August 15, 2014
There’s are good and prudent reasons not to have armies policing citizens; it has to do with issues of function and mental attitude. A police force is established to protect citizens against lawbreakers, armies are created to fight wars. It’s all about training and mindset. A police force with a military state of mind will find an enemy because, like nature itself, we and our armies abhor vacuums.
Of the many human inclinations, we (especially of western civilization) are creatures of accumulation. We fill empty spaces with stuff —our houses brim and overflow into landfills; we fill empty minds with stuff —cram them with useless info and discard wisdom to make room; we constantly invent new stuff and always find new reasons to use it.
We invented the wheel and rolled over everything. We invented the light bulb and lit up the world. We invented vaccination and decimated disease. We invented the atom bomb and gave it an immediate tandem tryout in Japan to demonstrate it worked. We invented guns and (fulfilling the dreams of the arms industry) the world became a collection of armed camps looking for a fight. And now, as the federal government unloads its surplus military paraphernalia —guns, helmets, grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers, flak jackets, camo suits, boots— on local police forces, an ill wind, smelling of tear gas and gun power is filling vacuums of our own making.
Almost inevitably, as a poem says:
cops with army stuff
use more army stuff,
find more reasons
with more reasons
tasers, small tanks, flack vests
big muscle guns, jackboots
with army stuff
turn up heat
see if gizmos work
go boom rattatat
The most recent vacuum into which our growing domestic army has been sucked is called Ferguson Missouri, a town in which an over-equipped police force took to the streets to compel both outraged citizens and an inconvenient media to shut up.
There, camouflaged troops (who could nevertheless be clearly seen) geared up for the apocalypse with heavy armament, in Kevlar vests emblazoned “POLICE”, backed up with tank-like vehicles, faced off with an enemy armed only with signs and some shouted words such as: “Don’t shoot me!”
Most of that enemy happened to be black because, incident after recent incident, unarmed young black men have been shot and killed by vigilantes and police: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford and now, Michael Brown. It should come as no surprise that things finally reached critical mass in at least one black community. Call Ferguson a tipping point.
What’s happening? What’s happening is that our vaunted system, based upon the equal application of law, is being outed as one that is just not. Journalist Glenn Greenwald in his book, Liberty and Justice for Some, lays out the reality that has eclipsed an ideal never realized:
“From the nation’s beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the country’s political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, licensed to act without restraint, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbers than in any other country in the world.”
Greenwald does not exaggerate. Our prison population stands now at more than 2.4 million or about 8% of the population —the highest in the world. 40% of these are black, although blacks are only just under 14% of the population. Anyone with an open mind who pays attention to the news knows this has more to do with the way justice is meted out in the US than it does with the inherent character of people of color.
In the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008 virtually none of the crooks responsible: politicians, shyster bank executives, junk bond marketers, or CEOs of any failed (or too-big-to-fail) financial institution has seen the inside of a jail cell, but anyone stealing a loaf of bread from a convenience store has probably found their way there. Our legal system protects the rich and powerful and their police forces behind heaps of Benjamines stacked higher than the walls of the Department of Justice. In fact, justice is not served it’s dished out to each according to his financial means.
Looking at Ferguson, Missouri —it’s massed police, its clouds of tear gas, is guns, its blue snipers, its official belligerence, its killing of unarmed men— is not something that conjures up the American dream. It conjures, instead, a glimpse of an American future that signifies that dream and its tortured democracy is dying before our eyes, with our mute assent.
August 1, 2014
I read an essay recently by John Michael Greer in his blog, The Archdruid Report. It ends with this:
“(now) I’ll … return to the ordinary business of chronicling the decline and fall of industrial civilization.”
Ominously, the essay ends there after Greer has run through what he suggests are three effective ways to deal with the”…the decidedly mixed bag that human existence hands us.” The Greeks, he says, tackled this mixed bag head-on in three of their schools of philosophy: Epicurean, Stoic and Platonic.
