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Monday, December 9, 2013

A Primer for Revolutionaries


Nicolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince five hundred years ago. It is still relevant. Consistent with human nature, it is a valuable manual for those who would be princes. But those of us, who, like Machiavelli, recognize our political nature but see greater possibilities for humanity, need a different sort of handbook.

What I present here is for those who would oppose princes and their principalities in order to build republics. There are many politicians who say they are republicans, but in fact they take the patronage and do the bidding of princes who provide the resources for their elections and the directions for their policies. They adopt the princes’ perspectives, their explanations, and the courses of action they propose.

Let me acknowledge that I too am biased and my bias affects the way I observe what is occurring, the analysis of problems that I present, and the remedies that I recommend. My heart is not with the princes who take advantage of the present situation to enrich themselves. Because I identify with those who are poor, those who are culturally despised, and those who have been effectively excluded from power, I describe myself as culturally libertarian, economically social democratic (or socialist if you will), and politically conservative republican.  But this is not a fixed ideology. I know that there are limitations and ambiguities in each of these positions and between them.

By "conservative republican" I mean I am committed to conserve families, neighborhoods, religion, ethnic diversity, history, and the earth. And I hold that political power belongs to publics--not to the church, not to the state, not to the elite, not to the ethnically advantaged, not to unengaged masses, not even to elected representatives. Publics are where people come together as equals to discuss and act on behalf of their common interests, values, and associations. I think that conservative republicanism argues for an effort to build publics and create a new federalism among them. This is the task of progressive revolutionaries.

This new federalism is a return to what Catholic Social Teaching calls the "principle of subsidiarity": human affairs should be handled by the lowest and least centralized level of authority possible. It ties to a central canon of community organizing: "don't do for others what they can do for themselves." It assumes the principles of solidarity and social democracy through which the well-being and dignity of all are assured.

In the following thoughts for progressive revolutionaries, I avoid footnotes and references. The appendix will show many of my influences and teachers though I like to think that most of what I present is due to the magnificent progressive revolutionaries with whom I have lived, worked, and acted throughout my life. It is to them that I dedicate these words and express my deepest gratitude.

Chapter 1: Revolutionary Atmosphere

Chapter 2: Unfinished Revolution 

Chapter 3: Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, Renewal

Chapter 4: Revolution that Renews

Chapter 5: Motives for Revolution

Chapter 6: Progressive Revolutionary Mind

Chapter 7: Humor and Revolution

Chapter 8: Progressive Revolutionary Analysis

Chapter 9: Violence and Revolution

Chapter 10: Religion and Revolution

Chapter 11: Ethics of Revolution

Chapter 12: Rules for Revolutionaries

Chapter 13: The End of Revolution


Appendix: A Study Guide

Monday, November 25, 2013

Yes, we will!

(I had a dream last night in which I was reviewing my whole complex philosophy and theology. Loads of graphs and formulas were written on whiteboards while I was trying to explain it to my teachers and colleagues. When I woke up, Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" was playing in my head. And I realized how simple it all was.)

It is a wonderful world.
Humanity has a beautiful future.
Our lives and deaths have purpose and worth.
The Universe is Meaning-full.

We will enjoy peace with justice.
Charity towards all will prevail over fear and hate.
Public happiness will overcome personal misery.
Society, its communities and publics, will be free.

Not a matter of philosophical argument, scientific proof, or religious teaching,
All this will be because we will to make it so.

Our faith is not a dogma, it is our decision.
Our hope is not a wish, it is our intention.
Our love is not a feeling, it is our action.

We choose to be free and powerful and so we shall be.
We decide for a wonderful world and so it shall be.
We act for universal meaning and Meaning shall be.

We, not I, are the masters of our Fate.
We, not I, are the captains of our Soul.
We, not I, are the Word of God.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Liar, Liar

Cousin Vinnie said that the reason a lot of old stuff about the President keeps being recycled (he sent me another silly birther rumor!) is because Obama is such a "chronic lyre (sic)." My response:

Read history. Every president including and especially Washington and Lincoln have been accused of being liars and devils. It goes with the territory.

When you make a promise that you cannot fulfill (I've done this a number of times myself if you ask my kids and Obama did on you can keep your own plan and Guantanamo) even though you tried to and wanted to, you are called a liar.

