Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Progressive," "Conservative," "Reactionary," and Trump

The increasingly surreal US political scene has made me think things over.  It's hard even to think sensibly about anything if the language is so corrupted that meaningful words and their definitions are unavailable - a point Orwell made in O'Brien's essay on the purpose and effect of Newspeak.  Grab a copy of "1984" in the library and study it; it will do you good.

"Progressive" is one of those wonderfully flexible Newspeak words - a great thing to be or a horrible thing, depending on who is using it and why, and generally devoid of actual meaning.  So I'll propose a meaning - it's being in favor of progress.

Well, then, I want to know what progress, and in what direction.  I like progress in the gaining of wisdom or skill, or in virtues, but I don't like the progress an egg makes if it sits in the sun in the window for a week.

Today in US politics, progress is motion in the direction we've been going in, is it not?  So before we can figure out whether we want to be progressive, don't we need to determine whether we like the direction we're going in?

Mostly, I don't like the direction we're going in.  In fact, I think we're progressing toward calamity in many ways - social disintegration, the sort of environmental collapse that has wrecked plenty of civilizations before ours, and increasing acceptance of brutality and injustice as Paul in 2 Timothy 3 said to expect especially in "Christian" churches.  We see that now, just as he expected, especially in "Christian" churches; "Christians" are most inclined to approve of torture, violent aggression against others, and the sort of bigotry against Muslims and others that led to the Nazi Judeocide - all arising out of the cowardice engendered by their conformity to the fears that the world teaches, and heartily adopted by them.

I don't like any of this progress, so I'm not a progressive.

Another of these wonderful Newspeak words is "Conservative," used with equal vehemence as insult or high praise - but, again, with no clear meaning.

Here the confusion seems to arise from there being at least a couple of valid ways to be conservative.  Conservative can mean being concerned to conserve good things that we're in danger of losing, being afraid to break good things inadvertently or recklessly.  As the letter to the church in Sardis in the Revelation puts it, "Strengthen the things that remain, that are about to die."  This impulse is seen in the desire to preserve the natural environment, constitutional civil liberties, and such like.

A closely related impulse was described by G. K. Chesterton as not wanting to knock down a wall before you know why someone put it up.  NASA engineers say accurately that change is bad.  Engineers, programmers, and other such people learn how easily we break things, how easily we get unintended consequences - and mostly bad ones.   

Having been a programmer for a long time, I have learned upon my hide to be this kind of conservative.

But the conservative temperament can easily lead to a look-alike corruption - the desire to keep things as they are to our own advantage.  As John Kenneth Galbraith accurately said: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  In 1948, George Kennan stated this reality about the goal of US foreign policy:

"Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."

This kind of conservatism ends up being quite reckless, since clinging to a privileged position founded on injustice requires the steady application of more injustice, and its price is unending fearfulness, the usually low-level but constant dread of the oppressor that if he lifts his boot from the neck of the oppressed his victim will leap up and avenge himself.

That is very obvious in the rage against black people, immigrants, Muslims, and others that we see in lots of white people these days - who are certainly being ripped off, but not by those that they are hating and kicking down on.

For instance, there is an immigration problem, but the problem is not immigrants, who are actually performing such services as keeping Social Security solvent and preventing the demographic collapse happening in such places as Japan.  The problem is that the owners and rulers of this country, operating both through the Republican and Democratic parties, have made legal immigration difficult and illegal immigration easy - for the obvious purpose of ensuring a large pool of vulnerable workers, easily ripped off, who also give leverage to those rulers and owners to rip off white US workers.  The immigrant-hating of these workers is not helping them, just as it never has.  It didn't work in the 1890s for white people being ripped off in the same way through the use of black scabs to break their strikes.  Most of these white folks were played for suckers and enticed to hate those more oppressed than they were; a few, like the United Mineworkers, instead sometimes chose to consider them fellow sufferers and organized them.

Finally, there is the term "Reactionary," hardly ever used except as an insult, because we're all supposed to believe in the myth of progress as steady improvement.  But I think there is a lot of merit to the reactionary position, when you're progressing in the wrong direction, as we surely are.  Should we not want to restore worthwhile things that we have lost?

But I see two problems.

One is that reactionaries are commonly trying to unscramble an egg, but that can hardly ever be done.  Accordingly, you can hardly ever fix problems by returning things to what they were, because what happened really did happen and cannot unhappen.  Thus it was a mistake for the people to demand a king, as Samuel the prophet warned them in 1 Samuel 8, but when things went badly with Saul, there was no going back to when the judges ruled.  The kingdom was here, and a new king was needed - David.