According to Greer, students of the philosopher Epicurus, Epicureans, start with the premise that life is better than death. Most of us would agree (some more grudgingly than others) while many —those who find their backs chronically against the wall— concur most heroically and press on with life anyway. But there are those who have an absolutist, otherworldly bent and simply do not value earthly lives, their own or others, so highly—suicide bombers, for instance, or fundamentalists longing for the “end days” and Armageddon. Epicureans do not long for end days and, by and large, most of the rest of us if given the option prefer to stay alive with as little TV-style blood-letting as possible.
The Epicureans of Greek philosophy focus on the pleasures life offers (but, as is typical in Greek philosophy, with moderation). This is expressed, Greer says, in the “…calm realism you…often seen in people who’ve been through hard times and come out the other side in one piece.” We in the contemporary First World, unlike people wrung dry in the great depression, find this view hard to adopt because we’ve been through “…an age of extravagance and excess.” We expect pleasure to be almost infinite. To help comprehend this, think wall-sized TVs with ultra-bass surround-sound, cars that parallel park on their own and landfills of waste the size of tiny Himalayas that dot our landscape: pleasure without moderation.
Another Greek view, which comes at life’s dark side from another angle, is called Stoic. Stoics realize that, good or bad, whatever happens, we’re here now so what are we going to do about it? We each must choose a response. Stoicism is an approach that recognizes the value of change and action (often at the risk of life) to rectify those aspects of life that are unjust, dangerous, absurd, etc. —not because this life has no value, but because it does and the risks involved in change are worth it, not only for ourselves but for others.
Digging heels in against change would not be the Stoic’s way according to Greer. By this standard, there are probably few Stoics in the Tea-Party, the US House of Representatives, on Wall Street, in extreme religious sects, or among white supremacists where progress is often anathema. Among these groups change is seen as a cramping of decadent me-first life-styles, an assault upon the word of God or a slap in the face of belief in traditional racial or male superiority.
Finally, Greer gives us the Platonists. Plato imagined something beyond perception: a reality behind the perceived, a view which shares something of the magical thinking we find in religion and politics today. Aristocles, nicknamed Plato, taught that this reality is independent of human whim and wish.
Star-gazing astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, may have been loosely channeling Plato when he said, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what,” which is suggestive of what Chinese poet Lao Tzu wrote twenty-six centuries earlier: “Heaven conforms to the Way (Tao). The Tao conforms to its own nature.”
I’m not a Platonist in a magical thinking sense, but may be in a scientific one, which is to say, if scientific method hypothesizes an invisible reality (such as “dark matter”) I’m more inclined to accept it than if it’s a claim of “revealed” truth. Why? Because science, in an attempt to understand that which changes (which is everything we experience), follows a rigorous experimental method designed to get past static “revelation”. The difference between this and a religious approach is that when science hits the wall it says, we don’t know but will continue trying. I like science’s structural humility.
Scientists, when they hit the wall of the unknown, are, like all of us, left only with something like astrophysicist, Eddington’s “something unknown is…” remark. Being a curious species, it’s frustrating not to know; and being a species which names, we must name it: God, Tao, The Unknown or Something.
In our time philosophies and religions are at war. Maybe, as the Talking Heads sang, this is “the same as it ever was”. However, the singular difference is that the stakes are much more profound because our technology is magnificently more powerful and our willful ignorance more catastrophic.
When we have Senators and congressmen who assume the attitudes of priests and shamans while enjoying fortunes built by scientific method we have the symptoms of societal schizophrenia with all of schizophrenia’s delusions writ large. When we ignore the harm we’re doing to the planet and each other for the sake of our religious or ideological beliefs, dismissing the damage with ironically hopeful visions of a biblical apocalypse, we make more certain that we’ll have one —which may or may not be the same as it ever was but is profoundly more unacceptable.
April 27, 2014
The current saga of Cliven Bundy is instructive. It flips over (again) not only the flat rock of racism in our national character, but exposes it more specifically in the pseudo-patriotism of our political right.
