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.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The common wisdom about the current economic crisis is summed up well in a recent speech by David Korten of YES! Magazine: "From the late 70s onward, Wall Street market fundamentalists mobilized to roll back the rules to unleash a consolidation of corporate power and de-link it from public accountability. Their right-wing social-engineering experiment allowed Wall Street to colonize the Main Street economy, decimated the middle class, undermined democracy and sense of community, reduced our national happiness index, and brought financial, social, and environmental devastation wherever it has reached." - David Korten, "Path to a Peace Economy", Oct. 31, 2009.
Korten's speech points in the right direction, but a deeper analysis of the current economic system is vital. For instance, he says, "Our economic institutions have been designed by Wall Street interests to secure personal economic and political power in the hands of members of a small ruling elite." Absolutely true, but could it be that there is something inherent to the capitalist system that requires a financial elite that behaves like Wall Street?
My purpose is not to criticize his vision, which I admire, but to suggest that his economic prescriptions don't attack the real problem. The economy of the 50s, 60s and early 70s seems like a golden age in hindsight, but there were some very concrete political reasons why "the market rules of the day protected the public interest." Unfortunately, he doesn't examine these reasons.
The corporate elite did not gladly acquiesce in strong labor unions because they were concerned with the public good. They were forced into it, kicking and screaming, by powerful social movements that wouldn't take no for an answer. The features that he uses to illustrate the wonderful economic climate of that time were the result of these same democratic forces. They did not arise naturally, but were the result of long, hard struggle by leftist activists. The right-wing forces that Korten bemoans were equally active in the 50s and 60s, but they weren't as free to enforce their ideology because of these opposing forces.
The distinction he makes between the Wall Street economy and the Main Street economy is a false one. Moreover, this distinction obscures the real forces at work in the Great Recession. The distinction contrasts the "real" economy of producing goods to satisfy people's need and the "false" economy of financial speculation. In fact, the whole point of capitalism is ever expanding financial circulation leading to higher profit margins. When the crisis hit, trillions were not poured into ensuring a vigorous manufacturing sector, but into the financial system. This was not some wicked Wall Street plot, but the very nature of the capitalist system. Obama and his economic advisors are correct, Main Street can't survive without the financial circulation provided by Wall Street. Too much of the "left" wants to live in the illusion that we can have capitalism with a human face.
What's deceptively seductive about this approach is that it supports the central task of the ruling ideology, which is to impose a narrative which places the blame for the meltdown not on the system itself, but on the abuse of the system by "corrupt" bankers and corporate executives. That's why the nightly denunciations of "Wall Street greed" actually help prop up the system. This is part of the "purging process" necessary to a healthy capitalist system. In this way, the system itself is protected as well-meaning liberals try to regulate it into health. The underlying message is that the capitalist system, while far from perfect, corresponds most closely to human nature, and as such provides us with the least bad of the various alternatives. Radical change will only make things worse.
And that is the ideology that is so rarely challenged by the left. We must indeed "change the prevailing stories about the nature of wealth" and measure wealth by the vitality of our children, the quality of life, and a thriving natural world. But this cannot be done by dreaming about the "local" economics of the 50s and 60s. Capitalism converts Earth's natural capital into toxic garbage because that's the fastest way to maximize profit. Once that monster enters the radar screen, then will the waiting at last be over.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
As might have been anticipated by readers of this blog, the terms of the agreement will consolidate the central aims of the coup, while betraying the political and social demands of those who have resisted the coup, suffering violent state repression for these past four months.
The background of this agreement are the persistent efforts to support the coup leaders by the U.S. State Department. "There is ample evidence that the Obama administration was deeply involved in plans by Zelaya’s opponents within the Honduran ruling elite—sections of business, the military, the political establishment and the Church—to destabilize or topple his government. The New York Times on Tuesday cited an unnamed US official as saying that US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens spoke to 'military officials and opposition leaders' in the days before the coup. He said, 'There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that.'
