Saturday, May 1, 2021

Helplessly Tethered

The following rambling precipitates from my morning routine of “overthinking everything”. My observations and conclusions which follow are from personal experience. I have not experienced higher education, a university environment. It is with this in mind that I expect criticism and rejection from those with academic standing.

The person we become results from observations and experiences. As the decades pass, we climb up a pyramid slope to a new level of perspective and understanding. Visualize a pyramid. As we move up the pyramid, the surface area becomes smaller. What is the first conclusion that comes to mind? Therefore, the higher you go up the pyramid, the smaller your social community. Let us consider that the layer that you exist on represents those that agree with you. Directly below your layer are all the previous layers. Consider that the extended surface area of those layers below you beyond the size of your current layer represents the people that no longer agree with you.

Why did I title this article “Helplessly Tethered”? Because you were once part of every layer that exists below you. As you move up the pyramid with new knowledge and understanding, you still carry an emotional attachment to what once was. The emotional attachment is the tether.

Perceive that the bottom layer was your or early childhood experience. You have an emotional attachment to parents and grandparents. Even before you learn to speak, you have already developed emotional attachments and probably one or more role models. From the time of language through to your mid-teens, testing and establishing their social boundaries. Perhaps a distant family member, or even a neighbour, becomes someone you mimic. All of this happens before the age of maturity. Studies of the human mind now conclude that the human brain continues to develop until approximately the age of 30. Through these mid-teen years, the time of puberty, adult responsibilities encourage adult maturity. We have approximately another 15 years for these responsibilities to develop in what we refer to as maturity. Back to that word I used “Tethered”. We are all emotionally tethered to those who have been part of our past. Especially those that are the role models. Perhaps an aunt or an uncle, maybe even a grandparent, was a clergy member. Here is the tether. Most people will carry a tether to such an individual throughout their entire lifetime. Why? Because in our Western Christian societies, it is socially unacceptable to express anything but reverence and respect for individuals such as these. So if sometime later in your life become skeptical, become critical, develop critical thinking, your social community will chastise you for speaking. In this example, all the layers below you in the pyramid are intolerant of the person who you have become. Each layer represents a collective cohesion. When you left the layer and moved to the next layer, you still kept an emotional attachment to some of those you intellectually left behind. We can perceive many examples which show emotionally tethering to your past. 

Why would this be a problem? Because I would suggest that these emotional tethers are bonds which are kept late into your senior years. Long after your current decade of existence fades, those earliest memories remain. We describe dementia as the ability to keep some memories from the far distant past, but cannot recognize and remember those within their recent and current time.

I wonder? When a person moves forward into their senior years, understanding and knowledge aquired for most of their working life fades and vanishes. What do we have left? We have the memory from the far, far distant past. Perhaps of that relative who was a member of Clery. The senior, now described as having early onset dementia, appears to have a limited recollection. Frustration and confusion abound. Perhaps even to the extent of disruptive behaviour exhibited towards staff in the long-term care facility. The elderly individual might exhibit moments of terror. Aha, there’s that tether again! Perhaps a fallback in the mind, when as a young child this individual woke up from a nightmare and climbed into their parent’s bed. Except now they are perhaps physically unable, and there is nowhere down the hall for the childhood experience of safety and warmth. Perhaps this tormented, aged mind has fallen and slipped backwards into childhood immaturity. Terrorized within their mind from trauma of nightmares in their early childhood. Trauma in their early childhood before they developed speech. Overhearing the adults, perhaps during Bible study. Early child’s visualization of “burning in hell”, resulting from overhearing the adult’s discussion.

The above example takes a special reference to religious affiliation. Tethering does not have to be this extreme. Influence can just as easily be someone who achieved fame in the realm of team sports. Another example may be perhaps the uncle that by today’s standards would be a toxic male with an over-inflated ego. But from a time over 50 years previously achieved their goals in life, was an influencer, a role model. As a role model, the reason smoking or drinking was acceptable. It began at a pre-adolescent age, usually secretively away from the parents. Influencers take many forms, they need not be within the family or community social circle. They can be a media icon or are extremely successful on the world stage of sports or music. It is our human nature to lock our sights onto someone as we grow into maturity. Imprinting of behavior establishes the goal to grow up to be just like them.

The role models, the influencers in our Western society, high-paid rock stars, sports celebrities with multimillion-dollar contracts, the list goes on and on and on. Simply follow the money! As the decades pass, no one admits that they have taken a self-destructive path. The very circumstance of addiction and substance reliance is denial. Denial that it is causing self-harm. “You’re going to die, anyway.” So we continue to glorify toxic behaviour, pay huge multimillion-dollar contracts, and glorify what is destroying the underpinnings of our society.

Let’s use the three-legged stool as an example. Each of the three legs is essential. In our Western society, as we know it, how can we envision the concept of this stool? One three-legged stool might comprise social responsibility, government, and freedom. We achieved social responsibility provided by the government through taxation. Those who cannot care for themselves receive benefits. Through our freedom, our democracy, we elect a government that collects taxes which then provides services to those who are incapable of caring for themselves. Sounds like a wonderful system, doesn’t it!

