"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, December 25, 2009

Activism and Organization

The primary weakness in most of the current movements for social change is their inability to form a coherent systematic analysis of the fundamental causes of the injustices we fight. This weakness is telegraphed in the very word "activist". Mark Rudd just published an excellent article in CounterPunch where he characterized the difference between "activism" and "organizing" as follows: "'...activists are individuals who dedicate their time and energy to various efforts they hope will contribute to social, political, or economic change. Organizers are activists who, in addition to their own participation, work to move other people to take action and help them develop skills, political analysis and confidence within the context of organizations. Organizing is a process – creating long-term campaigns that mobilize a certain constituency to press for specific demands from a particular target, using a defined strategy and escalating tactics.' In other words, it's not enough for punks to continually express their contempt for mainstream values through their alternate identity; they've got to move toward 'organizing masses of people.'

Aha! Activism = self-expression; organizing = movement-building."

Aha - exactly. Raj Jayadev in his article "A New Decade of Youth Activism" contrasts the new left ideologues with the spontaneous practicality of the new movements: "This generation didn't get in squabbles over who was more revolutionary, didn't pull all-night, Marx-Engel study sessions, didn't try to bring back the beret, and as it turned out, could care less about being called 'activists.'" The message is that they could care less about ideological squabbles or trying to understand the roots of the crisis in a systematic way. Their action springs directly from the situation, "The great irony of this generation was that they had been called self-involved and apathetic, a generation that lived in isolated iPod worlds. Yet when their loved ones were being threatened, they erupted. No national coalition, no 10-point plan, just a raw flexing of organizing power." And, unfortunately, no strategy to address the roots the problem either.

In no way do I wish to belittle the real accomplishments which Jayadev describes. The Youtube posting of Oscar Grant's murder is a case in point. Jayadev locates his generation's activism in its ability to communicate electronically. What he ignores is the moral culture that must underlie responses to that video. Without an understanding of the culture that makes Oscar Grant's murder possible, the murders will go on. If posting on Youtube becomes too inconvenient to the authorities, they will simply shut it down.

Each "movement" he describes was an immediate response to an existing situation of injustice and each had a positive effect. But spontaneous movements tend to die as soon as their immediate demands are met because their activists do not see beyond the immediate injustice.

Impatience with "ideology" often hides a mental laziness that prefers the satisfactions of immediate action to the hard work of understanding the fundamental nature of the system we confront. One could argue that it was precisely this impatience with systematic thought that made most of the revolutionary fervor of the sixties so effervescent. The examples cited by Jayadev are classic examples of attacking the symptoms while letting the disease rage unchecked and undiagnosed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Obama's Praise of War

"For myself, I have come in my time in college to an understanding of the beauty of MLK's philosophy of world peace. That violent force cannot ever be justified --that two wrongs don't make a right-- seems like second nature now. Obama's twisted pseudo-intellectual rationalization of war-mongering stands in strict opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ (love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, blessed are the peacemakers, thou shalt not kill, et cetera) and make this veteran sick. I would not feign to argue with the leader of the free world, but then again I have seen war from the ground up, and he has not. I know that I speak for the young anti-war movement when I say that Obama has betrayed us. I also speak for the anti-war youth when I say that we won't forget it." - Evan Knappenberger, "The Betrayal of Generation Hope", Common Dreams, Dec. 13, 2009

This is one of most passionate and clear-sighted articles I've yet seen in the progressive press. The key question is "Why doesn't Obama get it?" and the answer is that he sees with different eyes than the generation he inspired and then so quickly betrayed. As many of Evan's generation are beginning to perceive, Marxist analysis has the tools to understand this enigma.

Despite a firm commitment to nonviolence, I must acknowledge the reality of class warfare. This is not a war chosen by the exploited, but by those who repress them and then accuse resisters of "violence", as did Obama in his speech. Though major media constantly strive to suppress awareness of this struggle, it continues with the same intensity as before. Obama is a member of the ruling class and he strives, very successfully up to now, to advance the interests of his class.

Consider Glenn Greenwald's description of the elite reaction to the speech, "Yesterday's speech and the odd, extremely bipartisan reaction to it underscored one of the real dangers of the Obama presidency: taking what had been ideas previously discredited as Republican or right-wing dogma and transforming them into bipartisan consensus." The "danger" here is actually stronger than he characterizes it. The crude destruction of constitutional rights under the previous administration now has the stamp of progressive approval added to it. But this approval of militarism and its consequent degradation of human dignity is far from "odd". It is the natural consequence of their philosophy of dominance.

This is precisely the point of the Obama administration - "...Obama has actually done more to legitimize Bush/Cheney 'counter-terrorism' policies than Bush and Cheney themselves -- because he made them bipartisan." Once we understand his actions from the viewpoint of class warfare, many otherwise inexplicable betrayals begin to fall into place. His role is to legitimize the instruments of exploitation which are now necessary in order to continue imperial domination. That he can do this with the blessing of the Nobel Committee adds the stamp of moral idealism to his brutal policies in the Middle East.

Once we lay aside liberal prejudices about "class warfare" and our ingrained taboos about "socialism", the realities of power finally stand out stark and clear. And the nonviolent battle plan can be made with confidence when we see the real enemy and throw off his yoke, no matter what moralistic flowers he decorates it with.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Perpetual War

Over and over, we hear the same bemusement from liberal writers over the hypocrisy and sheer irrationality of Obama's war strategy. And their analysis is often devastatingly accurate. But they rarely examine the material motivations for this deception, preferring psychological explanations. As in this quote: "...this is 'the way we prefer to see ourselves and, therefore, the narrative that we use to justify all that we do in the world.'" - Andre Bacevich.

The problem is that such articles usually end utterly devoid of any answer as to why anyone would pursue such an obviously self-destructive course, no matter what one might say about the hypocrisy of his rhetorical pose. We are left with a sense of impotent frustration, a sense of powerlessness in the face of irrational self immolation.

