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Friday, July 13, 2018

Liberal or progressive?

What’s in a Name?

Words are ambiguous and ambivalent. That’s their nature as symbols and as figures of speech for thoughts which are essentially analogies. The same word often has many different meanings that become clearer when we consider the word in context and from the point of view of the speaker or many of them. This is why we often disparage semantic discussions as “splitting hairs.” 

A recent article in the WP by Greg Weiner, a professor of political science who distinguishes “liberals” from “progressives,” seems to be splitting hairs.  Yet I find that the discussion may be illustrative to clarify one’s position in or towards politics. It may even get us to avoid using names for people as though that the name says it all when we really don’t know what we are talking about. 

The professor wants to support liberals over progressives. I am just the contrary.  But if we were to discuss it, we might find that we have different usages for those words based on different life experiences and conversations.  

The same I suggest is true for many of the names we call each other that often abstract us from a conversation about who we are, what we want, and how we might work together. To me, for instance, “radical” is a good word, better than progressive, except when it means extreme, e.g. “going too far” or sacrificing persons for principles. “Conservative” to me is a good word meaning learning from the past, conservation of nature, and defending institutions of personal and social growth (like democracy). But not when it means refusal to listen, to question, or to change. Not when it means using status or class, culture and economics, to judge and segregate persons. And not when it means reactionary intolerance.

That points to another strange thing about names. They reveal and conceal at the same time. When we call persons or things names we put them into categories that make them similar without attending to difference and uniqueness. That’s why we need to keep speaking without pretending that we know or have the truth, with faith that we can converge upon knowing and truth in our speaking, listening, and acting together. And that's what I call real politics.

Professor Weiner teaches that progressives are liberals who have gone too far. He accuses them of adhering to the ideology of progressivism that states that everything, persons, the world, the universe, history itself is and will inevitably advance. I am reminded of the slogan of the Detroit Edison Company when I was a boy after World War II: “Every day in every way we get better and better.”

“Liberal” in a social context in America today means someone who wants to help others and especially those who have been left out of the development of the potentials of their full humanity.  They are called enablers or “do-gooders” by self-labeled conservatives. I remember my mentor Saul Alinsky disdaining liberals as good talkers for social justice without doing anything substantive about it. They saved people from drowning in the river without going upstream to stop who or what was throwing them in. And they left people powerless to take responsibility for themselves.

“Liberal” in an economic context means a completely free market. A market where goods are made, priced, sold, and consumed without any interference—especially by government dominated by “liberals.” They argue for free and open competition through which the invisible hand will do its magic neglecting that the wealthiest through wit, luck, or inheritance dominate the market and its rules. 

Social and economic liberalism came together in the two major American parties where there was a firm commitment to representative democracy and moderately regulated capitalism under FDR and carried forward through Nixon. But that alliance has been breaking down since Reagan who opted for unrestricting corporations and restricting welfare. In general, especially after Nixon’s Southern strategy, Democrats became the party of social liberals focusing on inclusion of those being “left out” because of their identity (racial, cultural, sexual, immigrant) and wealth. Republicans have been the party of economic liberals claiming that all persons will prosper when wealth multiplies wealth even if there is greater divergence in wealth. 

I rather call myself progressive, than liberal, because of my work with Alinskyites and also because conservatives, which I am when it comes to democratic institutions and civil society, have so tainted the word—remember GHW Bush’s sarcasm towards the “L-word.” And there is the Tea Party and their demonization of liberals.

To be a progressive is to cut across the conservative-liberal, left-right split. While progressives espouse liberal education which embraces science, free-thinking, art, and the questioning of all belief systems, they also believe that through an examined life and concerted action they can make the world and humanity better. And they take on the responsibility to do just that.

Progressives today (unlike some ideological progressives earlier) do not believe in inevitability. I cringe when I hear people say "being on the right side of history.”  Only old predestination Calvinists, Marx-misunderstanding communists, deterministic faux scientists, apocalyptic evangelicals, free market ideologues, and maybe some depressed Taoists keep the remnants of that disempowering rhetoric. Not today's progressives. 