It appears that the Obama administration was seeking to effect a de facto coup, but without a direct use of the military and under the cover of constitutional legality. That would, it hoped, reverse Washington’s declining influence in Latin America and pave the way for an offensive against Chávez and his left nationalist allies in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries aligned with Venezuela in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas." - "HONDURAS: What Deal? The Fat Lady has Many Sisters", Oct. 30, 2009
The purpose of Obama's coup in Honduras is to reverse the erosion of U.S. corporate hegemony in Latin America due to rising people's power movements that have profoundly altered the political landscape.
Here are some salient points made by Pastors for Peace:
"● Any agreement that restores President Zelaya to office without giving him control over the military — the same military that carried out the coup! — is a victory for the coup forces, or an outright trap.
● While the two parties have signed an agreement, the demands of the Honduran people — for a constitutional assembly and the restoration of democracy and constitutional law — have not been addressed.
● The agreement does not create space for free and fair elections. In fact it directly aligns the coup military with the Supreme Electoral Commission appointed by Micheletti. (This same Supreme Electoral Commission was just invited to Washington, DC last week by right-wing Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), where they testified to Congress that “nothing has changed” in Honduras since the coup.)
● The agreement has not ended the repression and human rights violations; and it remains to be seen whether repression will intensify in the days to come."
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Either worshiping or hating the man Obama plays directly into the power strategy that is currently being implemented by the financial elite. Gandhi has shown us how to conduct the spiritual warfare that leads to genuine victory. Here he describes the physical qualifications required for a Satyagrahi (one who struggles nonviolently): "In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as external enemy. But even for the supposed enemy he will have nothing but compassion in his heart. He will believe that no man is intentionally wicked, that there is no man but is gifted with the faculty to discriminate between right and wrong, and this if that faculty were to be fully developed, it would surely mature into non-violence. He will therefore pray to God that He may give the supposed enemy a sense of right and bless him." - M.K. Gandhi, "Non-violent Resistance", p. 93.
In our struggle against the wrong-doer Obama, we should always assume and appeal to his heart. Corrupted as it may be (and as ours may be) by power relations, it still remains a heart capable of good and, in his case, he gave concrete proof of his capacity for progressive sentiment in the recent past. Rather than attack him, I believe we should build on his good words, to shame him into truth through the power of our own truth, not to belittle or impugn his motives. To do otherwise is to promote the evil we battle against.
Another rousing Obama success was recently noted by Glenn Greenwald: "...the surviving banks are bigger and more powerful than ever, thus maximizing our dependence on them, and the primary stated goal of the bailout (increasing lending) has not been achieved." The stated goal will not be achieved because it was never intended. More lending would lead to greater empowerment for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The purpose of the "Obama" revolution is to ensure perpetual dependency on the financial oligarchy in the interest of maximized profit. It is the anticipation of those profits that is currently driving the Wall Street rally.
Why is so little effort being devoted to hiding the installation of members of the financial elite in key positions of political power? The "Obama" strategy is to habituate the public to seeing these executives in positions of political authority. By doing so, we will gradually be induced into accepting their control over our political institutions. lready in the health care debacle of the last three months, we have come to accept the control of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries over Congress and the executive branch. Eventually, we will accept direct control over public policy by industry executives.
The corporate media plays its role here by pumping out pundit-authorized intellectual haze over the real issue: the direct administration of public policy by and for the interests of the financial elite. With the placement of their man Obama in the executive branch, they have little fear of large-scale resistance. The marketing strategy used in the Obama campaign has been extraordinarily successful and they are now proceeding to consolidate their gains, both in terms of the profits reaped from public funding, as well as their now visible control over the policies that lead to those profits. It is precisely Obama's progressive image that authorizes the next phase: the transparency of their control.
The aura of Obama's progressive credentials, recently reinforced by the Nobel Prize, allows us to accept corporate control and appear enlightened at the same time. The underlying reality is as Henry Kaufman in his recent book "The Road to Financial Reformation" states, "When the current crisis abates, the pricing power of the huge financial conglomerates will grow considerably, at the expense of borrowers and investors." Kaufman, "The Road to Financial Reformation", p. 229. Solidifying this pricing power and preparing future profits is clearly one of the prime goals of the "Obama administration."
