case of an injustice, though one involving the accumulation of data as evidence. But it is not a case of analytics and large data. The question it raises is that if existing institutions are so grossly negligent in ensuring protection and safety for those for whom they are directly responsible, how can they be tasked with the much larger goal of preventing and inhibiting the epidemic of crimes committed through the use of analytics and large-scale data?

The root of the problem, in my estimation, is the widespread belief in untrammelled individualism. It is why Mike Harris pushed the policy cancelling the use of automatic speed cameras in Ontario. The belief is widespread that personal conscience is the supreme judge of morality precisely at a time when the consciences of individuals are being subjected to widespread manipulation. It is why sexual predators complain that their rights to privacy are being abrogated. It is why they argue that laws should only be introduced to which the individual consents explicitly to bind his or her will. The source of justice, in this misguided view, is seen to be each individual’s unrestricted and unguided conception of virtue and the common good. The result – the diminution of inherited practices of order and good governance that not only respect the individual’s rights to consent and freedom, but reinforce them precisely by also respecting community values and norms already developed to defend our institutions against new assaults. That now entails relatively minor investments in items like automatic ticketing speed cameras, which save money (and lives). Such initiatives also entail massive investments in the technology and skills necessary to counter cyber-criminality.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – Guilt and Vengeance

DO NOT READ THIS BLOG UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM. The film is brilliant, but even more brilliant than most critics perceived.

How would you feel if you, a mother, had an argument with your teenage daughter, Angela – not exactly an archetypal angel – about whether to let her use your car to go out on a date on a Saturday evening? What if your daughter stormed out of the house saying she would walk and if she got raped it was your fault? What if you, as she fled out the door, called after her in anger that she should get raped for the foul language and insults hurled at you? What if you said this really to get back at her because you had just learned that she was exploring moving out and moving in with her father, Charlie, who used to beat you and whom you divorced when he ran off with a 19-year-old bimbo?

And then she was raped that evening. Not only raped, but murdered. Not only murdered, but raped while she lay dying. Not only murdered and raped, but her corpse burned. As much as you might live in a modern world and knew that, in this case, what happened was not a consequence of your words, the guilt you bore would go so deep and be so mutilating that you wanted, that you needed, to displace any responsibility onto another. What do you do with the ugly and agonizing pain, with the weight of that ton of guilt, with the deep burning embers of a searing grief? What better place to displace that responsibility but onto a club of cracker cops unable to find the murderer and rapist?

This is NOT a film about an enraged, unrelenting, uncompromising woman of steel, determined to ensure justice for the murder and rape of her child. It is not even a film about righteous vengeful fury. There is no righteousness whatsoever. And there certainly is no desire for justice. When Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) insists that she wants the government to set up a database with the DNA of every male so that it can be matched with the DNA on her daughter’s burnt corpse, it is not to obtain and exact justice, but to obtain and exact vengeance.

“Be sure and kill ‘em.” She is a hard-hearted woman so deeply frozen and dead on the inside and so full of fire and brimstone and steely edges on the outside, that we as the audience are sucked into applauding her devil take all attitude if only because the language of both sympathy and bureaucracy is so cold that we welcome, indeed applaud, someone who talks without thinking and fires away with little if no concern for or empathy with her targets. What magic when a writer/director can make such a detestable woman so tremendously likeable that we offer her our deepest sympathies. The chief target of her rage is Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a man of affection and sensitive attachment, like his predecesor in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. He is intelligent, sensitive and conscientious rather than an indifferent oaf.

The film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, begins with a distraught but very determined mother bent on displacing that guilt in the ostensible pursuit of justice, with which we as viewers easily identify. Especially since her method of embarrassing the police is so public. She pays for putting up signs on three obsolete titular billboards to express her rage and frustration. The motive is unbeknownst to everyone, except her son who witnessed the altercation between mother and daughter. The billboards are used to displace that deep and very painful guilt. Critics who look at Mildred as “morally unimpeachable” are truly blind and deaf.  She is a harridan, immensely likeable and sympathetic, but still a vicious harridan.

Gradually as the film unfolds, we learn of the source and depth of that guilt. But we learn much more. For Ebbing is a town where the use of foul language is the norm, where the mistreatment of Blacks is the norm, especially by one police officer, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who has never been held responsible for his violent and outrageous behaviour. It just so happens that this violent cop is a mama’s boy, his mother is a virulent bitch and he is probably a repressed homosexual. He gradually wins our sympathy.

It is a town in which a happy family of a couple, a police chief (Willoughby), his wife and two children, play a game by a stream whereby the two young girls are required to fish for stuffed animals around the blanket on which they are sitting without leaving the blanket, while the parents go off for some nookie. But the instructions to the girls are delivered in the foulest language imaginable. As Mildred says at the beginning of the film when discussing the wording with her son on the proposed billboards, you may address your children in the foulest language, but on public billboards you “can’t say nothin’ defamatory.” It is a world of deep hypocrisy.

The sin permeating this town goes much deeper. When a priest, Father Montgomery, comes to the home of the distraught mother to try to persuade her to take down the billboards that are causing such stress to the popular police chief, the mother kicks him out, but not before reducing him to quivering silence by accusing him of complicity for doing nothing, just as he did nothing when his altar boy was seduced or raped by another priest. And in guilt, we sit silent in the theatre oblivious to the fact that this is a tale of raw vengeance and shame rather than of justice and guilt. The male secretive self-protective clubs of the town are now under attack by one enraged woman and her wild jeremiad. And the moral universe is inverted in McDonagh’s view when priests become priests and cops become cops because they want to do good, but are perceived now as sinister simply because of the costumes they wear, whether a clerical collar or a police uniform.