Let’s take this one step forward. A democratic process, individual freedom, the right to go out on a Friday night and have pizza and beer with your friends and watch the hockey game. Seems rather benign. What could be the harm? Just today I heard an individual calling in on a talk show. He made the following statement: “those affected by fetal alcohol syndrome may amount to 40% of society.” Wow! As much as 40%? 40%, or even 15% is a high burden of social responsibility for our tax dollars to pay for the healthcare of. Why do we have fetal alcohol syndrome in the first place? Because alcohol is legal. It is some decades now since the seatbelt legislation arguments. For the greater good in our democratic society seatbelt laws passed, because we simply had statistical evidence that we could not afford the future costs if we didn’t put this in place. Is this not a parallel with alcoholic behaviour? If we had 40% of the population in the hospital due to traffic accidents that seatbelts could prevent, the seatbelt legislation would’ve fallen into place easily. Yet we can have as high as 40% of parts of our population suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, but nobody wants to bring up the topic. Why? Not very complicated! Follow the money… taxation, alcohol and cigarettes pays for Social programs are the highest taxed items. The spinoffs throughout all sectors of our economy are interdependent on each dollar creating more economic activity. With this recent pandemic, the tourism industry has fallen to 5% or less of what it was. Nearly all the hospitality industry is out of work. Many businesses associated with the hospitality industry will seek bankruptcy protection. What is the major component of the hospitality industry? Almost a silly question! Alcohol. The current pandemic has gone viral caused by a virus. The next economic pandemic might be middle-aged people with varying degrees of fetal alcohol syndrome, those never diagnosed. Perfectly functional people within the economics of our nation. Managing day-to-day and collecting a paycheck. Bring on the stress of middle-age, a magnification factor for their undiagnosed condition of fetal alcohol syndrome. Mental illness? As a Western society, we have brought this upon ourselves. Declining economic activity, declining tax revenues, will not care for the ageing population with a variety of abnormalities too many to mention. Not only are there future costs for healthcare, but there are also future costs for infrastructure that was built after World War II overdue for replacement or upgrade two decades ago. We have two converging economic pandemics heading in our direction. An ageing population with predictable health outcomes, and ageing infrastructure of water, sewer and bridges. Even if we recognize these two waves heading in our direction, we have a third wave that no one wants to talk about. It’s not just climate change, it’s the habitat of the natural world around us. We have over 500 years of burning fossil fuels. 600 years ago the City of London in the United Kingdom experienced the deterioration of buildings and health problems because of acid rain from the sulphur in the atmosphere as sulphur dioxide from burning coal. For another 500 years, we have continued to take these items out of the earth’s crust and disperse their content into the environment of today. Decades ago, scrubbers on the tall stacks in the American Northeast manufacturing area to remove sulphur. Vast areas of Ontario suffered from acid rain. The destruction of lakes and forests. Sulphur removed from fuels helped. When we burn fuels, we have carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. When these two gases combine with moisture, they create carbonic acid. Carbonic acid reacts with the aquatic shellfish community. Extensive areas of the western coast of North America have studied and determine that the shells of these inhabitants are now thinner than they once were. Acidification is closest to the shore, because of wave action with the higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, along with our highly populated communities. We are continuing to collapse the natural environment through the use of fossil fuels. We are collapsing the food chain around our continental shelves. The East Coast fishery collapsed decades ago. The salmon fishery on the West Coast is not now far behind. Pods of killer whales on the West Coast are in danger of extinction because they are starving. Trawlers from many countries fish off the western Coast and indiscriminately with large nets take everything. High-value items processed into the food market. The by-catch ground up into pellets for fish farms and agricultural supplements. Potash mining over the past fifty years poses another environmental change. The widespread use of phosphorus fertilizers has caused algae blooms in both fresh and salt water eco-systems. These algae bloom consume all the oxygen and cause dead zones. Dead zones that extrapolate into greater collapses of the natural food chain.

With all the knowledge readily available around us, with every human being able to read and educate themselves, we still hear the cry, the denial, “but, but, but, people need jobs!”

Another topic that needs to be mentioned. Public service pensions. Safe and secure? With this recent pandemic, it’s now brought clearly into public view that care homes have been the hardest hit. What do pensions and care homes have in common? Many of the public service employees’ pension plans have invested in private healthcare and care home infrastructure. Seniors’ care homes private or public are the most profitable investments for future pension plans. How are they the most profitable investment? The same way that agriculture attains higher profitability through use of foreign worker programs, to maximize the return to the investors, the public service employees pension plans. They involve many of the same employees in planning committees that establish foreign worker programs. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? It would appear that they are making decisions that will establish their future retirement, at the expense of the already retired individuals of their friends and neighbours and co-workers.

Where do we go from here? We cannot continue on the path that we are currently on. Yet we are tethered. Tethered to a standard of living. Tethered to an emotional reverence to our ancestors. Tethered to ideology that assures us to be reunited in an afterlife. Tethered to social communities that refuse to change, Tethered to destructive addictions to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Our species, a collection of mammals of varying degrees of posttraumatic stress at every front. Of which they brought upon themselves because they simply didn’t know any better. Still, others that choose the path of willful blindness. The skilful, manipulative and greedy, that just don’t care and want more for themselves regardless the cost.

~Howard R. Titman, writer - April 2021

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