To be fair to Bundy there’s an unedited version of his racial ramblings making internet viral rounds that softens, slightly, the general tone of his remarks, but the underlying ignorance and festering racism of them still glares. Bundy is the latest concentrated dollop of the resentments and attitudes of a faction of white America that has lately preoccupied the media, and which is playing havoc with our politics and making it impossible to function rationally as a people.
What has brought Clive Bundy to notoriety is that Clive doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the federal government which, in his mind, has made it legitimate to graze his cattle on “government” land without paying for those rights —a convenient argument, if nothing else. Other ranchers pay the relatively modest grazing fee ($1.35/acre as opposed to $16.80 on private land) without whining, which makes them automatically “sheeple” in the parlance of some. But his refusal to pay makes Bundy a “freeloader” in the parlance of others. One picks one parlance with care for maximum clout.
Clive Bundy is like an doddering uncle who clings to ignorance as if it were a life preserver and is unapologetic about it because, hey, it’s keeping me alive.
“If I say ‘slave’,” Bundy says, “If those people cannot take those kinds of words and not be [offended], then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet. We need to get over this prejudice stuff.” —a statement that is triply self-serving: hiding behind a word (prejudice) while excusing it and blaming a man who died because of it. As rhetorical moves go it’s almost callisthenic.
“Cliven Bundy’s a-wondering about these people,” said Bundy, “Now I’m talking about the black community. I’m a-wondering … Are they better off, are they happier than they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them, and their man having something to do? Are they better off?”
Wikipedia puts it succinctly: “The treatment of slaves in the United States varied by time and place, but was generally brutal and degrading. Whipping, execution and sexual abuse including rape were common.”
So, the question of being better off is a question either of one’s understanding of “brutality and rape” or ignorance of them. Which of these applies to Bundy is a matter for a shrink.
So forgive me if, while Cliven Bundy’s wondering about the relative better-offness of “black folk” idyllically enjoying their chickens and gardens and children while being the property of white owners who could, by law, rip apart their families, trample their gardens and slaughter their chickens (not to mention their very selves), I’m wondering how Clive has so blithely, so ignorantly, so publically, missed the point of slavery. Or, I’m wondering how something so obvious could bounce around in Bundy’s skull during his sixty-seven years without being snagged once by his prefrontal cortex —his brain’s reasoning center— and wrung dry of its stupidity.
Actually there are studies showing that, “… ‘higher-order’ brain centers, such as the prefrontal cortex, don’t fully develop until young adulthood.” Considering the possibility that Clive and his gun-waving posse may not yet have reached that level of sophistication, we could use a little hurry-up on their part. But the larger, really scary part of the Bundy syndrome is that we now have one of our only two political parties being run by people with higher brain center under-development.
Racism is one of the deeper polluted wells humans drink from —deep, ancient and thoroughly toxic, especially in the global system that has become our world. It’s counter-productive at best and ultimately destructive at worse. Yet so many of us return to it and suck it up without a thought of the harm it brings not just to those we hate, but to ourselves. Though there’s little truth or logic behind malign attitudes of race we go there the instant anyone pumps up fear. What better way to distract a constituency from real perpetrators than to blame “the other”?
Bob Dylan suggested, we’re only a pawn in their game. Roshi Bob, guru, says, “If you want to rule the world, pit the poor against the poor,” which is advice the power elite still practice big time. But just swap-out that last part with “… pit race against race”, add it to the first,and you have the complete MO of that same bunch —and they know how to use the Clive Bundys of the world to make life most profitable for themselves and miserable for everyone else.
by Jim Culleny
Hayden’s (General Michael Hayden) take on Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) report on CIA torture is interesting.
What Hayden’s saying, really, is that you must objectify reality, that is the preferred thing. If you objectify reality and the humans in it, if you turn them into numbers and political ends, that’s the preferred thing. Once reality’s objectified —its humanity removed— you may do anything that’s objectively called for. This is the justification for all sorts of despicable behavior.
