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Archive for June, 2013

I Was Wrong

Last fall, during the presidential elections, I thought that the reelection of President Obama was a lesser evil than giving the office to the mulitmillionaire, predatory capitalist caricature that is Mitt Romney.

I was wrong; we would have been much better off if Romney was chief executive.

At least there would be outrage.

Aside from a handful of principled leftists, the silence from progressives has been deafening. Mr Obama lulls the left with his hipness, his purported compassion, his phony populism. But he is like the Wizard of Oz: it’s all smoke and mirrors. He has upped Bush and Cheney’s ante and pursued policies that, if carried out by a Republican, would have people marching in the streets.

Romney, on the other hand, made no attempt to appear to be anything but what he was: a pimp for the corporatocracy.

Oh, for an honest villain instead of this fake leftist…

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To the Rescue

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Not Using Words

St Francis is (mis)quoted as saying “Always preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” In fact, that appears to be a later apocryphal addition rather than a genuine quote  (as was the “Prayer of St Francis”), but the saying does capture something essential: people see what you do before they hear what you say.

But I would state it differently today: “Preach the gospel, but avoid words if you can.”

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. Walker Percy talked about  the way the Christian terms have been emptied out by overuse and overfamiliarity.  He was saying this as early as the 70s, but the pattern he saw then has continued exponentially since, and has been intensified by many trends: the scandals that have come to light in every branch of Christianity, the rise of the Christian Right, bent on warmongering, defending torture, and by all appearances tribal and nationalistic in its faith, the absurdity of so much public Christianity (think Westboro Baptist, televangelists, and Raymond Arroyo).

All these things render Christianity odious to outsiders. Add the nominally Christian background of many modern secularists, with its tiny, comprehensible (and thus false) god, and you have a recipe for rejection.

There has been a conversation in the comboxes about this, and someone linked to a blog post by Fr Dwight Longenecker, in which he raved:

I’m scared because I think that rage is not going to remain behind the mask of nice-ness for long. We’re seeing that demonic rage lurking beneath the surface beginning to emerge, and when it does take cover. That’s why I’m scared, and that’s why I am very careful what I write on this blog–because I have already had threats from homosexualists that they know where I live and they are out to get me. I have already witnessed the burning acid of irrational rage against the Catholic Church in com boxes and in emails to a priest friend who dared to criticize Obama. I’ve already witnessed the howling, screaming rage against the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic Church and her saints. What I’ve seen reminds me of the sub human creatures, taken over by a virulent disease in the film I Am Legend.  The once human beings live like zombies in a half life–hiding by day and coming out on the rampage at night ready to kill and devour anyone who is still uninfected by their horrible disease. That’s why I’m scared.

I’m sorry, but I really don’t think most proponents of gay “marriage” are subhuman creatures and zombies. Bourgeois consumerists maybe, but not zombies. Nor do I think most of them are raging against the truth, beauty and goodness of the Church.

Rather, most of them are reacting to hypocrisy and ugliness. 99% of the problems of the Church in relating to this culture are ones of credibility. When “prolifers” defend torture, when high-ranking hierarchs, supposedly celibate, are caught in sex scandals, when polls show greater support of aggressive foreign policy among churchgoers, when alleged Catholics, like the Acton Institute spokesman I heard on the radio the other day, show utter incomprehension of the plight of the poor (he suggested they quit whining and become entrepreneurs), well, who is going to listen when these same people speak of the dignity of human life? Let alone their faith in Jesus Christ?

That is why Pope Francis is such a gift to the Church: he speaks first the visual language of simplicity, refreshingly eschewing the princely trappings of the papacy, informal and humble in style. And when he uses words he speaks plainly, not in obscure theological terms (and no disrespect is intended for his more philosophical predecessors).

Having established credibility, Francis can be heard when he speaks. Would that we would learn from his example.

The world cannot stand wordy hypocrites. The language it understands is mercy, justice, and beauty.

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We Need New Words

File:Brown work.jpg

To anyone paying attention it is obvious that the last few years have seen a reawakening on the Left. The Occupy Movement, a rise in interest in and formation of cooperative enterprises, a growing awareness of what three decades of “free” market thinking, deregulation and low taxes for the rich have wrought; all these things and more reveal a growing consensus that capitalism has failed, and failed in a big way.