When you change your mind based on new discoveries or pressures (as did Wilson in WWI and Obama on universal health care ), you are called a liar.

When you make a mistake or misspeak or say something is so that isn't (even though you thought it was, like Bush and Powell on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Obama/Rice on Benghazi), you are called a liar.

When you are found to be holding some information back because you judge it might be more detrimental to release it (like cracking the Enigma code or Obama on intelligence issues), you are called a liar.

When you act for something that you think is in the best interest for the most people or for the groups you most want to help, but others do not empathize with those people or identify with those groups (like Obama on infrastructure funding and health care), you are called a liar.

When you disagree with someone and cite false evidence that you really think is true (like you do all the time), you are called a liar.  

Indeed a chronic liar. 

Yes, we will constantly go through this old internet stuff that has been completely refuted because there are a number of fanatic true-believers out there who refuse to think, refuse to check out what they are saying or passing on, refuse to admit that they might be wrong, love rumors and conspiracies, see the world in black and white, fail to distinguish the personal from the public, always impute evil motives on people just because they don't agree with them. E.g. I can't believe how many people still think that Bush engineered 9/11. 

I'm not saying we have not been lied to. We have--often. Just read Zinn's People's History of the US if you dare. Mainly because telling the truth was not in the interest of the in-group. And people do not want to hear a truth that challenges their assumptions, values, interests.

Indeed, I would lie to save my family, friends, people with whom I most identify, and my country. But with a very troubled conscience because I know that transparency generally works to create trust which is essential for a vibrant republic. One of my biggest criticisms of Obama is that he saw the need for and promised transparency but had left the NSA continue its policies and has gone after leakers. 

On the other hand I know that I do not know the complete situation. And I do value the security of my family, friends, and community. So I will continue to criticize him for this and for other things that I do not like or consider wrong or not in the best interest of the people I love or the nation, or even evil. But I refuse to call him or you stupid, liar, evil because I disagree. The same for Reagan and Bush. (Nixon and Clinton who were trying to save their asses, Madoff, Limbaugh, Koch Bros who know what they are doing while laughing all the way to the bank are different cases!)

Be careful when you call people stupid, liars, or evil. You are really saying something about yourself. (PS you can pass this on to your friends, if you want.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Freedom--a Socratic Dialogue

Starbuck's Coffee House Silver Spring again. Socrates walks in and sees Plato sitting alone nursing his cappuccino.

Socrates (walking over): Plato, sitting alone?

Plato: Join me, Socrates. Libertus was supposed to meet me here about 20 minutes ago; but he must have run into a snag.

Socrates (sitting down): Well, look! Here he comes now.

Libertus (hurrying over): Plato, sorry I'm so late. Solon had me cornered in conversation and I just couldn't get free. Hi, Socrates. So good to see you and glad you could join us.

Socrates: Thanks, Libertus, but I can't stay long. I want to get down to the gymnasium. But I am curious when you said that you couldn't get free. Are you saying that when you were talking with Solon you had no freedom?

Plato (laughing): Ha, I could see that coming a mile away. Libertus, you know you have to be awful careful what you say around Socrates.

Libertus: Yes, in a sense, Socrates. I was bound by a self-imposed duty to a friendship. But I was speaking analogously. I wasn't free because of a duty, but still I had freedom. I could have left and actually did.

Plato: I have a student called Aristotle who thinks everything is analogy. But I think there has to be an essence, a reality we call freedom and then we use "free" like Libertus did as an analogous concept in reference to the reality.

Socrates: Hmm, I don't think I'll step into your controversy with Aristotle on whether reality is univocal or analogous just yet. But at least we can clarify the meaning of freedom. So does freedom mean the absence of bindings or boundaries?

Libertus: Yes and no, I think we can bind ourselves by our choices as I did with Solon. But as long as I am choosing my bindings, I am still free. I think one is not free when he is bound from outside himself. Like a slave.

Socrates: So if one chooses to be a slave or a servant and isn't forced to be one from outside, he is still free, correct?

Libertus: Yes, but he gives up his freedom if he puts himself in a condition where he cannot do anything about that condition.  Say, he chooses to be a servant, but then cannot get out from under it because of some coercion.

Socrates: Well said, Libertus. But what if the binding doesn't come from outside but from some inner obsession? Today neuroscientists are discovering that the brain is very complex and often genetically disposed and culturally determined to certain behaviors.