Reactionaries always want to get back to the garden, as expressed in Joni Mitchell's song, Woostock.  Listen carefully; it is the reactionary dream:

The trouble is that there is no getting back to the garden, only to the city of God, even though the city was Cain's invention.

A related problem with the reactionary position is that the reactionary is usually trying to get back to a past that never was.  For instance, there never was a golden age of godliness in the United States for us to get back to.  Read Matthew 5-7 and read any honest account of US history, and you won't find 24 hours in that time where anyone except a few like John Woolman had the slightest interest in what Jesus set forth there. 

Whether Tea Partiers in their funny hats, hippies, or dominionist "Christians," reactionaries pursuing a past that never was are doomed to disappointment.  Truly it is rightly said in Ecclesiastes, "Do not ask why the former days were better than these, because it is not from wisdom that you ask about this."

No, Donald Trump will not, and cannot, Make America Great Again.

So then where are the various presidential candidates, and especially Donald Trump?

I think we have to say that Bernie Sanders is a cautious reactionary.  He would like to take us back to the 1950s, when the average American wage earner could expect a decent life, where there were some decent social protections, and where a 90% top tax rate in Eisenhower's days kept the extremely rich from getting it all - without, let it be said, keeping them from working hard to get it, because that remaining 10% was still a pretty nice pile.  But leaving out the white supremacy and some other things.  A timidly reforming reactionary.  I don't think that's nearly enough, but if you don't like him, let's consider the alternatives.

Hillary Clinton is, of course, the conservative in the race, in the degraded, timid, and grasping way that conservatism can go bad and mostly has.  She guarantees that what we have - total domination by the Goldman Sachs crowd, unending stupid wars, and minor tweaks that ensure no inconvenience to her owners and friends, and no change except through decay - is what we're going to get world without end if she prevails.  But since it is not sustainable, it will not work, if she ever gets in office.  Her record of venality and bad judgment, never learning and never forgetting, ensures calamity in the event of real crisis - and impending crisis is baked into the cake.

The Republican clown car, excluding Trump, promises what we have and more of it, with some vague reactionary dreaming that Clinton does not offer.  Their problem is that what we have has been ruining the lives of their base for decades and is promising to make it even worse and quickly, and the suckers are showing signs that they can't and won't stand it anymore.  Thus the South Carolina primary today polished off Jeb Bush.  Eduardo Rafael Cruz, in a state that's about as good for him as it gets, also got walloped.  It didn't hurt Trump at all that he blurted out the truth about Iraq; a higher percentage of veterans voted for him than other categories of voters.

So what about Trump? 

First, he scoffs at rationality - disturbing common ground with fascist movements of 80 years ago, and earlier similar movements like the Black Hundreds in Czarist Russia.  He presents himself as a romantic reactionary, promising to Make America Great Again.  It's all nonsense.  The problem is that it's no more nonsensical than the shuck and jive of his opponents, especially the utterly robotic Rubio and Clinton.

Trump gushes nonsense - outrageous lies like having witnessed Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey, or hallucinations like the Mexican government being induced to fund a wall for the United States.  He lies far more audaciously than the others - all accomplished liars themselves.

But unlike them, he also blurts out some truth now and then.  In the first Republican debate, he spent a couple of minutes explaining how the US political system and its denizens work - "present company excepted," said he with a smirk to the clown car with him on stage.  He explained why Hillary Clinton found it necessary to attend his wedding in 2005, thereby also accurately telling us what to expect of her if she reaches the presidency.  Yes, she will obey all her other funders as compliantly as she has honored Trump - when having given her money, he crooked his finger, and she came running.  

In South Carolina, he was as clear as any candidate with the possible exception of Sanders about the Iraq War, and what Bush did in that caper.  The debate audience booed him, but the voters backed him and put Jeb Bush out of the race.

At this point, he looks most likely to either win the Republican nomination or be impudently cheated out of it by the party bosses.  That will be ugly if it happens.  And if he faces Clinton, the poster girl for the system that is screwing the average American, I think he is likely either to win or to be obviously defrauded, and that won't be pretty either.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's not as though the word of God has failed

Ray Stephens here sings a wonderful song that expounds the obvious, just as true now as in 1987:

These disgusting people, and the suckers they deceive, certainly proclaim to the world that the putative disciples of the Wisdom of God are more filled with folly than anyone else - which is not to mymind proclaiming the name of Jesus or his gospel.  But the nice thing is that this foul desert is what we are told to expect.  If it proves the warnings of Jesus and the apostles to be true, it is surely not evidence that we should not believe them.