And, in a way, that's what defines liberalism - the inability to ask the decisive question and seek a genuine answer to it.

What liberals don't understand is that the goal of the war against Afghanistan and Pakistan is not to create "stability" - it is to create sufficient numbers of enemies so that we can perpetuate war and the profits that ensue from it.

In the words of George Orwell: "The war is not supposed to be winnable, it is supposed to be continuous...all for the hierarchy of society...The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent..it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War… is now a purely internal affair."

The purpose of the war in Afghanistan is to maintain a permanent state of war. This state is necessary for the national security apparatus to flourish, as well as to ensure the subjection of the majority. Obama, the smiling liberal, is well-chosen as executor of this totalitarian strategy because he can pull off the crime while keeping his progressive credentials intact. Liberals wish to live in the illusion that we are "resistors of oppression" "who never seek to occupy other countries." How noble and lawful we are compared to our manufactured "enemies".

A secondary goal of the war is the control of Central Asian energy resources in a game the U.S. cannot afford to cede to the Russians and Chinese. But principally, war in Afghanistan helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. Liberals play an essential role in the maintenance of this state through the proliferation of their illusions about "democracy" which mask the realities of power. That is their role and in that they serve the security state well.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unwinnable Wars

"The war is not supposed to be winnable, it is supposed to be continuous… all for the hierarchy of society… The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent… it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War… is now a purely internal affair." — George Orwell

The purpose of the war in Afghanistan is to maintain a permanent state of war. This state is necessary for the national security state to flourish, as well as to ensure the subjection of the majority. Obama, the smiling liberal, is the well-chosen executor of this totalitarian, utopian strategy.

"Such a perfect democracy constructs its own inconceivable foe, terrorism. Its wish is to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results."

– Guy DeBord, Comments On the Society of the Spectacle, 1988

The purpose of the war in Afghanistan is to manufacture enemies that can be used to fuel further profit opportunities for the military/energy complex. In addition, the control of Central Asian energy resources is a game that the U.S. cannot afford to leave to the Russians and Chinese. But principally, war in Afghanistan helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. This war is being fought to ensure the proper mental climate for the enslavement of the middle class to debt bondage, a servitude to Wall Street that will probably last centuries.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Manufactured Scarcity

History is constructed from the building blocks of material fact, not "hope" or "change". But those blocks can be moved by the human mind and the human spirit and their triumph will be eternal.

One of the fantasies that currently dominates the debate on climate change is that of "green capitalism". The idea is essentially that we can keep the current economic system and maintain its growth rate while shifting to green technologies. Behind the smoke screen of this fantasy, the elite are effectively maneuvering to inaugurate the next great bubble. The devastation of the earth's ecology represents one of the most lucrative profit opportunities the world has ever seen. We will call this the "Enron Strategy" based on the pioneering work of Enron in California where artificial shortages were created to hike up the charges to utility companies. In one famous memo stated that "...the Kyoto treaty 'would do more to promote Enron’s business than will almost any other regulatory initiative." Enron made many innovations in the art of scarcity. They regularly invented reasons to take power plants offline while California was blacked out, allowing utility rates to be hiked 9 times between 2000 and 2001. This successful strategy acts as paradigm for the coming profits from global warming which will be based on the same principle. If you wonder why in the face of catastrophe, the leaders of the world dither and bargain over trivia, the answer may well be that the opportunities for enrichment from global destruction are just too tempting to pass up.

But first, we must set the stage: Despite the propaganda that proclaims that capitalism brings wealth to everyone, the truth is that capitalism thrives on scarcity. Nothing dismays investment bankers more than the prospect of abundance for all. Waste and destruction are natural for our system of wealth concentration. The profits accrue to a tiny elite while the destruction and waste are absorbed by the many. The way in which this elite passes the costs to the public and to the natural environment while retaining the profit for itself is referred to as externalizing. The costs of environmental destruction are externalized under capitalism on nature and society as a whole.

Turning the "free gifts" of nature into private profits through the selective commodification of parts of nature is not a recent development as many liberals pretend. Since the current system's beginnings in the 15th century, it has been the foundation for capital accumulation.

The new situation brought on by climate change is in many respects seen as a golden opportunity in which to further privatize the remaining natural wealth. This will accelerate the destruction of the natural environment, while enlarging the system that weighs upon it. But the greater the destruction, the greater the profit potential. This is best illustrated by the rapid privatization of fresh water, which is now seen as a new mega-market for global accumulation. The drying up and contamination of freshwater diminishes public wealth, creating investment opportunities for capital, while profits made from selling increasingly scarce water are recorded as contributions to income and riches. It is not surprising, therefore, that the UN Commission on Sustainable Development proposed, at a 1998 conference in Paris, that governments should turn to “large multinational corporations” in addressing issues of water scarcity, establishing “open markets” in water rights. Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of the global water giant Suez, has openly pronounced: “Water is an efficient product. It is a product which normally would be free, and our job is to sell it. But it is a product which is absolutely necessary for life.” He further remarked: “Where else [other than in the monopolization of increasingly scarce water resources for private gain] can you find a business that’s totally international, where the prices and volumes, unlike steel, rarely go down?"

Huge profits are waiting for those who seize the moment. Why will Copenhagen be gutted by Obama and all the other heads of state? Because a moment like this will not come again. Let the destruction begin and let the wealth begin to flow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Enemy of Nature

Why would the very countries who originated ecological science, who make their plans according to best scientific advice be so slow to deal with the latest findings of the world's leading researchers? Surely the irrationality of a Beck or Palin doesn't reach into the highest levels of the Western powers?

According to the most widespread faith today, global capitalism, market mechanisms should respond with solutions to a crisis of this magnitude. In fact, there is no real feedback mechanism that can be can check capitalism’s destruction of the biospheric conditions of civilization and most forms of life on this planet. On the contrary, whole new industries and markets aimed at profiting from planetary destruction are being opened up. Al Gore's status as the first carbon trading billionaire is a leading indicator for those who spy the next bubble.

