Thursday, February 07, 2019

It has been called "the treacherous curtain of deference": the obsequious treatment afforded to the person who occupies the office of President of the United States (and likewise their peers from other nations). As we go down the hierarchy from there--to Vice President, Speaker of the House, etc.--we see gradually diminishing levels of deference.

In the military there is a more rigid and utilitarian chain of deference and command.

The latest outrageous news about the Catholic Church is the Pope's admission that sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops has been occurring. Let's be honest, sexual abuse by priests and bishops of nuns, seminary students, children, and laypeople has likely been going on for two thousand years. There is a systemic flaw in the Catholic Church's structural economy that fosters this: a priest is far more valuable to the organization than a nun (or a child).

Also in this week's news, revelations have come to light that Sakyong Mipham, head of the Shambhala International Buddhist organization, has been committing sexual abuse against female students for years. He is not the first Buddhist luminary to be exposed as a sexual predator.

It seems to me that the root enabling factor in so many environments where abuse is endemic is the ludricrous practice (which we humans seem to love to engage in) of elevating certain people above other people. The elevated ones get to wear special hats and outfits, be addressed with honorific titles, be afforded a "curtain of deference", and be able to exert their will upon others--not necessarily because of personal qualities of excellence they possess, but because they inhabit a position in a human-constructed hierarchy.

It's all bullshit, of course.

And worse, it perpetuates all sorts of evil.

One of the things that drew me to the 17th century Quakers was their stubborn insistence on eschewing artificial deference customs. They refused to doff their hats in the presence of supposed social superiors (an expected behavior at the time) or use honorific titles (such as "Lord" or "Your Honor") or speak and act toward a person in a position of authority any differently than they would speak and act toward anyone else. They engaged in a very intentional form of downward leveling, which came from their religious conviction that "there is that of God in everyone". In doing this, they exposed the folly of human hierarchies. They also got into lots of trouble, because the keepers of hierarchies don't like having their systems exposed as edifices of domination and control and ego gratification; enforced by peer pressure, dire warnings of divine retribution, or plain old threat of violence.

So whether your positional title is President, Pastor, Priest or Bishop or Cardinal or Archbishop or Pope, Dalai Lama or Rinpoche, King or Queen or Prime Minister, Ayatollah or Rabbi or Grand Poobah, you won't hear me call you by anything but the name your parents gave you. Your real name. Just like everyone else.