Naming, shaming, and blaming in Twitter sized blasts is the opposite of civility, makes public service a scam, and impedes citizen action. That is the antitheses of citizenship and civil society. It induces the fear and hate of the other through which violence springs. Whatever you call yourself or label me, may I, by listening to your story, discover your visions, dreams, and ideals and with you find and expand the hidden power in us? 

We have a future together. Not alone. Not in enmity. That's the belief of a progressive person or nation. Yes, we must rid ourselves of the obstacles that hold us back--that's the meaning of liberty.
But we must also engage with each other to create a space for all of us--that's the meaning of freedom. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

DeNaturalizing Trump

Trump Administration Is Forming a Denaturalization Task Force With the Power to Repeal Citizenship

By WNYC 05 July 18

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is creating a new task force. Its goal: to examine what they say are bad naturalization cases, according to Director L. Francis Cissna’s June announcement.

As a result, the organization expects to hire dozens of lawyers and immigration officers in the coming weeks to find U.S. citizens they say should not have been naturalized, to revoke their citizenship, and then eventually deport them.


I have argued before that the marks of the citizen (L. civis) are 1) civil language and behavior in public 2) civil service, e.g. helping out your neighbors in need, and 3) civil i.e. speech and action in concert for a better society.

By all these measures, many so-called illegals are citizens. By all these measures, Trump should lose his citizenship.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Spirituality and Politics (once more)

In our search to understand what has been happening in America in the Trumpian dark age and how to combat it personally and collectively, our book club decided to read Bob Kuttner's Book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism. I went to hear him discuss his book a few days ago. Of all I've read and heard, his is the clearest explanation of how we got here and the challenge we have to mend the torn social fabric that Trumpism represents and rouses but has not caused. 

Here are some of my takeaways which I reported to my book club:

1) The answer to the question of Kuttner's book is “no.” The economy must be subject to the rules of democracy. No to the globalization of capitalism. Yes, to world community and trade treaties of nation states. But trade treaties that support democratic goals of equality. 

2) The social contract created after WW2 (New Deal, Bretton Woods) gradually broken starting in the 70s can be restored in the 20s.  Kuttner is generally optimistic that the circumstances are becoming right for a new taking of power by people to restore the rules that puts democratic governance over economic development. 

3) Trump and far-right parties are using the results of the breakdown of social contract (freedom of banks and corporations) to foster in workers, who are losing in an economy rigged for capital controllers, resentment against immigrants, welfare, the poor, and themselves. 

4) Labor is reorganizing and key to making change. Obviously we need a new progressive president (Bernie, Warren, Sherrod) with a strongly progressive party which means new progressives must take over the Democratic Party locally and he sees this happening. 

5) Civil society organizing (e.g. community organizing) is limited because although they talk power, they don’t aggregate power.  He thinks CO’s fragment because they go after the same funders and institutions and have to prove that they are better than each other. 

6) Kuttner believes that we have our priorities wrong when lifting up cultural identity issues (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, race, religion) before economic bread and butter issues. "If people feel they are getting a fair shake and have some hope in the rules of the economic system, they will cut you some slack on the cultural issues."

7) Kuttner articulates the problem and solution primarily in terms of political power. Those left out needf Through solidarity and organizing. I totally agree.  The how (strategy) depends on time, place, circumstances, the accidents of history

Democratic governance (e.g. liberty and justice for all) should direct the economy and culture. The public realm over the private realm, as Arendt said. Distinct yet entangled--because you can't have one without the other. The public good is the greater good. Politics is both an extension and a higher realm than ethics

I am also considering another level of analysis—e.g. spiritual, i.e. soul, shared humanity in process, recognition of human dignity in all. Shared suffering, as Rorty and John of the Cross say, is the basis of solidarity. Especially among the working poor and disrespected (whether by economic class or cultural status). Empathy/compassion with others, feeling their pain, is at the same time a recognition of union and incites the ability to speak and act together.  Whatever you call it: soul, humanity, spark of divine, dignity. 