The fundamental fact is that capitalism thrives on scarcity. Nothing dismays investment bankers more than the thought that we might create a planet where there would be abundant food, water and health for all. The loss of profit opportunities this would entail would be a genuine tragedy. What makes sense in a system like this are the waste and destruction of our natural resources. The costs of this destruction are externalized - assumed by the public, like the bank bailouts, and by nature as a whole, while yielding fat profits for the middle men.

The growth of natural scarcity is a golden opportunity to further privatize the world’s remaining accessible resources. Carefully study how the corporate media frames the water crisis. The solution invariably involves rapid privatization of fresh water, which has now become the new mega-market for entrepreneurs. It is precisely through the drying up and contamination of freshwater that these investment opportunities are created. In the words of Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of the global water giant Suez: "Water is an efficient product. It is a product which normally would be free, and our job is to sell it. But it is a product which is absolutely necessary for life...Where else [other than in the monopolization of increasingly scarce water resources for private gain] can you find a business that’s totally international, where the prices and volumes, unlike steel, rarely go down?" Where indeed? Wake up to the real enemy.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Capitalism - An Evolutionary Dead End

The capitalist system that has evolved over the past five hundred years represents a test of our capacity for self-awareness and imagination. The system that brought us unparalleled material abundance has also directly caused massive degradation of our natural and human ecology. Our challenge at this moment is to recognize the threat posed by our own behavior and counter it decisively. The alternative is mass starvation and widespread upheaval that will leave our race decimated and our natural environment beyond repair for thousands of years. That we are failing this test is undeniable.

Science means nothing to the ruling powers when it comes into conflict with capital's demand for endless expansion. What the left fails to understand is that we love our illusions more than life itself. Only a religious revolution that restores (or perhaps initiates) the worship of truth can restore us to sanity. This "religion" applies to materialists and spiritualists equally.

From the viewpoint of human welfare, it is more important to destroy capitalism than it is to stave off the ecological crisis that is now upon us. As long as the spirit of capitalism endures, we will dodge or suffer one major crisis after another until we realize that capitalism thrives on catastrophe and finds its greatest profit opportunities precisely in the midst of it. Those struggling in the battle against climate change should take John Bellamy Foster's words very seriously, "Indeed, from the standpoint of capital accumulation, global warming and desertification are blessings in disguise, increasing the prospects of expanding private riches." - John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, "The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction", Monthly Review, November 2009.

Until this sickness in the human spirit is healed, there can be no solution to the ecological crisis. For that is precisely what capitalism is - a spiritual sickness that has latched onto the human soul devouring its life and producing material trivia that can never satisfy real human need and isn't really intended to. Capitalism is far from a neutral economic system. In the words of Joel Kovel, "From this standpoint there appears a greater 'ecological crisis,' of which the particular insults to ecosystems are elements. This has further implications. For human beings are part of nature, however ill-at-ease we may be with the role. There is therefore a human ecology as well as an ecology of forests and lakes. It follows that the larger ecological crisis would be generated by, and extend deeply into, an ecologically pathological society. Regarding the matter from this angle provided a more generous view. No longer trapped in a narrow economic determinism, one could see capital as much more than a simple material arrangement, but as something cancerous lodged in the human spirit, produced by, and producer of, the capitalist economy. It takes shape as a queer beast altogether, more a whole way of being than anything else." - Joel Kovel, "The Enemy of Nature", p. xii

It is as an entire way of being that capitalism must be opposed. Those who wonder why the ruling elite seem so little concerned with impending ecological catastrophe should pause to consider how little concerned they were (and still are) with preventing nuclear holocaust, the decimation of entire races during WWII, the enslavement and starvation of the continent of Africa, and many other tragedies for ordinary human beings. While we tend to see the floods and desertification caused by global warming as evils to be avoided by any means necessary, they see them quite differently. For them, these are outstanding opportunities to increase profit margins and accelerate the growth of capital. Who cares if the planet is destroyed, as long as the zeros continue to repeat?

Bravo, Barack!

My admiration for Barack Obama continues to grow as he emerges as the master of the post-modern power grab. America has orchestrated a Latin American coup with the smooth efficiency of an executive's image makeover. The term Eva Gollinger uses for the new imperial strategy is "smart power" and she describes it as follows: "The Obama administration has opted for a mutation of these two concepts, fusioning military power with diplomacy, political and economic influence with cultural penetration and legal manuvering. They call this 'Smart Power'. Its first application is the coup d’etat in Honduras, and as of today, it’s worked to perfection." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

This is the essence of the Obama strategy - to modulate, guide and enhance the behavior that they wish to enforce, in this case in order to counter the democratic movements that threaten U.S. hegemony in Latin America. The "smart power" strategy in Honduras worked this way: the rhetoric was constantly on the side of the legitimate President, Zelaya, but the concrete action was always supportive of the coup regime. Golinger sums up the success of this strategy as follows, "Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José 'agreement', and in the end, it was the high level State Department and White House delegation that 'persuaded' the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’etat in Honduras – funding, design, and political and military support – Washington’s 'smart power'approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of 'multilateralism'" - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

The genius of this strategy is it emerges with a clear victory for U.S. imperial control while retaining Obama's progressive credentials. "Everything is normal," says the Pentagon about the current situation in Honduras. Indeed it is - "The people were left out, excluded. Months of repression, violence, persecution, human rights violations, curfews, media closures, tortures and political assasinations have been forgotten. What a relief, as Subsecretary of State Thomas Shannon remarked upon achieving the signature of Micheletti and Zelaya on the final 'agreement', that the situation in Honduras was resolved 'without violence'." Precisely, violence is only real when it's against those in power. Repression of those below is elided with the smooth turn of a jazz solo.