Unequivocally, Ebbing is a town in which sin has raged like a wildfire so that it permeates the language and behaviour of ordinary citizens and officers of the law alike. It is a town where the rule of impulse outweighs the rule of law. It is a town in which any efforts to purify the town had fallen by the wayside and became as obsolete as those billboards did when the new highway was built to bypass the old road. Bad behaviour had become the norm in this town in the heartland of America and sin is everywhere. The town is morally polluted. Not even the torching of the billboards and then the police station, and the scorching of the dumb and distasteful racist Constable Dixon, can even expurgate the sin. Dixon is, of course, the antithesis of Dixon of Dock Green (Jack Warner), the archetypal London bobby of the twenty-year long-running BBC series about a police officer full of common sense and empathy,

But that is just the background, the setting, very important but not the central theme of the movie. The town ceremonies and rituals and rites provide no opportunity any longer to expiate that sin, to cleanse the society of its moral pollution. Moral pollution has become the norm. There is no ritual whereby the town, its leaders and its ordinary citizens can acknowledge their responsibility for the sins. Everyone is complicit. Everyone “stands by.” For the movie is about guilt transmuted into shame, and sin transformed into vengeance.

Guilt goes deeper than sin. It is at the root of sin. It is the failure to take responsibility for one’s actions. At the end of the film, the most vicious police officer becomes a burnt offering and seems to repent (following the guiding note of his now deceased chief of police to learn about guilt, confession and love), owning up to one’s responsibilities and learning to love oneself and others as a good Christian should. It is clear that the members of the town, especially this police officer and his ardent accuser, the mother of the raped girl, go off to possibly murder a suspect who they now know could not have killed the daughter. The town and the people of the town have no rite, no ritual, no religious practice through which they can expiate their guilt and accept responsibility for what they did and what they do. For the fundamental moral code of the town has become displacement of responsibility. The town is awash not only in sin but in guilt. There is no act of reparation available to them. Instead, they get a rifle and ostensibly set out possibly to murder an innocent man. They will decide en route whether they will do it.

There is no redemption. There is no means of redemption. Guns and violence as the answer to problems have so permeated the value structure, have so displaced any real moral code, that the only answer to any action is revenge, not understanding and certainly not any acceptance of responsibility for what has taken place. There is no mechanism to sharpen any individual’s conscience. Paganism has returned to occupy central stage in the heartland of America. It is a Manichean world in which demonic forces seem to continually defeat any divine force. It is a world which has lost most of its humanity where each human, every male and every female, assumes responsibility for him or herself to ensure a divine presence on earth and the expulsion of the demonic.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is about the demonic taking control of a town in the heartland of America just as it has taken over the White House. Any rituals to contain and dispose of moral impurities have largely been sacrificed to cowardice, to ambition and to complicity. We have returned to an age in which a young teenage girl is raped, is murdered, is raped while dying, is offered as a burnt offering, but not to a divine order of a healthy, responsible life, but to a demonic order of guns and irresponsibility, of anarchy rather than the rule of law, of impulse rather than thoughtful consideration. It is a world in which the police station as the central symbol of the rule of law has been burnt to the ground. It is a world in which we who watch cheer this act of revenge and pseudo expiation, thrilled at the violence rather than discomfited by the phenomenal moral deterioration in our human moral code.

God is death. Humans must be wedded to life. The rituals of death, of sin and guilt need a place, a temple, where they can be disposed of. If a rabbi reminds me of the sensuousness, the incense and the smoke, the vibrancy and the flavours of a place of temple sacrifice, then that rabbi is totally out of touch with the function of the temple and the meaning of its absence. For without a temple, all responsibility rests on each and every one of us to be accountable for the commissions of sinful acts that thrust shards of guilt deep into our souls. The destroyed temple does not simply belong to a more primitive past in the sense of appealing to our basic sensuality as if it is simply an outdoor food market.

Why do we need to significantly reduce and limit a gun culture? When do we need blood prohibitions – when the police chief vomits up blood from his cancer, we must recognize the symbolic significance. After all, as McDormand says, “When you croak, the billboards won’t be as effective.” When the sadistic dentist is forced to drill into his own fingernail rather than into the not quite frozen tooth that needs removal, we get a glimpse of a place where inflicting pain has become a way of life and not a place where we try to make pain as painless as possible. So even the police chief’s self-sacrifice to minimize the pain to be inflicted on his family comes across as a positive but largely meaningless gesture, for the core meaning of what this hero did for the town is lost in a miasma of meaningless vengeance totally detached from justice.

Death is now totally intertwined with life instead of hived off and restricted so that life can thrive and blossom. The billboards ask a question intended to embarrass the police. But they are a sign of a society reduced to a shame rather than a guilt culture, a society in which out of helplessness and hopelessness conflicts are resolved by either coercion or shaming rather than by acknowledging guilt and assuming responsibility.

When a movie can put such a profound theological and social commentary before our eyes, and do so with humour and wit, when it so deliberately and cleverly misleads us into a failure to recognize who the hero and who the villain is, when a movie takes us into the bypassed rural routes of the heartland of America to unveil the miasma of sin and the absence of guilt and the rule of law that pervades the town, and when the acting by Frances McDormand , Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are all so brilliant, the writing and direction of Martin McDonagh so nuanced, the movie deserves every reward it received even though it appears that most commentators missed its religious and social profundity.

The land needs to be cleansed, especially the heartland Only then can positive mitzvot and proper ethics once again rule in the land of milk and honey.