But in this one thing I resemble Elijah: he was wholly unaware of 7000 faithful people who had not bowed the knee to Baal nor kissed him, and these days so am I.  God willing, in the coming year that may change.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fear vs Cowardice

The rising fear and hatred of Muslims now in progress in the United States has made me think more about this lately.

The Bible certainly expects us to be fearful of many things.  For one thing, we ought to be afraid to do wrong.  But it's also expected that we should be afraid of much else from time to time, and that is not necessarily a problem.

When does it get to be a problem?  Clearly, when it becomes cowardice, which is indulging our fears so far as to do evil. 

I have concluded that, unpleasant as it is, fear is a craving we love to indulge, like gluttony or sexual immorality, and cowardice is indulging and taking pleasure in that fear.  I have to treat it the same way, with mixed results.  I'd give myself a C-, to tell the truth, and I don't know how people handle it who don't know God, although many evidently do.

We all know that advertisers have known forever that sex sells - cars, beer, toothpaste, vacation packages, pretty much anything they want to sell us. But we haven't laid to heart that fear sells just as effectively, and so they use it the same way.

The nice thing about fear is that you can sell ugly politicians with fear, where sex might not work so well.  Fear really works for Donald Trump - fear of Muslims, fear of Mexican rapists, fear of black people - and legitimate fears, too, such as the fear of people's jobs being exported for the convenience of the corporations that own the other Republicans and Hillary Clinton.  But using sex to sell the Trumpster - I'm not a woman, so maybe I'm not fit to judge, but I don't think so.    

I think that most Christians know that letting advertisers stroke our sexual lust is not good for us.  It really is pornography, and it must lead to trouble, besides corrupting our judgment so as to make us buy crap we would otherwise leave alone, just as the advertisers intend.  I wonder why Christians don't realize that indulging fear in the same way is similarly corrupting.  It's actually a lot worse, because sex is a lot more normal and right than fear is.  Perverting sex in this way encourages sexual immorality and disrupts family relationships, but perverting fear in this manner entices us to every sort of cruelty, up to murder, against the innocent.

C. S. Lewis was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong when he had Screwtape write to his young disciple Wormwood that the demons had managed to glamorize every sin but cowardice.  That one, too, they've succeeded at.  Cowardice is successfully  sold as prudence, security, self-defense - even courage to go out and kill people.  It has often been said that US society is obsessed with sex, and the popularity of pornography makes that point.  But, much more, US society is obsessed with fear, and enjoys it in the same way - although like all other lusts of this kind, it's insatiable, and therefore painful without end.  If Christians, especially, don't thoroughly repent of this depravity, it will end very badly - fascism being only one possibility.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Out of Weakness, Strength

We completed the 4th day of hearing yesterday in Student v Colton Joint Unified School District and San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.  The day before, the opposing lawyer had cross-examined me trying to prove what a bad guy I was, having advised my clients not to talk to the districts and so forth - complete nonsense as the evidence shows, a really shameless nuts and sluts defense that began with her opening statement. All good clean fun, and I think helpful to our case.

But mom was on yesterday.  Mom speaks only Spanish.  She just told the story of how they lost her non-verbal son for hours, how nobody knew where he was, and how the County principal just laughed at her.  She cried.  The trauma inflicted on her is obvious.  I cried. 

I see a lot of horrible stuff that the education industry does to kids and their parents, and the rest of society, but I seldom cry about it.  That mom's testimony is certainly the most compelling in the hearing.  She doesn't know any law.  She doesn't know any English.  But she obviously knew more than anyone else about the things that matter.  God has indeed chosen the weak things of the world to bring to nothing the strong, and you see it now and then.

Two more days are set for hearing, on the 8th and 9th, and the lawyer for the districts will have another hour with me to try to prove that 2+2=13.  But I'm pretty sure it won't be like mom's testimony yesterday.   

Monday, November 23, 2015

Malcolm X and Christoid niceness

It seemed good to reread Malcolm X's autobiography, and especially Alex Haley's epilogue, and I was right.  This is what someone who has received the love of the truth looks like.  He was always finding out that he was wrong, and changing his mind, and that's what counts.

I am reminded by his life that even when we're wrong, we're still telling the truth if we're wrong for the right reasons.  For some years he mistakenly thought that all white people were devils, but for the right reasons: all the white people he ever ran into supported that proposition.  Later, in Mecca, he learned better, so he began rethinking everything. 

I was in Kenya when Malcolm visited, but unfortunately I never got to meet him.  He talks about one American ambassador that he talked to that told him that in Africa he was conscious of language rather than of race, unlike in the States.  That ambassador was my father.  I remember that at least my mother didn't like Malcolm at all, remarking that he was almost white, as though that somehow made his black nationalism improper.

I've never really gotten over the grief and loss of his death.