The success of this first post-modern coup will doubtless inspire many more ruling elites in Central and South America to hatch their own plots. And the Obama administration will smile benevolently, modulating, guiding and enhancing the process until victory is achieved. Bravo, Barack!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Post-Modern Coup

My admiration for Barack Obama continues to grow as he emerges as the master of the post-modern power grab. For the first time in U.S. history, America has orchestrated a Latin American coup with the smooth efficiency of an executive's well-managed image makeover. The term Eva Gollinger uses for the new imperial strategy is "smart power" and she describes it as follows: "The Obama administration has opted for a mutation of these two concepts, fusioning military power with diplomacy, political and economic influence with cultural penetration and legal manuvering. They call this “Smart Power”. Its first application is the coup d’etat in Honduras, and as of today, it’s worked to perfection." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Before getting into the details of her cogent analysis, we should first step back and examine the type of power we are speaking about. This was well-described by Peter Hallward in an article last year, "As several generations of emancipatory thinkers have now argued, modern forms of power do not primarily exclude or prohibit but rather modulate, guide or enhance the behavior norms conducive to the status quo..." New Left Review, Sept. - Oct., 2008.

This is the essence of the Obama strategy - to modulate, guide and enhance the behavior that they wish to enforce, in this case in order to counter the popular movements that threaten U.S. hegemony in Latin America. Golinger describes the calculated ambiguity which informed U.S. policy over the past four months, "On one hand, President Obama condemned the coup against President Zelaya while his ambassador in Tegucigalpa held regular meetings with the coup leaders. Secretary of State Clinton repeated over and over again during the past four months that Washington didn’t want to 'influence' the situation in Honduras – that Hondurans needed to resolve their crisis, without outside interference. But it was Washington that imposed the mediation process 'led' by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Washington that kept funding the coup regime and its supporters via USAID, and Washington that controlled and commanded the Honduran armed forces, involved in repressing the people and imposing a brutal regime, through its massive military presence in the Soto Cano military base." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

Notice the distinction made by this "smart power" strategy: the rhetoric was constantly on the side of the legitimate President, Zelaya, but the concrete action was always supportive of the coup regime. She sums up the success of this strategy as follows, "Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José 'agreement', and in the end, it was the high level State Department and White House delegation that 'persuaded' the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’etat in Honduras – funding, design, and political and military support – Washington’s 'smart power'approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of 'multilateralism'" - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

The genius of this strategy is it emerges with a clear victory for U.S. imperial control while retaining its progressive credentials. In the end, what is the result of the agreement? "Upon signature of the 'agreement' this past October 30th, Washington immediately lifted the few restrictions it had imposed on the coup regime as a pressure tactic. Now they can get visas again and travel north, they don’t have to worry about the millions of dollars from USAID, which hadn’t even been suspended in the first place. The US military in presence in Soto Cano can reinitiate all their activities – oh wait, they never stopped in the first place. The Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) of the Pentagon affirmed just days after the coup that 'everything is normal with our armed forces in Honduras, they are engaging in their usual activities with their Honduran counterparts.' And Washington is already preparing its delegation of elections observors for the November 29th presidential elections – they are already on their way." - Eva Golinger, "Honduras: A Victory for Smart Power", Nov. 2, 2009.

"Everything is normal," says the Pentagon. Indeed it is - "The people were left out, excluded. Months of repression, violence, persecution, human rights violations, curfews, media closures, tortures and political assasinations have been forgotten. What a relief, as Subsecretary of State Thomas Shannon remarked upon achieving the signature of Micheletti and Zelaya on the final “agreement”, that the situation in Honduras was resolved 'without violence'." Precisely, violence only exists against those in power. Repression of those below is elided with the smooth turn of a jazz solo.

The success of this first post-modern coup will doubtless inspire many other ruling elites in Central and South America to hatch their own plots. And the Obama administration will smile benevolently, modulating, guiding and enhancing the process until victory is achieved. Bravo, Barack!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Obama's Steady Stream of Accomplishments

So far the accomplishments of Obama have been impressive:

1) The defeat of the public option for health care and the guarantee of 46 million new customers to enhance health insurance industry profits.
2) The rapid escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the delight of military contractors.
3) The continuation of the war in Iraq when it faced almost certain termination.
4) The expansion of incarceration facilities in Bagram for sequestering state enemies.
5) Helping to mute the international outrage over the Gaza slaughter.
6) Legally justifying and intensifying the warrantless spying program on Americans.
7) Guiding the coup in Honduras to a successful outcome in the face of massive opposition from the world community and fierce resistance from the Honduran people.
8) The transfer of trillions of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street investment banks, which accomplished the dual purpose of restoring the profits of the ruling class and bonuses while ensure debt slavery for generations of ordinary Americans.

Why shouldn't he crown this set of achievements by gutting the only hope for effective response to climate change?

We should celebrate these accomplishments as they deserve.

On Failing to Break Out

Rage can be refreshing. For instance, contemplate the latest outrage by the Obama administration, "The Obama administration has, yet again, asserted the broadest and most radical version of the 'state secrets' privilege -- which previously caused so much controversy and turmoil among loyal Democrats (when used by Bush/Cheney) -- to attempt to block courts from ruling on the legality of the government's domestic surveillance activities." - Glenn Greenwald, "Obama's Latest Use of 'Secrecy' to Shield Presidential Lawbreaking", Nov. 1, 2009.

When reading this passage, one reaction might be to center oneself in anger over the crime which has been committed against the rule of law and the right to privacy. But will the rage lead to the identification of the actual enemy who provoked this crime? For many on the left, anger has become an emotional whirlpool, sucking us down to an irrational chaos and eating up the energy needed for true radical change.

