An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, May 16, 2008

People of Resistance




"Over the past 450 years of martyrdom, immigration and missionary proclamation, the God of shalom has been preparing us Anabaptists for a late twentieth-century rendezvous with history. The next twenty years will be the most dangerous—and perhaps the most vicious and violent—in human history. If we are ready to embrace the cross, God’s reconciling people will profoundly impact the course of world history . . . This could be our finest hour. Never has the world needed our message more. Never has it been more open. Now is the time to risk everything for our belief that Jesus is the way to peace. If we still believe it, now is the time to live what we have spoken." - Ron Sider, Mennonite World Conference

Within American culture, which is "a primary, massive, militarized, anti-human disbeliever", we are the people of resistance. This resistance takes many forms, some of which may lead to martyrdom, a tradition still fully alive among Christians who fight the Iraq occupation, nuclear weapons, and global starvation.

But our resistance is first of all to the violence that lies coiled in our own hearts. We begin the struggle by resisting images of the enemy that have organized (or disorganized) our imagination. The "enemy" is an idol we have made for ourselves, an inner opponent of the mind whose illusory power we must break. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, against individuals to whom we impute a moral depravity of which we ourselves are free.

One of the primary purposes of the media message multipliers is to constantly reinforce the notion that social problems are actually personal problems that can be solved by personal decisions. This partially constitutes the inner connection between the corporate media and the Christianist megachurches. The psychological operation they attempt is to dissolve social bonds by emphasizing the individual and his or her choices as the only social reality. This emphasis on individual choice directly reinforces corporate power by paradoxically reducing the individual's power to merely choosing between varieties of consumables.

In other words, the enemy is not an individual or a collection of individuals. In the language of Paul, we struggle against principalities and powers, evil in high places, but not individual, personal evil, except in ourselves. The corporate media emphasizes the latter initially because it tends to make for more dramatic and entertaining stories that draw in viewers, but the covert purpose is to reinforce the notion that the only type of responsibility is individual, thus implicitly absolving corporations of their crimes.

In fact, these crimes are driven by inhuman social forces that we must begin to master if we are to fulfill the role that God intended for us. A good illustration of this can be found in the words of Thomas Merton, "'Our sudden, unbalanced, top-heavy rush into technological mastery,' Merton saw, had now made us servants of our own weapons of war. 'Our weapons dictate what we are to do. They force us into awful corners. They give us our living, they sustain our economy, they bolster our politicians, they sell our mass media, in short we live by them. But if they continue to rule us we will also most surely die by them." - James W. Douglass, "JFK and the Unspeakable"

Our understanding of the pathology of power must penetrate more deeply if we are to understand the nature of the "Unspeakable", by which Thomas Merton meant that power which assasinates good Presidents and seeks to immolate all humanity in a nuclear holocaust. The primary purpose of most social discourse broadcast by the corporate media is to "break down the social bonds that lead to people having sympathy and supportive feelings about one another. That contributes to transferring profit and decision making into the hands of concentrated private power. A component of that is to undermine the normal relations - sympathy and solidarity - that people have." - Noam Chomsky, "The United States of Insecurity", Monthly Review, May, 2008.

Fear, hunger and isolation are the psychological states most conducive to maximum corporate profits. They are also the states that induce maximum individual vulnerability, leading to irrational choices that reinforce indebtedness and subservience to the corporate power structure. A particularly instructive case study is the implementation of the neoliberal program in Chile after the military takeover by Pinochet. A helicopter trip by one of Pinochet's generals is described by William Kavanaugh as follows, "The purpose of Arellano's trip was not merely to stimulate, but rather to simulate, the atmosphere of internal war that the regime needed to justify its policies. Violence was used not as a response to threats to the state, but rather to create the threats from which the only possible protection was the state itself. This type of terror is a mode of governance which is self-justifying. At issue is not "repression" as such, since there was little to repress, but rather the production of chaos and scripting of bodies into a drama of fear. Within the liturgies of fear, the state thus shows itself as both menace and protector; to be truly omnipotent the state must be both the taker and the giver of life. Torture victims speak not only of the pain they endure but of the pervasive sense of powerlessness they are made to feel at the hands of their tormentors." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

The purpose of the torture in Chile, as well as Iraq, and soon in the United States, is to atomize the individual. This aligns precisely with the corporate agenda by maximizing the vulnerability and dependence of the individual consumer. In the same way as torture, the corporate media "breaks down collective links and makes of its victims isolated monads. Victims then reproduce the same dynamic in society itself, with the net result that all social bodies which would rival the state are disintegrated and disappeared." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

And further, "One way to think about this destruction of the victim's world is to say that the effect of torture is the creation of individuals. Pain...is the great isolator, that which cuts us off in a radical way from one another. With the demolition of the victim's affective ties and loyalties, past and future, the purpose of torture is to destroy the person as a political actor, and to leave her isolated and compliant with the regime's goals. Torture is consonant with the military regime's strategy to fragment the society, to disarticulate all intermediate social bodies between the individual and the state ... which would challenge the regime's desire to have all depend only on it." - William Kavanaugh, "Torture and Eucharist"

The goal in both cases is isolation and vulnerability, along with the breakdown of the social bonds that might form alternative power centers to corporate organizational structures. But social problems don't have individual solutions. For instance, in the case of global warming, Al Gore presents the solution as mass voluntary changes in individual behavior. But the logic of capitalism is that economic agents always act by rationally calculating their greatest economic advantage. The short term advantage sought by these decisions will in most cases result in behaviors that will lead to further emission of greenhouse gases. He is forced to posit this as the only solution because the real one might involve coercing individual decisions and he is committed to a belief system in which free and rational economic decisions will inevitably lead to the greatest good of the greatest number.

So we must begin to play a new game, one which challenges the pathological libertarianism which holds much of the U.S. in its grip. The following definition of solidarity from a talk by Michael Albert would make our Christian commitment real: "Solidarity is for me to do well, I have to be concerned with others doing well and vice versa. The economy causes me to seek benefits in ways that benefits others too. Solidarity is not a rat race economy in which we advance only at the expense of others, but is a mutually beneficial economy, in which we advance in concert with one another. Moreover, once stated thusly, favoring solidarity isn't even controversial. Who would say that they would rather have a society that makes us anti-social, greedy, and mutually suspicious, as compared to a society that produces mutual aid and empathy?" Michael Albert, "Parecon and Solidarity"

Apparently most Christians don't even suspect a connection between a society that promotes atomization and competition and the anti-Christian attitudes they profess to deplore. They accept and even bless the mystification of social relationships as the "human nature", a state of mutual strife to which there can be no alternative. Or they promote a "one soul at a time" solution in which as individual souls are saved, society will gradually (how gradually?) start to resemble the New Jerusalem.

But God calls us to be social creatures and has given us the capacity to create social solutions.

"And I heard another voice out of heaven saying:
'Come out, my people, out of her,
so that you do not share in her sins,
and so that you not receive her plagues;
because joined together her sins go up to heaven,
and God remember her injustices."

Revelation 18:4-5

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