Most crimes and ethical lapses require exactly this kind of objectification. You steal because, objectively, it works for you. You kill for the same reason. You collect your huge bonuses, you use the money of millionaires to destroy worker’s unions, you kill universal health care to save your party from dangerous electoral demographics, you do the destructive work of many corporations because, objectively speaking, the people it effects are not people at all, they’re objects. The entire planet is an object only. An emotional, empathetic or sympathetic perspective is out of the question for the Good General, Michael Hayden, CIA operative.
In economics and politics the technique employed by millionaires and billionaires (and those in government who are paid by them) to sleep well at night is to objectify the poor and middle class.
Hayden’s a perfect example of what average Americans are up against.
February 20, 2014
We’re heading back to square one. Though we’re well into the 21st century we’re at a point where Bill Nye, The Science Guy is reduced to debating Ken Ham, The Non-Science Guy as to whether the earth is 6000 or 4.5 billion years old. As you might expect that recent debate got nowhere because the frames of reference of the two sides are incompatible. We’ve gone back to a moment dangerously close to that when curious men like Galileo were made to bow before popes and recant ideas about phenomena that were observably true, but which threatened the influence of the church. Unfortunately, the power of religion to uphold stubbornness still exists.
Though we’ve moved from the tyranny of kings and clergy through a relatively enlightened period (at least as far as science is concerned) we seem to be backsliding — caught in an undertow of misunderstanding of what science is.
This misunderstanding reveals itself in the arguments of creationists who fight tooth and nail to equate science with legend, denying science’s findings, while at the same time living in a world transformed (for better and for worse) by the fruits of science. For example, how many creationists refuse medical treatment when needed? How many own TVs, cars, refrigerators, use the internet, enjoy tropical fruit in January in New England? All of these have been made possible through application of scientific method.
A huge part of the problem is that, in their beef against evolution, creationists smudge the distinction between science and religion. Let’s be clear, scientists are not suggesting their findings have religious value, it’s creationists who claim that ancient literature has scientific value. They insist the Bible’s story of origins, Genesis, is a valid alternative to scientific theory and should be taught in schools as science.
There’s that word, “theory,” —the hook creationists hang their gripe upon, saying evolution is just theory, not fact. But this is the lens of ignorance creationists use to view scientific method. Creationists do not use the term “theory” the way it’s meant by scientists. Creationists consider theory to be something like a speculation, a groundless conjecture. But that’s not what scientists mean by “theory.” Here’s one explanation of that meaning: “In modern science, the term “theory” refers to scientific theories, a well-confirmed type of explanation of nature, made in a way consistent with scientific method..” —Wikipedea
So then, what is scientific method?
Scientific method goes something like this:
Someone observes something in nature, mulls it over and hypothesizes. They think, “I bet if we do this, that will happen,” and set off to test their hypothesis —they try to determine if what they’ve seen and been mulling over will happen again under very particular conditions —they experiment. Then, if their experiments produce the same results over and over, they put forth a theory of that phenomena. They say, “This thing is caused by that thing.” The theory is then tested further by others and, if all results concur it’s accepted as fact which we (hopefully) utilize to advance civilization.
The anti-evolution hang-up for creationists is often capsulized in that word: theory —a term infused with the fundamental humility of good science which knows that with new knowledge, theories change, new facts arise. At its best science is flexible, adaptable, fluid, humble, open-minded and open-ended. This is not true of religious beliefs which are absolutely bound to sacred literature and closed.
Religion has a different way of understanding phenomena. Religious “method” goes more like this:
Someone noticed something in nature, mulled it over and, without the availability of deeper knowledge, surmised, “This must have happened because the Wind God was perturbed,” and then created a story to explain what they’d experienced and what they’d thought about it. Having been an engaging story it was repeated over and over until it became ingrained in the basic lore of a culture. Finally, many of these stories have been accepted, by men, as divine revelation, written down and included in a literary collections as set down by God and deemed irrefutable.
The scientific method has produced advanced medicine, HDTV, bullet trains, pain-free dentistry, air travel, nuclear weapons, IEDs, diabolical instruments of torture, global warming, fracking, and Fukushima.