We must begin with icy determination to identify the real foe and move wisely and swiftly against it. Wisely means through the use of human means to obtain human ends, rather than the use of material means to obtain material ends. For human beings must never be reduced to material objects, which is the way of war. In the brilliant words of James Douglass, "War in our time discloses the inherent powerlessness of matter at its most powerful to resolve the injustices of man's spirit." - James Douglas, The Non-violent Cross, p. 130. Material means can never resolve spiritual crises. Killing a human body can never bring justice, but only perpetrates the injustice that led to the initial murder. The same applies to deceit in any form. Satyagraha means clinging to Truth above all, accepting Truth as God.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The True Path to Peace

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

The U.S. Game in Honduras

Clinton's words should send chills down the spine of lovers of peace, "I’m very pleased to announce that we’ve had a breakthrough in negotiations in Honduras. I want to congratulate the people of Honduras as well as President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti for reaching an historic agreement." Zelaya and Micheletti have signed an agreement following the intervention in Tegucigalpa of a high-level delegation from the US State Department.

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

Loving the Wrong-Doer Obama

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.

The Empire of Illusion

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

Lifting the Burden of Truth

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

On Nobel Prize Winners

"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 Services of the News Media

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.

Building the Kingdom of God in Honduras

"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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Surrender to Utopia

The typical U.S. anti-socialism meme resembles this recent post in Common Dreams: "Socialism goes against human nature. Humans are greedy creatures, just look at a toddler crying if it doesn't get the toy someone else has. In adults, the greed becomes more sophisticated and predatory. So I hate to agree with the scums on the Right, socialism IS utopia." - Common Dreams, "Is Obama a Socialist?" comment on Sept.27, 2009

The reply, which I fully endorse, went as follows: "But other aspects of human nature include solidarity, sacrifice, cooperation, and compassion - aspects which our society does not usually reward. Should our society reward these aspects, and there is no reason why it can't, then we can have a society that reflects these more cooperative, if not humane, aspects of human nature rather than the self-centered and destructive aspects our society does reflect. Societal design isn't written in stone, it isn't delivered by the gods, it is a manifestation of social and political choices. Different choices will yield different outcomes. Socialism does not go against human nature, as you suggest, it merely appeals to different aspects of human nature than capitalism does. Socialism is not utopia, and the 'right' is wrong to say so, and you are wrong to believe it is so." - Common Dreams, "Is Obama a Socialist?" comment on Sept.27, 2009

But we must go farther. The choice of whether to reward greed and self-interest or cooperation and compassion is not a neutral one. Another part of human nature, as well documented in history as greed and war, is the human tendency to transcend its own nature, to constantly repudiate a static condition in which no moral or spiritual growth occurs. There is a logic to social and political choices that truly inspire humanity. Socialism may not in and of itself be a utopia, but utopia lives within all of us and drives to constantly create and destroy all would-be utopias.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Siren Call of Ecological Despair

Erich Fromm, who has a section in the "Sane Society" called "The Principle of Nonfrustration" seems particularly relevant to the current ecological crisis. As Aldous Huxley said in Brave New World, the principle of the current world order is: "Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today." Happiness has become the instant realization of wishes, and these wishes, moreover, are largely dictated by corporate marketing departments who form the personal images that we unconsciously emulate.

In the context of the current climate crisis, this attitude translates into deliberate self-deception. Psyches formed by the principle of non-frustration cannot cope with our inherent limitations. We are impelled to achieve higher and higher degrees of satisfaction, which in real terms mean greater and greater exploitation of the world's limited resources. To accept this reality would mean a sudden and devastating sense of despair. Eventually, if we had the courage, we would crawl out of that despair, but being the people we currently are, we simply can't face it. We WILL have our satisfaction, even if it means starvation for hundreds of millions of our fellow creatures.

We have been transformed into a system of desires and satisfactions. This is the system that guides us without the use of force. No matter what the depth of our disappointment with the satisfactions on sale, we return to them again and again because alternatives have been systematically excluded from consciousness. We are eternal infants, never weaned from our receptive orientation. Aldous Huxley described it well, "There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist." - Brave New World.

Indeed, the temptation to save the planet sheds dim light compared to those temptations to which we have become addicted. And the corporations continue to sing their siren song and we, unlike Odysseus, are not bound to the ship's mast, but steer passionately toward the empire of illusion:

"First you will raise the island of the Sirens,
those creatures who spellbind any man alive,
whoever comes their way. Whoever draws too close,
off guard, and catches the Sirens' voices in the air -
no sailing home for him, no wife rising to meet him,
no happy children beaming up at their father's face.
The high, thrilling song of the s=Sirens will transfix him,
lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses,
rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones..."

- The Odyssey, Book 12, verses 44 - 52.

Capitalism and the Technologies of Desire

I applaud Robert Jensen's spirited defense of the "narrow gate," in his recent article, Is Obama a Socialist? Reflection on the Degradation of Politics and the Ecosystem. His is one of many efforts to break through the constricted vision of twentieth century ideologies to embrace the many dimensions of liberation: economic, political, and even religious.

The demonization of "socialism" plays a central role in the capitalist strategy of consent that tells us much about why it has succeeded so spectacularly against its rivals. This communication strategy represents "socialism" as the repression of the unlimited ("free") indulgence of desire which corporations constantly encourage. This is represented symbolically by the "nanny" state, a potent image that embodies the repressive morality which it fears. The real content of the word "freedom" in modern political speech is "immediate satisfaction of desire", in particular the artificial desires that are stimulated to a fever pitch with the apparatus of modern marketing.

Capitalism enslaves the imagination through a highly-developed technology of desire. Capitalism captures and distorts human desire so that rather than serving the good of humanity or the glory of God, desire operates according to the golden rule of production for the market. This insight has major consequences for progressive counter-strategies.

Capitalism is successful because it creates a constant stream of new desires which demand immediate satisfaction. By redirecting desire into these carefully controlled channels, attention that might be directed to social concerns follows the groove of personal satisfaction and image. It works by convincing us that this system alone lets us participate in images of personal success. We participate in these images through the stimulation and immediate satisfaction of artificial desires, with all the infantile reasoning that this implies and encourages.