A couple of weeks ago, a Christian publisher told me that my book had a couple of problems:

1. I had described the US plantation system as designating some as "house niggers" and others as "field niggers," and I had to make nice by calling them blacks or African-Americans.  I told them that those holding them under the lash were not concerned with politically correct language, just as their descendants today are not concerned with politically correct deeds, when they grant impunity to police officers that assassinate even little kids like Tamir Rice, and that they weren't concerned with describing African-Americans correctly but with euphemizing the system I was describing.

2.  They didn't like me stating that the white phosphorus the Americans dropped on the population melted the flesh off children.  That's just what white phosphorus does, but it's not OK to say so; it's just OK to tolerate it, concealing it with euphemisms if we mention it at all.

Unlike Malcolm X, Christoids aren't interested in truth, as Malcolm was, but niceness.  Jesus was and is interested in truth, in shining light on evil in order to dispel it.  That's why they assassinated Malcolm, why they nailed Jesus to a cross.

It was after I finished rereading Malcolm Sunday morning that I was able to write these truths to the Christian publisher.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"The stars in their courses fought against Sisera"

Read all about it in Judges 4 and 5.

I was reminded of this recently by the recent news that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto's weedkiller Roundup, has been declared by the World Health Organization to be a carcinogen.  Once WHO is ready to say such things, they're obvious.

Now when the need of human beings to be free from cancer and other such diseases comes into conflict with the need for Monsanto to make money this quarter, our rulers - bought and paid for - heartily agree that Monsanto must be taken care of, at whatever cost.  There are countless other examples, for instance the need for corporations to keep making money even if the resulting extinctions, environmental destruction, and climate change result in the collapse of the civilization that sustains these corporations and the political rulers that they own.

A small example that I run into daily is the education industry's commitment to destroying the lives of kids to save money, knowing that the eventual cost of prison or institutionalization - never mind the ruined lives - will be far higher, inflicted on the society that they look to for their own sustenance.

Shocking as all this is, it is no more than the fruit of idolatry.  The worship of Mammon means to exalt it above all other gods, and certainly above concern for God and his money, the coins that bear his image and likeness, which is to say, human beings.  We are seeing what it looks like when Mammon matters more than human beings, a point that Pope Francis has been making lately.

But then, since no one else will do anything about Monsanto raping the earth and destroying the earth for profit, the earth itself is doing so, just as the Bible teaches.  The defiled earth is raising up glyphosate-resistant "weeds" such as Palmer amaranth to make glyphosate of no effect, as in this cotton field, beginning to compel the abandonment of this poison.  Palmer amaranth - pigweed - is fighting for us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book review: Strange Glory, a Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is especially relevant to American Christianity, because US Christianity is so like the German churches of the 1930s in its adulation of the world, combined with its sense of entitlement to worldly privilege and its deference to nationalism. 

What I find encouraging in the story is that Bonhoeffer bore faithful witness to the gospel even though he was emotionally immature, a brilliant intellectual but in many ways with no sense.  He had earned a doctorate by age 21, but he was financially dependent on his parents and often lived at home until the Nazis locked him up.

Significantly, he learned a great deal of the gospel from his time in black churches in the United States.  Not that black churches are, or were, in very good shape.  Indeed, most black preachers opposed the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, or at least had serious reservations.  The imperative to suck up and be respectable was  by no means absent, which is what caused Malcolm X to reject the Christianity of the black church in disgust.  But Bonhoeffer found more reality and discipleship there than in the German churches or American white churches. 

Although Bonhoeffer was a prominent theologian, he could seldom endure to go to church on Sunday - which certainly reminds me of myself.  Even though I am far from being a prominent theologian, I am serious about the faith and more of a theologian than most that I know, and what I've learned in the Bible makes what generally happens in churches insufferable.  It feels good that Bonhoeffer had the same experience.

In the seminary at Finkenwalde from 1935 until 1937, when the Gestapo closed it, Bonhoeffer and his small community learned about Life Together, the book he wrote from it.  His preaching, in contrast to the histrionics of Hitler, aimed to be free of rhetorical manipulation.  I would like to encounter a church some day that even makes that its aim, never mind attains it.

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1939, when he could have spent the war in the United States.  I wonder if I will stay in the United States, with my eyes open, if God has me do so, when I might be of service elsewhere, or even if I should.

Like Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, faithful Christians must desire the defeat of our own country in its violent aggression around the world, even though that will bring us considerable personal discomfort.  After all, American affluence rests on the domination and plunder of the rest of the world, indeed through the device of debt that will never be repaid, as it was with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk.  The price of justice will be to live with a lot less luxury.  Are we up for that?