I do believe we are entering a dark night of the American soul and perhaps of the soul of humanity. The economic path we now take is leading to ecological ruin, the inundation of many populated lands and the destruction of millions of people. It is restricting the greatest capacity of humanity for self-government, collaborative survival, and social justice. Most of us know better but are blinded by the fear of others and appeals to self-aggrandizement.

We humans, once we attained the ability to think, have been between the demons and the angels within us. And we have experienced both the fall and the rise of human progress. But now in the Trumpian Age we are slipping into the dark age where might is right, wealth rules, and the many have become irrelevant--used by the mighty and the wealthy for their purposes. 

The dark night for John of the Cross is an opportunity to pass to a new level of insight and action. It humbles and humanizes by casting us to the ground, the humus, where we realize that we cannot thrive, much less survive, alone. Like Alcoholics Anonymous counsels the addicted who have reached the bottom, we are directed to reach up to a higher power. As a humanist and community organizer, I call this higher power the public, we the people, those who gather to speak and act to generate a space of freedom.  In religious language that space of freedom is the “people of God,” people who gather and act in hope for the future of all humankind.

The spiritual dimension of politics is the hope that transcends us from the fear and hatred of neighbors and strangers. It radicalizes our politics by uprooting the structures, values, and habits of American global capitalism that put us in darkness. As my radical friends always sign off: “keep the faith” and “keep up the struggle.”

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Disruption/Opportunity Part 3

Since the presidential campaign and election, I have felt a deep depression, not only in me, but emanating from my soulmate, my associates, my friends and family, and my faith community. I have studied psychological depression. Though many of the symptoms are similar, this depression is different. I believe it to be a political depression, a crisis of hope in the speech and action of citizens; a loss of faith in, and a growth in fear for, the future of our world. 

I have been using my blog meditations to wrestle with our situation. Why did we get here? What does it mean? How do we respond? I studied and discussed the resentment of the working poor, the end of capitalism, the decline of democracy, the rise of authoritarian authoritarianism, seeking to understand the malaise we experience. But these meditations provide a few indicators. They help me go on—but to where?

I used the notion of “disruption” now popularized in entrepreneurial business, technological advance, and management consulting. Trump and company are disrupting the American world order. This threat could also be an opportunity for progressives because it is the habit of thinking and action in the American world order that got us here. It needs to be disrupted. But instead of using the tools of fear and resentment, the progressive might use hope and concerted action, to advance a new social order: An economy that replaces the predatory capitalism which commodifies workers, people, money, and thought.  A culture that is inclusive and tolerant. A politics that reaches for the ideals of democratic republicanism. 

But I believe that this depression is at root spiritual. I just read a piece on John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul. The article reminds me that this new dark age beyond the modernism of the American century is a dark night of the soul of America and the American world. As a dark night of the soul, it is also a possible transition to a new enlightenment. We can accept our impasse and embrace the dark night of our American soul in order to dismiss our gods and open ourselves to a new emerging future.

Perhaps this will enable us collectively, as John of the Cross says, to move from meditation to contemplation, from words to the silent experience from which comes the speaking of our world, from self-consciousness to universal consciousness, from our formulas in and about space and time to the point where space and time originate “before” our formulas, i.e. from the things in our world to the nothing from which they come. This make no sense in philosophical meditation. We only sense it in contemplation.

How do we apply John’s Dark Night to our Dark Age—combining the spiritual with the political. My soul is intertwined with all souls I feel. My soul can only be “saved” if all souls are. Not by me contemplating in private. Nor can souls be saved with doctrines and words, i.e. proselytizing, converting others to my language and world perception. And I cannot save our souls myself. In fact, we can only have soul when there is no more self. No more “I."