From religion has come great inspirational art and literature, principles of love, charity, sacrifice, guidelines to social behavior, shamanic medicine, the subjugation of women, diabolical rationales for torture, merciless exclusivity, inquisitions, jihads and convenient moralities sanctioned by gods.
But the problem with equating scripture with science goes beyond the truth of Evolution or Genesis. The problem is that when non-fact-based reality is not only accepted in one sphere but allowed to infect politics it nudges out fact-based reality. A statement made to journalist Ron Suskind by an aide in the G.W. Bush administration illustrates this.
The aide said, “(the) ‘reality-based community’ consists of people who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. We’re an empire now (he might as well have said “church”),” he continued, “and when we act, we create our own reality.” With this kind of non-fact-based invention we wind up with a kind of chaos of magical thinking wherein nothing must be examined and validated. We wind up with sound-bite news and party-sanctioned sets of facts, none of which must be proofed.
The famous pamphleteer of the American revolution, Thomas Paine, said that “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”
If you need confirmation of the truth of Paine’s remark check out the Ham on Nye debate. The debater’s answer to the last question put it all in a nutshell:
“What, if anything, would ever change your mind,” the moderator asked?
Ham, The Non-Science Guy said, “Nothing.”
“Just one piece of evidence,” said Bill Nye, The Science Guy.
by Jim Culleny
December 21, 2013
“The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
That quote is journalist Matt Taibbi‘s take on one big bank, but what can be said of Goldman Sachs can fairly be said of any mega-bank operating today. Average people of the early 21st century are being sucked dry by “great vampire squids.”
For Big-Bank Management (as distinguished from that of your friendly neighborhood bank) each new year is the dawn of new opportunities to jam their “blood funnel” into any delusion that hard work and “playing by the rules” (as the president often says) will lead to an equitable economy. The new year resolution of Big-Money never changes, it is to begin the year in such a way that by its end it has sucked as many people as dry as possible by legally bribing as many politicians as possible in order to realize as many billions in profit as possible —no matter what. This is what our campaign finance laws were written for. This is the easily foreseeable outcome of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling of 2010.
There’s nothing even vaguely altruistic or socially conscious in Big-Money’s intentions. The planet, its beings —human and non-human— it’s resources, its future are all just fertilizer for its cash crop. Banks like Goldman Sachs and Wall Street in general, with the help of their governmental wings in Washington and state legislatures, perpetrated the great collapse of 1929 and did it again in 2008. These were catastrophes brought about not by “welfare queens” or people on food stamps, but were perpetrated by esteemed financiers with an over-weening sense of privilege and entitlement, without shame, selling things like junk mortgage derivatives to speculators.
There are good guys and bad guys in America’s class system. There really are “makers” and “takers” —as congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), conservative minion of great vampire squids, points out. But, contrary to Ryan’s scenario, the “makers” are not those jetting from lush hideout to lush hideout dribbling dough. The makers are to be found among laborers who pull stuff from the ground, make stuff from it, or grow stuff in it, while the takers are the ones who wring from that labor their enormous profit and (supposedly) sprinkle crumbs like fairy dust on those who actually sweated to produce it.
The Roman God Janus, from whom we get the name of our first month, is two-faced. Janus is depicted looking in two directions simultaneously, forward and back. Peering into both the past and the future at once he might be thought of as the god who sees history and, at the same time, its effects. In this he’s very unlike us who may occasionally peer into history, but if we do, promptly and stupidly ignore it. Our ruling class especially loves to tune history out because history is not flattering to it. But it’s not flattering to commoners either —we who, by the vote, distraction, or coerced acquiescence, sacrifice our collective power to the promises or threats of neo-noble vampire squids who suck it through blood funnels and run with it to offshore tax havens.
While we see in the news commoners being handcuffed and jailed for minor offenses, or pepper-sprayed away for simply protesting, the government can’t seem to manage to prosecute anyone for the fraud and theft of billions and billions that led to the bursting of the mortgage bubble blown by bankers and financiers in 2008.