The destruction of real wealth which this entails is accepted as a personal failure by the working population, who now scramble to find new ways to please their corporate masters. And those masters will surely find ways for us to fulfill their needs.
Friday, October 16, 2009
The key insight of Naomi Klein's recent article "Obama's Bad Influence" is here: "Within forty-eight hours of the US announcement Italy, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Poland had pulled out. Unlike the United States, these governments had all signed the 2001 declaration, so they had no reason to object to a document that reaffirmed it. It didn't matter. As with the climate change negotiations, lining up behind Obama, with his impeccable reputation, was an easy way to avoid burdensome international obligations and look progressive at the same time--a service the United States was never able to provide during the Bush years."
This is the reason behind Obama's Nobel Peace Prize: It enhances his reputation so that other countries can evade their responsibilities by imitating his example. The purpose of the Obama presidency is to scuttle climate change action, reaffirm neo-colonialism, and re-financialize the bubble economy so that capitalism can put off its inevitable reckoning.
The "duck and parry" strategy of "Obama" is dictated by the class interests that it serves. The purpose of "Obama" is to deflect the growing possibility of mass rebellion against capitalistic domination long enough to ensure that the security apparatus is in place to incarcerate those who with sufficient consciousness to resist.
Why do I put "Obama" in quotes? Because the tendency to personalize this strategy by attributing it to the man Obama serves the atomizing purposes of the ruling elite. In fact, what the corporate media refers to as "Obama" or the "Obama administration" is the idealization of a power structure. "Obama" represents a marketing strategy designed to cover a series of moves which the ruling elite is carrying out to protect their interests in energy resources, military power, and financial control. To attribute these moves to the man Barack Obama helps reinforce their strategy by falsely making him its source. Eventually, they will abandon the man Obama and another will be selected to surface their interests, but the resistance must continue to target the principalities and powers that enforce the strategy rather the man who is its transitory incarnation.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
"You have sacrificed nearly ten thousand American lives—the flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of the people you desire to benefit. You have established reconcentration camps. Your generals are coming home from their harvest bringing sheaves with them, in the shape of other thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind. You make the American flag in the eyes of a numerous people the emblem of sacrilege in Christian churches, and of the burning of human dwellings, and of the horror of the water torture." - from the floor of the House of Representatives in 1902, denouncing U.S. imperialism in the Philippines.
What too many in the peace movement fail to understand is that war is not the enemy, but only a symptom of the real enemy. Fighting war, just like fighting climate change, will be an endless losing battle as long as the real enemy is not engaged. Many noble souls such as Walter Wink, whom I consider one of the great theologians of our time, reify war and violence, making them evils-in-themselves that can be targeted through nonviolent strategies. This approach to war and violence makes them symptoms that can be cured through the therapy of nonviolent resistance, but nonviolence must be made far more profound if it is truly to achieve the healing which we crave.
Long before the first missile is fired, the greatest violence has already worked its will. This violence is the choice of profit-making over human welfare and it condemns a billion of our fellow images of God to near starvation every minute that we breathe. As long as we tolerate this evil, wars will continue to proliferate because the conditions for their growth are always present. We have to begin with justice from top to bottom in all aspects of life.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
The news media serves many purposes for the ruling elite. However, these purposes would suffer damage if the media were to be too easily accused of propaganda. Therefore, dissident voices are tolerated and even rewarded because they provide the necessary contrast that is needed to reinforce the preferred voices. Viewers are conditioned to fall helpless victims to what is offered them. The deceived multitudes are today captivated by the myth of success far more than the successful are. It is precisely their will to believe that maintains the system’s momentum. Ignoring their own self-interest, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. Their misplaced love for the wrong which is done them is more potent than the most agile coercion by the ruling authorities. By craftily inculcating the demand for trivia the media shreds the attention that might otherwise be turned against it. The liberal elites are despised while the viewers’ hatred of them is manipulated by those very elites. The result is a constant reproduction of the soothing illusions of the ruling class, who pay gladly to have their deeds hidden from themselves.