How can we collectively open ourselves to the radically new God who does not yet exist—not just in monasteries, churches, mosques, workshops—but in the public space beyond the separations of religion and ideology?  How do we as a nation and world community climb the holy mountain, cross the Red Sea, discover the Holy Grail—all event-symbols for passing through the darkness to transcend all the icons that block us—all products of our own making.

I thought of, and eliminated, events where that universal consciousness and solidarity might be present: National celebration of VE and VJ day, DC gathering to celebrate the Capitols winning the Stanley Cup, Political campaigns and rallies: victories in war, politics, sports. Victories over others.

I also thought of national grief celebrations, e.g. when Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy died. That is closer I think. Universal suffering is an occasion for deep universal silence. Shared suffering is a prerequisite for solidarity, according to Richard Rorty. But I refuse to say that the biblical apocalypse that brings universal suffering and death is an event to await. Or maybe I should just recognize that this apocalypse is here and now in this dark age of disruption.

I do experience, although darkly, an enlightening, universalizing moment in community-based political events—not in the words, slogans, or even outcomes of the events, but in the very act of getting together and collectively speaking out. I feel strongly that political acts of solidarity, resistance, and appeal for the future is where I most discover and nourish soul even in the darkness. I cannot divorce politics from spirituality nor spirituality from politics. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Disruption, Opportunity Part 2

In Part 1, I raised the question as to whether the Disruption of the American national and international social order occasioned by Trump, the Reactionary Right, and the Christian righteous be an opportunity for Progressives? Can this new dark age in reaction to cultural permissiveness, economic neoliberal globalism, and populist strong-man democracy actually be a prelude to a new enlightenment?

Such an enlightenment would be a new economy that overcomes the gross inequalities caused by the commodification of nature, money, workers, and thought. Such an enlightenment would be a renewed democracy that is inclusive and pluralist and guided by scientific thinking which is evidence based, peer reviewed, and open to new thinking and formulation.

You might say I am being too optimistic even asking the question. And even if I were right in advocating this new enlightenment overcoming the darkness of this Trumpian age, it would be too late. The earth's climate is already fundamentally changed. Refugees have been turned back with children separated. The "free"market is already owned by the wealthy class that makes all things of nature, including humans, products for sale. Democratic governance is already being replaced by a mass populism choosing authoritative leaders supported by the wealthy class. On the wane are free love, free work, free press, free speech and assembly, and free enjoyment of life by satisfying all basic needs.

Many would say that I have fallen into the progressive fallacy thinking that things will get better and better. I counter that they do not understand what it means to be a progressive. There is no progressive ideology or doctrine. I know of no progressive who believes that progress is inevitable.  Progressives believe, and it is less a belief than a chosen attitude, that we can do better.  We, like in "We the people," persons speaking and acting together.

I must admit I hear persons I know to be progressive sometimes using unfortunate language like "being on the side of history" or "following God's plan." That language comes from a time of classical science with inexorable laws and of deism when many imaged a Creator who started the universe off and allowed it to take its course. Philosophers sometime deify "History" with a path that we better get on.  But history has no sides; it is constituted by human choices. Theologians and their sacred writings sometimes deify "God" as a superman in the heavens who has a set plan or will that we had better follow. But progressive theologians teach there is no such god, no such absolute plan. Transcendence and spirituality is a matter of faith as an openness to innovation and a commitment to the future of humankind that can be achieved if humans decide together to make it so.

We can do better but it is not in history's or god's hands. Its in ours. Together. That's the progressive attitude.

To be a progressive is not a matter of being a liberal or a conservative, on the Right or on the Left, a Judeo-Christian or a Muslim, a Republican or a Democrat. My own fallible judgment based on my education, reading, inquiry, activity in the world, at this point in my time and place, is to be 1) socially and culturally liberal, or even permissive libertarian, 2) economically socialist believing that capitalism must be well regulated, and 3) politically conservative, wanting to conserve our earth and protect our democratic republican institutions in government, civil society, and international relations.