For instance, the New York Times recently ran a story about the difficulties the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) is having bringing swindlers with titles to justice:
“Wall Street’s top regulator, sifting through the wreckage of the mortgage crisis, was weighing enforcement actions last year against several large financial companies.
“But then the regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, decided in some prominent cases to quietly back down.
“After many months of investigating the roles of Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Standard & Poor’s in troubled mortgage securities — and even warning the companies that enforcement actions were possible — the S.E.C. closed or shelved these cases and at least two others.”
As journalist Bill Moyers said (Aug. 23, 2013), ” We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible.”
This is the status quo. Only massive citizen resistance can hope to overcome it. We have two parties, both corrupt, but one which has wholly and publically laid it’s cards on the table. “We are the party of the rich,” they say, “Government should serve the rich first, if anything’s left over let it trickle down.” Our oligarchs say this with every policy position, in every speech, with every action. There’s no subterfuge going on either, other that of the “social issue” distractions they’ve been able to pump up and pull off to great advantage. “Here we are,” they say, “our hearts are on our sleeves, and what are you gonna do about it?”
That should be our big 2014 New Year question. What’s more that question should be transformed into a resolution, an implacable determination not to be fooled or confused by red herrings of “socialism” or “communism” or “real Americans vs. the others” or “traditional marriage” or “the war on Christmas” or any of the false flags bought and flown by Wall Street and its political employees red and blue alike.
by Jim Culleny
for the West County Independent, end-of-year-issue
December 7, 2013
I’m not a religious person, but I’ve got to say I’m impressed by one religious man named (at least currently), Francis. Francis is a Pope in a line of Popes with a checkered history. Some were as unsavory as many humans, others no so bad, but this one seems qualitatively different. He seems to take the gospel he preaches seriously. For a Pope to not only get what Jesus taught about poverty and money but to back that up in official pronouncements as head of the Roman Catholic Church… this is big.
Pope Francis, the former Argentinean bar bouncer (that’s what he says) formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio (George Bergoglio) said in a recent 50,000 word “apostolic exhortation” titled Evangelii Gaudium, or The Joy of the Gospel:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will in itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Yay! A Pope who disagrees with Ronald Reagan and all the woe his presidency introduced into the lives of poor and average people. Reagan, the decimator of the New Deal. Reagan, national debt builder extraordinaire. Reagan, the trasher of empathetic economic policy. Reagan, the loather of labor. Ronald, the great economic ex-communicator —the dark accolades go on…
Francis … George … whatever your name is, you are a breath of fresh air!
Some would disagree with the new Pope, but most who do have loads of money or work for people who have loads of money in the hope they they will have loads of money too; money to keep it as a hedge against falling into the pit of poverty Francis so emphatically refers to. Most who disdain what I call the Pope’s Defense of Jesus Act are apologists for greed.
Take Rush Limbaugh who, despite his girth, is one of the smallest men I can think of —a twerp of enormous proportions; an ethical cipher with a grand diameter. Limbaugh doesn’t like what Pope Francis has said —which, considering the history of Limbaugh’s mouth, ought to convince anyone with even a shred of moral sense that Francis is really onto something.
Limbaugh said, “It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth. But regardless, what this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.”
Which being said, might suggest that Marx (like most people except Limbaugh) may not have been all wrong. It might even suggest that Jesus, in his New Testament teaching about the poor and the rich, the hypocrites, the vipers, the morally degenerate living in whited sepulchers (references that can be found in the gospels) may even have some consonance with Marx.
In fact capitalism as practiced today is potentially (or inevitably) as bad or worse for those not at the top as communism ever was. With Limbaugh as one of “free-market” capitalism’s spokesmen and admirers, this is as certain as the effects of trickle-down economics with no trickle —what we have right now.