Religious mythology as represented by the "mega-church" phenomenon also plays a significant role. "Sinfulness" in the form of greed, sexual indulgence, selfishness, drugs, and corruption embodies the image of a "fallen" world that can only be magically redeemed. It becomes part of orthodox religious belief that the features of contemporary capitalism are the unalterable features of fallen humanity. Rather than believing that we are God's agents who can liberate ourselves through his gifts, as Jesus taught, we are forced into the belief that "Jesus" will magically liberate us through miraculous events. These beliefs reinforce the faith that capitalism can continue forever.

For instance, George Gilder says, "... man is not finite; the human mind is not bound in material brain...the energy crisis is essentially a religious disorder, a failure of faith. It can be overcome chiefly by worship; by a recognition that beyond the darkness and opacity of our material entrapment is a realm of redemptive spirit, reachable through that interplay of faith and fact which some call science, others poetry, but which is most luminously comprehended as forms of prayer." - George Gilder, The Spirit of Enterprise.

This is precisely the idolatry which enraptures the contemporary religious mind and cultivates the belief that the "creativity" of our economic system will always save us, no matter what "reality" may say. The fuel behind the fire that is devouring our planet is the constant stimulus of new desires which can only be satisfied by the organized productive capacity of globalized capital.

Resistance to climate change can't gain traction because it presents itself as a restriction on the satisfaction of infinite desire. The dynamic of capitalism is that we can become endlessly more through the multiplication of new technologies. Climate change activism opposes this irrationalism, and so can be easily characterized as dull, repressive, and totalitarian - in a word "socialist".

What Jensen and contemporary socialists call for is the liberation of desire from this bondage. Submission to this bondage is rapidly destroying its own ecological foundation, which is right now causing natural destruction that will take millennia to heal.

Capitalism creates a spiritual void and then fills it with an unending stream of artificial desire to quell the boredom and despair engendered by the thwarting of social development.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Squandered Summer? or the Maestro?

If only it were just a matter of a squandered summer. Frank Rich's editorial in the New York Times this Sunday "Obama's Squandered Summer" focuses on the tactical and strategic errors of the Obama administration, but a shift of perspective quickly unblurs the actual scenery and highlights the superb successes Obama has achieved this summer. His behavior this summer appears incompetent only if one assumes that his goal was to get a health care package that addressed the needs of ordinary Americans. If, on the other hand, he was responding to the needs and desires of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, then his strategy has been a model for others to emulate.

Writers who are given a national stage usually reinforce the notion that presidents are primary actors within the drama of national politics, that their decisions and tactics are decisive factors guiding the development of the historical moment. This meta-message is far more important that the well-wrought details of their critiques. As long as we focus on personality and style, the real forces behind the health care debacle can be safely ignored.

Once we step away from personalities, it quickly becomes obvious that Obama is carrying out the interests of his class, conveniently masked by his progressive image. He is serving the interests of the health insurance industry because they are representative of those who have advanced his career and who will support his continued advancement as long as he is useful to them. Public opinion counts for nothing in this realm.

"Obama is a master when it comes to embodying what the formerly left Christopher Hitchens once (in a book about the Clintons) called 'the essence of American politics' - 'the manipulation of populism by elitism.' The president is a maestro at executing what former Clinton administration official David Rothokopf calls 'the violin model,' under which 'you hold power with the left hand and you play the music with the right.' In other words, 'you' gain and keep office with populace-pleasing progressive-sounding rhetoric but govern in standard service to existing dominant corporate and military institutions." - Paul Street, "They Employ a Lot of Our Friends: Left Reflections on Obama's Corporatist Health Care Speech", Sept. 12, 2009.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Don't Feed the Frenzy

Many liberal pundits have fallen into a frenzy of Obama-bashing, but they’re blasting at the wrong target. Obama is not the cause of this crisis. He stands at the end of a long trail of decisions made by powerful elites in business and government over many decades. These decisions box the type of decisions that can be made into tight crevices, into one of which Obama is now cramped. One man, even if he is President, can't reverse the momentum of that long trail. As beautiful a sight as it would be to see Obama challenging the power of Wall Street, we can easily foresee what the consequence would be. The ruling elite would find a way to remove him, either politically or physically, if necessary.

However, a real leader would have used the opportunity, even if he faced certain defeat. He would realize that "the political center" is an optical illusion. He would have instinctively understood that Republican support could only be a cruel hoax. Instead, he would have rallied his newly fledged legions of young fans and proclaimed positions radical enough to get them excited, even if he secretly knew they would face severe obstacles. He would set the bar high enough for real achievement to be possible.

But Obama was not that leader. The reason he never challenged entrenched power is that he was chosen by that power to fulfill specific corporate goals. This is how David Michael Green characterizes the health care debacle, “I mean, if you had asked me in January, ‘How could Obama bungle this program most thoroughly?’, I would have written a prescription that varies little from what we've observed over the last eight months: Don't frame the issue, but instead let the radical right backed by greedy industry monsters do it, on the worst possible terms for you. And to you. Don't fight back when they say the most outrageous things about your plan. In fact, don't even have a plan. Let Congress do it. Better yet, let the by-far-and-away-minority party have an equal voice in the proceedings, even if they ultimately won't vote for the bill under any circumstances, and even while they're running around trashing it and you in the most egregious terms. Have these savages negotiate with a small group of right-wing Democrats, all of them major recipients of industry campaign donations. Blow off your base completely. Cut secret sweetheart deals with the Big Pharma and Big Insurance corporate vampires. Build a communications strategy around a series of hapless press conferences and town hall meetings, waiting until it's too late to give a major speech on the issue. Set a timetable for action and then let it slip. Indicate what you want in the bill but then be completely unclear about whether you necessarily require those things. Travel all over the world doing foreign policy meet-and-greets. Go on vacation in the heat of the battle. Rinse and repeat.” David Michael Green, “After Obama”, Sept. 4, 2009. This wonderful paragraph may not be simply a caricature of incompetence. The result of his political moves will be the defeat of real health care reform for at least the next four years. There are many who would consider that a significant success.