Right now I think the Democratic Party is the better vehicle representing my viewpoint and those of the people I most admire. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, I identify more with the Republican Party. More important to me, however, is the support and encouragement of civil society, non partisan civic service and action through our mediating institutions. And cutting across all our tribes, institutions, and parties is the choice of using the politics of hope over the politics of fear.

Fear divides "us" from "them" and produces resentment. Hope expresses faith in the future and our responsibility to change things for the better for our progeny. No matter your tribe, community, identity, or party, I consider you progressive if you practice the politics of hope.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trump's Disruption, Progressive Opportunity?

Do we dare to consider that "THEY" may be right? After all, sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reason.

I once heard management guru Tom Peters say, "if it ain't broke, break it," promoting disruption for any organization that is just cruising along--usually to oblivion. A management book came out with that title; and today "disruption" is a key word in organizational theory.

No one has been more disruptive to the accepted way of national and world governance than US President Donald Trump. As I write this, most of America's traditional allies feel "dissed" by his behavior in the G7, withdrawal from the Iran deal, the NAFTA deal, the Asian deal, and the climate change deal. He is reneging on decades of US assurances in Europe perhaps even NATO and the United Nations. He has abandoned environmental policy molded together through hundreds of years of community-based action fighting companies that trashed the land, the water, the air. He has turned his back on two hundred years of work to achieve pluralism and diversity. He has climaxed the death of civility in political conversation. He has promoted a tax system that will not only maintain, but also increase social economic inequality. 

Trump has assembled and put in charge a base of people who, like him, resent intellectuals, academic elites, the press, non-English speaking immigrants, non-Christians, social liberals, RINOs, and you name all the others. Resentment is their commonality. And this resentment leads to disruption on a grand scale in which all, including the people in his base, will suffer. 

But as Tom Peters and leadership trainers have noted, disruption can also lead to positive growth.  Peter's full quote was: "if it ain't broke, break it (or someone else will)." And most of the disruption that management masters counsel is guided and planned disruption by doing what you want to do better and achieve better results by doing it differently. 

Disruption is an opportunity as well as a threat.  If we make it so. 

I'm reading, Leading from the Emerging Future from the Presencing Institute at MIT.  The authors, both economists, take much of what we know and organize it in an engaging way. They start with noticing and admitting the disruptions that are occurring in our political economy and ecology. Then they plumb to the invisible collective mindsets of the visible negative results. These mental models or habits of thinking must be disrupted to preserve and progress our personal and social order. 

That makes me think about the belief systems I take for granted, especially those of moral behavior, political action, and economic life. What are those hidden ideologies that I am not questioning? Civil speech and collective action is the principle of politics of a democratic republic. Not resentment. Resentment is the demise of the commons, of collective action, of politics as a space of freedom.

If I am resenting Trump, and especially if I make my resentment a principle of my action or lack of action, am I not becoming what I resent? How do I change what I judge as harmful to my nation, my community, and the people I love without being resentful? 

And who can I work with on this, those who take responsibility and who engage not blame the resentful? How do we use the disruption to our present politics, communities, and world order that Trump occasions with all its resentment so that we disrupt the thinking and behavior behind it? And maybe, just maybe, push the human experiment onward. 

All our great leaders from Buddha and Isaiah, Socrates and Jesus, to Mandela and King challenged the conventional wisdom, the habits of thinking, the icons of resentment of their times without succumbing to resentment. It is that truth that will make us free.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

America's Golgotha

I've been meditating the opening in Montgomery, Alabama of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice otherwise known as the Lynch Museum. Bernie and I are resolved to make a pilgrimage to what I feel is America's Golgotha Shrine.

Here are 4,308 stories of black men, women, and children tortured and hung. Stories that affect thousands more of their friends, neighbors, relatives, and descendants. And hundreds of thousands of white people and their descendants up to this very day.