That “no trickle” part is the stickler for Pope Francis and is the reason for his pointed use of the term in his exhortation. Maybe if there had actually been some trickle, enough at least for the poor to slosh around in, the Pope may not have exhorted so. But he did. Francis went straight for the jugular of the sacred idea of conservative economic policy since Reagan, the one Republicans ooze about, the notion that “richer rich people” translates: “fewer-poor-people”. But this has not panned out if you believe the stats which show that the top 1% of the rich own 46% of the world’s wealth. This does not prove trickle. It doesn’t even prove drip. The wealthy are sequestering their ill-gotten gains like misers in caskets tufted with thousand dollar bills. This is what former bouncer Bergoglio (a man who remembers his roots more than many popes have) was talking about.
Pope Francis’ exhortation really was quite remarkable and, in case you’re inclined to misunderstand what he said he included this:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality,” the pope wrote. “Such an economy kills.”
“Such an economy kills.” This is such a simple, straightforward and true statement (supported by economic statistics) it makes homicidal abettors of many of us.
The question it begs is, what do we do to repent?
by Jim Culleny
for The West County Independent
November 22, 2013
As Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show said, “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” While a statement like that might spoil the celebration it puts things into perspective.
American Thanksgiving (the holiday) as opposed to thanksgiving (the act) has become a tradition of feast, football and family that began with the invasion of the North American continent by Europeans and ended in near genocide. Maybe this is why, of all sports, football is metaphorically most appropriate for Thanksgiving since the invasion of territory is its central goal. In short, there’s some brutality and ruthlessness mixed with Thanksgiving’s traditional tale.
Acknowledging the distinction between Thanksgiving (big T) and thanksgiving (small t) may eventually lead to something good as opposed to something gluttonous, profitable and profane. Thanksgiving has devolved for many into an anticipation of mob-inciting sales sometimes ending in a trampling death of a hapless big-box associate by a pack of shoppers chasing the cheapest HD-screen, while thanksgiving (small t) is an act of humility and gratefulness having nothing to do with commerce.
In humility, we might first be thankful for the improbable earth. We are of the earth. We are earth beings. Without the earth we would not be. We could not breath, we could not eat, we could not love, there would be no families, yet the way we treat it and its natural abundance we’re transforming it into a sewer. I would be especially thankful if we would wake to the fact that wealth is not money and profit, that it has to do with sustainability, with an understanding that to demean the earth is to demean ourselves, to damage it is to harm us and all we love.
A second thanksgiving-worthy object would be what Bob Dylan in a song called “the genius of generosity” —the whole line is “They’re sucking the blood out of the genius of generosity”. I’d be humbly and truly thankful if “they” (we) would stop doing that. But that would mean turning our politics into something to be thankful for rather than something to loathe. It would mean turning Wall Street and our Congress from blood-sucking franchises of the Hotel Transylvania into habitats of true humanity. Dylan’s genius of generosity is that it broadcasts wealth instead of hoarding it, it sees itself in the other.
And last, but never least (especially on Thanksgiving), would be a profound thankfulness focused upon what is central to Thanksgiving: the feast. For me this gratefulness would come when, as global citizens, we realize that agriculture as big business is like banking as big business. They’re both about making money. As Big-banking is first in the business of creating millionaires among bankers before serving their customers, Big-agribiz is first in the business of realizing profit before producing healthful food. We’re being poisoned by pesticides, genetically modified organisms, growth hormones in animals, and any chemical required to most profitably produce a product that sells. If by some standards it might not even be strictly classified as food (Twinkies, for instance), has no bearing on its production.
Americans have more to be thankful for than any nation on the planet. I’d be most thankful if we were thankful for the essentials, the genius of generosity that sustains the objects of our thankfulness and distributes rather than hoards them.
How thankful I’d be if Thanksgiving were really thanksgiving, with a deep awareness of our place in the world that sincere thanksgiving requires.
for The West County Independent
November 10, 2013
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, called metaphysics the “first philosophy”. Metaphysics (literally: what comes after physics), is the branch of philosophy that addresses the constitution of reality and is something most of us are engaged in whether we know it or not.