Another foreseeable result of the cumulative crises which he is bound to mishandle will be the election of a far-right Republican president in 2012. This Republican may have the intellectual chops of an Arnold Schwartzenegger or the feckless, good-old-girl charm of Sarah Palin, but it won't matter. This president will take orders from the same corporate headquarters as Obama, but with the incomparable advantage of arriving after 4 years of feckless "liberalism." It's the Hannity and Colmes strategy. Use a cartoonish liberal cliche to highlight the granite chin of fascism.

This new president will be empowered to wipe away what's left of the Constitution, establish military rule, and eliminate all government programs other than the armed forces, law enforcement, and the prison system. Anything less will be characterized as "Obamism.”

The hard truth is that we love our illusions and no longer care whether they are grounded in reality. Obama provoked the illusion of liberalism, evoking memories of real decency once embodied by the term. And we bought the illusion, secretly knowing that it was no longer possible. Once the chosen messiah failed to live up to the illusion he represented, the crowd turned vicious. But the illusion had already worked its magic. The purpose of the brilliant marketing campaign was accomplished. Now it is simply a matter of re-establishing dominance from Caracas to Kabul. And that is the formula for insanity. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Smart Power: the Obama Way

There is a pattern in Obama's behavior. First, he makes a strong rhetorical flourish that apparently contains a ringing endorsement of liberal policy. However, on close examination, it is found to contain subtle hedging, a slight obscuring of the issue inserted to provide cover for later. This is usually followed by a lengthy phase in which right wing forces accuse him of "socialism" in various verbal disguises or openly. Rather than countering these forces with a strong and principled defense, he "reaches out" to the other side in a way that allows them to provide the default framing of the issue. It is here that he maneuvers most skillfully, but emphatically not for the liberal position he apparently endorsed at the beginning. Expect no "simple, pithy formulas" here.

The current frame of the debate is that the health insurance industry is an unchangeable fact of nature, which may need a tweak here and there, but is fundamentally inalterable. Once that's conceded, the public option has already been implicitly removed from consideration. Instead of choosing to fight against the right-wing onslaught, by, for instance, using those who staffed his campaign to pack town hall meetings, he uses the noise provided by the right to make an ascending series of concessions until he arrives at the place he intended to be in the first place. The basic intent is to make a tweak or two to the current system so that it can more efficiently extract profit from patients. Once the battle has been lost, he will make "the moral case for reform." In this way he covers the final retreat by using his liberal credentials.

But notice how he has built up his political credit with both the right and left. To the left, he provides rhetorical concessions. To the right he provides the substance of what they want but rebranded to make it more palatable. For instance, the proposed non-profit co-ops, which act as a flimsy nightgown to cover the real deed. Taxpayer money used to subsidize the health care plan will go straight towards health care company profits, while they provide the same shoddy care as before. Thereby, he maintains his true power base. His role is to provide marketable justifications for maintaining the current relationships of economic and political power. In that art, he is a master.

The Fetishism of Commodities

The best way to understand this idea and its power is by considering a product such as a Nike tennis shoe. In some societies, teenagers have killed for a Nike. No one dies for not having a Nike, but having one fills a psychological need so powerful that it can sweep away moral inhibitions, even those regarding human life. There seems to be a mysterious and infinite being behind this commodity which promises profound personal fulfillment. Nike is not a tennis shoe, but a life model, as the publicity agent puts it.

So what is this mysterious being who can command human sacrifice? A fetish is an inanimate object such as a tree, a stone, a statue etc. that has been given human properties. It has become infused with a supernatural personality and often commands worship and sacrifice. A commodity is a manufactured object such as a tennis shoe, but its distinguishing characteristic is that it is produced for the purpose of getting something else, profit, rather than fulfilling a real human need, though it may do that as well.

Now when the teenager seeks for a Nike, he is not actually seeking an efficient and comfortable shoe, he is seeking a relationship with a power outside himself. He knows that in order to have a chance of being accepted by the right gang, the tennis shoe is the condition of possibility. But the tennis shoe would not be the passport to acceptance unless it had an aura about it that spelled success, achievement, a life model. Those who don't attain to this aura have failed in some essential and mysterious way.

Hopefully, I've managed to communicate an idea that lies at the heart of our economic system and has profound religious overtones. Such is the fascination that keeps the tremendous talents that we have potentially, the talent to create harmonious ecologies, to bring out the human potentialities of technology, to create a world centered on the fulfillment of human need locked tightly behind the walls of fantasy. Here we rot in the capitalist Disneyland while the life that sustains withers and dies in the onslaught unleashed by our lack of responsibility and infinite appetite for self-indulgence.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Illusion that Power can Produce What the Heart Desires

The illusion that prevents the acceptance of liberation theology is that spirituality involves turning away from this world to another world where we will one day make our home. God has already given us our home. It surrounds us on all sides. In the conventional view of Christianity the things of this world are of little value or moment because they are destined shortly to be transcended by altogether different reality in which our eternal destiny will be realized. Therefore, good spiritual practice means to regard material reality lightly, as a symbol of the spiritual realities where we will one day find our true home.

But the question liberation theology asks is: "Are there actually two realities, one spiritual and the other material, between which we must conduct a careful balancing act?" Or is there perhaps a single reality within which the totality of our destiny must be played out? The theology which labels itself "liberationist" and which I believe forms the basis of a new reformation of the Christian faith, answers that there is a single reality which is spiritual and material at the same time.