The myth is that the white people who perpetrated these acts were ignorant, red necked, white trash. But the truth is that whole towns would participate in the burnings, torture, and hangings including the mayors, the bankers, businessmen, the educated elite with their wives and children. Most were church-going, born-again Christians as were the black victims of their sadism.

I meditate on the cruelty in my race that makes this possible. I do not mean the white, Aryan, or Nordic race for those are just fictions of a pre-historic, pre-scientific white-supremacist imagination. I mean the human race. I mean us, me.

There are lots of theories. Some are rooted in religious doctrines of evil--original sin, fallen angels, Satan, Pandora's Box, hubris against the gods, the absence of the sacred. Some explanations are from science: genetic struggle for life, the formation of tribes with fear of strangers, competition for mates and territory, dread of the unknown. Black people and their liberation were considered a threat to a very insecure white population who desired to keep their dominance by keeping black people "in their place." But does this explain the hatred and the cruelty? Of slavery, torture, and genocide.

Many of our contemporaries want to avoid the questions that the memorial experience raises. Let "sleeping dogs lie." they say. Bringing all this up will just cause more resentment by revealing the resentment that is already there. Let's just learn to get along.

The role of Christianity and religion in general is on trial in the memorial. Religion in its summit is in the golden rule of compassion, the teaching of the universality of humankind, the understanding that all humanity has a common source that bestows dignity on every person. The prophets and luminaries of all the great religions taught this, including Jesus of Nazareth. But those who proclaimed him the Christ and Son of God, e.g. the Christians, were perpetrators of Jim Crow and lynching.

Christianity has been a rationalization for horrendous acts against humanity both by its celebration of victimhood and by its doctrine of forgiveness and reconciliation. It makes Jesus, its priest, prophet, and king, the exemplar of acceptance of the passive role of Victim in order to provide forgiveness to the perpetrators of gross injustice. "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do!" The drama is between an angry Father Yahweh and an equal-in-power Son who can be sacrificed to appease God. This interpretation, based in metaphysics, came later as Christianity was becoming Christendom replacing Roman domination to sustain the new order.

Relying on documents of the times, historians conjecture that Jesus was killed at the delicate time of the Jewish Passover that celebrated the liberation of slaves from Egypt. Roman soldiers crucified hundreds of dissidents who broke the rules of Rome and littered the road with hung bodies in order to confirm the rule of the Romans and their patronized priests. Jesus hung with the multitudes of criminals who were left to be stripped and eaten by animals as a warning to others. 

Early followers of Jesus using the symbols of their culture considered him a messenger from the God who had led the ancient Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh and made him a god in competition to the god, Caesar. The early gatherings would make him present by reciting memories that were as they broke bread together. In their story, they placed his death with others on the hill of Golgotha, a shrine to his death and resurrection.

Only later would the doctrine of the Triune God make Jesus into a supernatural entity in a supernatural place. A myth embracing numerous superstitions that would vindicate Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire with its hierarchical patronage system. This marked the passage of Christianity into Christendom from which it would never recover except in small renewal moments.

My account is considered heresy today. In medieval times, I would be anathematized or rejected from the official Church and turned over to the Inquisition for correction, punishment, or death. I reject the Christianity that has become Christendom, that protects and even rationalizes the practice of torture and murder of those who critique and thus threaten the established way of life, thinking, and behavior. As were those black men and women, tortured and murdered, because they were seen as thinking and acting in ways, that threated dominant white morality.

I reject Christianity as thought and practiced by triumphalist Catholics, Protestant fundamentalists, and Christian evangelicals who have embraced white supremacy, American exceptionalism, and narrow nationalism. I reject any religion that accepts itself above criticism, as ultimate word, and promoting peace and stability without equity and power. 

Although I reject Christianity, I remain a companion of Jesus before they anointed him as a god. I stand with him who is elevated with all who were lynched. Our pilgrimage to the American Golgotha in Montgomery will be our way to remember the thousands of victims, perpetrators, and descendants who sanctify this land in the hopes for a resurrection of equity, justice, and power for our human race