You are a practical metaphysician if you’ve ever wondered and tried to answer questions about the reality of appearances, about distinctions between mental and physical categories, where the universe came from and why, or (the big one in 21st century American politics) the existence of God. Of course this doesn’t cover all possible metaphysical queries, but you get the gist.
In important ways we might say that the USA is not only in the midst of an economic and political crisis, but also a metaphysical one. Questions of fundamental reality affect political issues and policy in ways they have not for some time. For instance, questions about life and when it begins; whether the earth is gift from God or just property and ownable, and if so, who should own it; where the authority to govern comes from, Man or God; whether certain books are divine; what divinity is; what’s sacred, what profane; right down to how many capitalists can dance on the edge of a moral razor.
All of these are questions that “go beyond physics” and have stumped some of the most brilliant minds since before Aristotle, and are stumping ours to the point of national clog and decline. They are also questions that crafty and glib con artists use to mislead, manipulate and to mire minds that are not so crafty or glib —or minds that may be as potentially astute as Aristotle’s but simply so caught in the accidental circumstances of their lives —in immediate issues of survival— they have little time to deal with whether Ted Cruz is the slipperiest god-endorsed shark-in-a-suit to come swimming up the bay, or if Barack Obama is a secret Allah-worshipping Muslim. Metaphysics in America is the playground of the false and faithful as well as the free.
The nation and the globe face a set of circumstances unlike any we have faced before, the most far-reaching in terms of consequence being global warming. The vast majority of environmental scientists agree that this is so yet, here in the USA, science is often trumped by ancient metaphysics. American policy and action is determine more and more not on the basis of science, but on the basis of a world view originating over 3000 years ago. Sadly, and dangerously, science is often presented as if it were less reliable than Genesis in explaining our origins and what makes the world tick. Yet, the very people who show contempt for science when it comes to climate change would probably not place their injured child’s life in the hands of a priest or minister rather than that of scientists we call doctors.
What this “beyond-physics” (or beyond-science) world view has produced is a type of American politician who spouts personally invented metaphysical statements as if they were writing Bible verses.
Take Joe Barton, for instance. Barton (R-TX) said recently, “Wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down which would cause the temperature to go up.” Written 3000 years ago Barton’s statement might sound something like this (if written by a King-Jamesish, time travelling, 21st century meteorologist):
“Lo, the wind bloweth until it smacketh thee and, therefore; shall not bloweth over the one who follows haply in thy steps, nor anyone else down the line because the Lord diminisheth the wind after it hitteth thee. The Lord rendereth it impotent then, regardless of the continued demands of low pressure areas and His laws of physics.” —The Book of Barton 2:23
Winds may be finite and temperatures may increase when they’re not present, but Barton’s ignorance of their global effect is profound. When it comes to how winds happen, the conditions of their movement, how they are affected by temperature and the earth’s rotation upon them Barton’s limited understanding and statement may have made him at home in 3000 BC, but depressingly, he happens to be the current Chairman of the House-Senate Energy Conference Committee.
And then there’s Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who recently told New York magazine in an interview that he believes in the devil. “Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person,” the justice said. “In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
There are effects to this kind of thinking not unlike the effects of a typhoon: a Satan-believing wind is just fifty miles-per-hour or so away from becoming the wild gale of a witch-hunting one.
I don’t know about you, but having a Satan believer on the Supreme Court citing the devil during a line of questioning by Justice Samuel Alito about whether any conceivable prayer could simultaneously be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus, is not comforting to me.
“What about devil-worshippers?” Scalia said from the bench.
Indeed, and what about facts? What about reason? What about science?
by Jim Culleny
November 7, 2013
They just make things up as if they’re writing Bible verses.
“Lo, the wind bloweth ’til it smacketh you, but it shall not bowleth over the one who follows haply in your steps, nor anyone else down the line because the Lord sloweth the wind down after it hitteth you. The Lord rendereth it impotent then, regardless of the demands of low pressure areas and His laws of physics.” —The Book of Barton 2:23