"Because a people disorganized becomes a mass that can be toyed with, but a people that organizes itself and fights for its values and for justice is a people that demands respect." - Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, murdered by U.S. trained paramilitary fighters during Mass in 1980
Only when our Christian resistance becomes serious enough to be reckoned with the transgressors, as Jesus did on the cross, will it be taken seriously by the oppressed. The Honduran people, led spiritually by Fr. Andres Tamayo, a Catholic priest who has assumed a prominent role in the resistance, have begun a qualitative shift in resistance strategy. Before Gandhi began the Salt March in 1930, he entered a state of contemplation in which he achieved unity with the people. In the words of James Douglass, "Gandhi dropped into a silent void, 'reduced himself to zero' in the Buddhist formula which he often repeated as a keynote for the man of non-violence, and found on the far side of nothingness the people, in whom God lived patiently, awaiting the full release of his unifying, liberating power. Gandhi dropped into the well of existence, where he could 'not see any light coming out of the surrounding darkness,' and there in deep solitude was given in a flash the symbol united darkness and light. Gandhi lost himself and found his life in the suffering of the people of God - all the people, Indian, British, all those whose inner life he felt and touched in darkness and in light, all of suffering mankind brought together for a moment in a handful of salt." - James Douglass, Resistance and Contemplation, p. 89.
In the same way, we Christians in resistance must now see the face of Jesus in the suffering Honduran people. This is an act of true solidarity in which we no longer see ourselves as separate from them, as "Americans" whose concern with their struggle is merely political. Instead, we are one with them as Gandhi was one with the Indians and British locked in the same terrible embrace as the U.S.-backed coup leaders and the ever-growing resistance. In this way, we discover in ourselves a fountain welling up to eternal life, the fountain of satyagraha that pours out freshness when "the depths within ourselves pass over into the needs of a suffering people." - James Douglass, ibid.
The Honduran people have come alive to the kingdom, with so many now becoming conscious that he or she is responsible in his or her own soul for the freedom of their country. Those of us who cannot physically support their struggle must unite with them in the silence of our hearts. The most revolutionary act is for an individual to realize that within him or herself lies the capacity for liberation. Liberation does not come from waiting for someone in the upper reaches of the power structure to do something honest and humane. That may or may not happen. In this case, it appears exceedingly unlikely that the Obama administration will act concretely for justice. Within ourselves is the revolutionary well-spring which we must awaken.
As a first step, we renounce the social sin of individualism, caring only for our own and refusing to participate in public life. This is a sin against truth because it denies our relationship to the whole of which we are a part, a whole without which we could not live for an instant. Our spirituality cannot breath independently of the world that surrounds us, but constantly receives and returns the air which nourishes the whole world. Falsely isolated within our commodified pleasures, our minds literally dis-integrate, they lose their integration with the world that we form a part of. We renounce the sin of not caring about struggles for justice in other parts of the world and neglecting those in our own. We renounce the lie of merely personal salvation and acknowledge that all true salvation is both individual and communal.
We also renounce looking above for communal salvation. The illusion that Presidents and legislatures will bring social justice by themselves is a cruel lie, though one that is constantly reinforced by the corporate media. Just as the Indians could not depend on the British to bring them independence, we cannot depend on the Obama or any other administration to bring us social justice. Once we rule ourselves, both personally and communally, the powers above become less relevant. The power they represent is death and we must never cease to wrestle with death, as Gandhi taught.
Indeed, this renunciation is part of a greater inner purification which we must undergo. We renounce the fixation on results with which our culture imbues us. The kingdom will come when it comes, but we should not consume ourselves with looking for it "here and there", as it says in the Gospels. We must not become absorbed in brooding over its signs, "which will only result in frustration and violence or a loss of faith and nerve." - James Douglass. We must become absorbed into the means of liberation embodied fearlessly in our own life and action.
Read the story of the new mass resistance strategy in Honduras: A qualitative step forward for the organized struggle in Honduras
and consider in prayer what support to give. Learn about the work of Fr. Andres Tamayo here: On the Road to Tegucigalpa with Father Andrés Tamayo.