What has worked most powerfully against the acceptance of liberation theology by today's Christians is one of the most sophisticated systems of manufactured consent ever created. This manufactured consent, well-analyzed by Noam Chomsky among others, consists of a corporate-controlled media that carefully frames every issue to support corporate interests. It creates a system of mutually reinforcing messages that define the frameworks within which all issues can be debated. It inculcates the illusion of freedom of debate in order to more effectively constrain the terms of the debate. Points of view such as liberation theology are mysteriously excluded from the dialogue.

Of course, recent trends in Christian theology have also served to exclude anti-capitalist viewpoints. But these trends did not arise in an economic and political vacuum. So dangerous is the viewpoint of liberation theology to the dominant classes in the U.S. that its language has been made incomprehensible to those whose minds have been formed by neoliberal ideology. In fact, the dominant religion in the U.S. is the fetishism of commodities, a form of idolatry that most Christian communities have embraced and branded with a set of Christian themes.

But is not the very purpose of religion to tear us away from the things of this world so that we can rest in the love of God? It depends on what we mean by "love of God". "The spirit of Yahweh is the spirit of interhuman justice-definitive, total justice. Luke describes such justice in this way: "The whole group of believers had one heart and one soul, and no one called his own anything that he had; rather they held everything in common' (Acts 4:32)." (Miranda, Marx and the Bible). Note that love of God is described in economic terms - shared ownership, the end of individual possession, and sharing of talents are the key elements which express the disciples' living out of the resurrection of Jesus, as is made explicit in the following verse, "With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33). "For faith in the resurrection of Jesus reveals that salvation stands not for accumulation of wealth, but for the formation of human communities where all people are acknowledged, irrespective of wealth and other social characteristics." Jung Mo Sung, "Desire, Market, and Religion", p. 25.

The love of God and living out the resurrection by the Apostles was located particularly in the sharing of material possessions, which was regarded as a sign of the Kingdom of God. In their eyes, the life of God was expressed in the community of goods, the unity of individual and community that formed the basic social unit of the kingdom. They never considered the abandonment of the material world as a requirement of the kingdom of God, which would forever be found in this world of inextricably intermeshed spiritual and material reality.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Property for People, Not for Profit

The starting point of a Christian political system originates from the Fathers of the Church such as St. John Chrysostom: "There is something terrible about greed, any guilty of it shall be be expelled from the Church." The central principle of Christian communism can be described as follows: "Enjoying goods alone means losing them, harming both the social whole and oneself. The crucial idea here is that of benefit. Since everything belongs to God we are only beneficiaries of existing goods, and there can be no private property in the strict legal sense of exclusive rights, this right being limited, if not repealed, by the normative obligation to be useful: 'Everything belongs to God...do you not know that we will be called to account if we make poor use of it?" - Clement of Alexandria.

This principle means that a political system in which property rights trump all other values is anti-Christian at its root. Traditional Christianity has always argued that property rights are relative values and should be subordinated to spiritual values. In other words, an economic system based on the profit motive cannot be made to conform to Christian principles because it is based on greed from the root. Current economic theory further assumes that the sum of personal greed-based activity will result in the greater good of the whole, which is blatantly contradicted by the facts of our world, not to mention being the mirror opposite of Christian morality.

From the perspective of traditional ethics, "...when the usefulness of the goods produced and consumed no longer drives economic activities, but exchange value and limitless accumulation through money mechanisms, the property-owning individual falls prey to the illusion of boundless life - and the community is destroyed." Hinkelammert, "Another World is Possible". Therefore the economic and political system I would advocate would involve a rational and collective planning process for production that would focus on human need. It would regard the excessive accumulation of property by individuals or small groups as a crime against the good of the whole. It would be a world in which useful goods were distributed to all according to their need and to which each would contribute according to their talents. Such an economic practice would promote the values of sharing over competition, in accordance with Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

According to Christian teaching, human beings have the potential for both deep moral degradation and high spiritual attainment. Therefore a Christian economics is not one that regards all behaviors which might lead to growing profit margins as equally desirable. Some behaviors, such as compassion, sharing, care for the poor, diligence, concern for quality, craftsmanship, and so on should be encouraged, while others such as uncontrolled lust, greed, foolish self-indulgence, wastefulness, shoddy workmanship, escapism, desire for power over others, destructiveness and others, are to be discouraged by the economic system, as well as every other social mechanism. In an economic system which makes profit the supreme value, Christian values must necessarily be ignored and degraded.

So how can we envision an economic system that promotes the teachings of Jesus? The purpose of economics, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is to provide a field within which we can strive for greater and greater heights of moral virtue. That perfection cannot be served by endless arrays of wasteful and spiritually harmful commodities which encourage foolish self-indulgence and lack of compassion for our brothers and sister who have less. More radically, a production system that doesn't consider the ecological impact of the goods that it produces and fails to meet human needs is corrupt in its root and must be abolished for the sake of human and natural life. That is the true "pro-life" position that Jesus calls us to.

Economics must promote the deepening of our humanity, not the proliferation of useless and destructive "needs." The economic picture which currently reigns is the mirror opposite of one that would promote the proliferation of higher needs, the need to love, the need for truth, the need for honor, and all that these needs imply about the true direction of human evolution. The proliferation of unnecessary material goods, especially considering the wars and theft that they necessarily entail, is a mark of shame on the human race, one that we will be long cleansing ourselves of.

Has the human race deteriorated to the point that it is no longer capable of imagining a world in which the products of spiritual achievement can be measured by other standards than their profit potential? What tyrant constrains us so fiercely that we can't think outside of the box of the commodity? The lure of endless quantity leads us to the destruction of ourselves and our planet.

In the words of John Bellamy Foster: "The goal must be the creation of sustainable communities geared to the development of human needs and powers, removed from the all-consuming drive to accumulate wealth." - John Bellamy Foster, "The Ecological Revolution", 2009

If Christianity doesn't mean this, then it has become one of the idolatrous powers which is destroying human life on this planet and has lost whatever tether it may once have had to the teachings of Jesus Christ.