This may not be a majority opinion, but, especially among the young and educated, it seems to represent at least a plurality.

And there has been a renewed interest in socialism. Not “socialism” as in Soviet style State monopoly, but in democratic and cooperative ownership, something that several popes have noted as being very close to what Catholic social teaching envisions.

I would suggest, however, that “socialism” is a term so tainted by its association with tyranny that it should be sacked. Besides, if you are going to call your project “socialist” you will get precisely nowhere in the US: Americans have been programmed to react negatively to the word, legacy of the Cold War. Yes, I know that all the evils of Soviet-style State Socialism have been emphasized and few of its real accomplishments have been noted, even in places that never rivaled the Soviet Union in terms of oppression and the statistics of death (think of Cuba’s very real progress in education and public health).

But the word is forever ruined.

So why not call the new paradigm “distributist”? After all, there is little difference between what the “new socialism” proposes and what distributists propose (at least what I have called “left distributists”) propose?

Because:

A) the word if unfamiliar to most people. Indeed, if I hit the “spellcheck” button it will be highlighted. When spellcheck doesn’t recognize a word you know it is obscure.

And:

B) to those who know the term it is associated with a sectarian viewpoint; ie, it is seen as “Catholic economics”.

While it is obvious that distributism has historically been influenced by Catholic social teaching, it is also true that its identification with Catholic piety is recent. If one takes a look at GK’s Weekly, the distributist journal edited by Chesterton in the 30s, aside from advertisements for Catholic book companies, there is little to indicate that distributism is a religious endeavor.

There is also a lot to be troubled by, like persistent sympathy for Mussolini, even after he invaded Ethiopia, but that is another matter.

On the other hand, if one looks at the online Distributist Review, it is hard to see what the appeal would be to a non-Catholic, let alone a non-Christian. It is marked by a lot of very specifically Catholic articles and images.

At a time when there is widespread awakening to the evils of the corporatocracy, and at a time when we have a pope who, while not necessarily being more critical of capitalism than other modern popes, is, unlike them, very plainspoken, and at a time of a reapproachment with Liberation Theology, there is every reason that we should be a part of this new movement, however problematic such an alliance may be in practice.

But we need new words for a new movement.

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I Dare You

I returned to work yesterday after a week off. This is always difficult, but when it is hot and humid like it has been it is even more difficult. I walked the 7 miles or so of my route, plus an hour and a half (around 4 miles) of overtime on another route. By day’s end I was beat, and feeling the burdens of life (hey, I have 7 kids, 3 of them teens, plus the regular anxieties St Paul warned would be the fate of the married; it is hard not to fret.)

Then this song came on the radio.

I dare you to listen to it and not feel happy.

I dare you.

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The Unwinding

From the Gaurdian, via Alternet, a fine analysis of what has transpired in the US in the last 30 years, from George Packer, author of the book The Unwinding:

The large currents of the past generation – deindustrialisation, the flattening of average wages, the financialisation of the economy, income inequality, the growth of information technology, the flood of money into Washington, the rise of the political right – all had their origins in the late 70s. The US became more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic, more individualistic and less communitarian, more free and less equal, more tolerant and less fair. Banking and technology, concentrated on the coasts, turned into engines of wealth, replacing the world of stuff with the world of bits, but without creating broad prosperity, while the heartland hollowed out. The institutions that had been the foundation of middle-class democracy, from public schools and secure jobs to flourishing newspapers and functioning legislatures, were set on the course of a long decline. It as a period that I call the Unwinding.

In one view, the Unwinding is just a return to the normal state of American life. By this deterministic analysis, the US has always been a wide-open, free-wheeling country, with a high tolerance for big winners and big losers as the price of equal opportunity in a dynamic society. If the US brand of capitalism has rougher edges than that of other democracies, it is worth the trade-off for growth and mobility. There is nothing unusual about the six surviving heirs to the Walmart fortunepossessing between them the same wealth as the bottom 42% of Americans – that’s the country’s default setting. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are the reincarnation of Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie,Steven Cohen is another JP Morgan, Jay-Z is Jay Gatsby.

Read the rest here: http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/how-american-society-unravelled?paging=off

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