Libertus: In that case I guess I would say that such a person is not free but the compulsion still comes from outside the person--i.e. his parents or his culture. So I think my definition holds: freedom is the state of not being bound by some outer force.

Socrates: So, would that mean that a "libertine," one who sees himself outside and unrestricted by the mores of society or the rules of religion or the laws of government, say, by practicing free love, may not be free at all if he acting out of some compulsion or addiction?

Libertus: Yes, if the compulsion was caused from outside. For example maybe he has been "brain washed" by society, religion, or government. To be free he has to be the "master of his fate and the captain of his soul" as the poet says.

Socrates: So your understanding of being free is being without any compulsion from outside oneself. Is freedom then a negative idea?

Plato: I hope not. If a person acts totally under her own power, she is free and in a state of freedom. And freedom is a positive state, an ideal, an eternal idea.

Socrates: What does it mean to act under one's own power?

Plato: It means acting in such a way that no other power is coercing you to act.  Oops, I know what you are going to say. That I am still defining freedom negatively--as being without coercion. But I have an answer to that. When you are liberating yourself from outside influence by liberal education to know all the coercive forces and removing them, then you are attaining freedom. Paulo Freire says that a liberating education is one where students are active subjects using language to create their own world, not passive objects being filled by the language and worldview of the existing social order.

Socrates: So freedom means liberation--the act or process of overcoming coercion or force so persons can act on their own?

Libertus: I think when a person, say through education or psychoanalysis, overcomes coercive forces so he can act on his own, then the person is free and has free will. So freedom is a negative idea in the sense that you are removing obstacles especially those coming from outside; but it is positive in the sense that you are taking definite steps to do that. But if you are born without outside constrictions, then you just have to stay that way.

Socrates: Is anyone born without outside restrictions? And can you ever get to the point where there are no restrictions, no limits, no coercions--a place of absolute freedom.

Libertus: I think so. Just throw off the shackles of government, society, and religion. Religious people say that a person is free only when the human spirit is totally united to God in heaven without the mediation of the body or any physical things. They say that libertines are not really free because their minds are not in tune with the will of God. But I think that religion is just another way to enslave people.
Plato: Philosophers say that you reach freedom when you turn the eyes of the soul, the intellect, away from the shadows of material things and towards the Truth through pure contemplation. They say that libertines are not really free because they are caught up in material things and pleasures of the body.

Socrates: Since I am neither religious, nor a philosopher, I have my doubts about what both of you are saying. Perhaps being free just means that we recognize our limits, boundaries, and restrictions while we act to get what we want. However, we have been talking about psychological freedom or free will, what about political freedom?

Libertus: Same thing. When the slave no longer is bound by a master who can force his will or demand obedience, then that person is no longer a slave and is free.  In fact, it's easier to understand freedom in the social sphere, because you can much more recognize external forces there than in the psychological sphere. Just as psychological freedom is liberating yourself from others or outside forces influences in the psyche, so political freedom is removing the forces that influence your behavior in society.

Socrates: If freedom is liberation, is the slave like Spartacus who has united with other slaves to overthrow the masters more free than the slave who has been given his freedom just because the master does it out of noblesse oblige?

Libertus: Both have their chains removed and so are free as the person who had no chains at all. But there is something more admirable about a person removing his own chains. If a slave is given his freedom, he may be bound by gratitude or law or some other quid pro quo. Political freedom is acting not because of the laws of government which uses police or coercive force to uphold them, but because of the laws from within that you choose, that is, your own interests. Libertarianism is the political ideal--the winnowing away of the state and its coercive powers as Marx said.

Plato: But, on the other hand, you know what happened to Spartacus. He was crucified for rebellion. In an ideal Republic, I think that not everyone can be free. You need some people, especially the women and servants, to look after the things the body must have, so that freemen and especially the philosopher-rulers can act from a position of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Proper order, not total freedom, is the ideal for society. I know that's not politically correct to say in today's world--but that is why we are having such tensions today. We are not correctly understanding the essences of things.

Socrates: Wow! I'm going to set aside your women and slave position for now. But I do recognize your distinction between the necessities of life and the requirements of action. Life's needs, like food, exercise, sex, entertainment, and work to achieve and maintain the ability to consume is the realm of necessity. Its what we mean by the economy. And it is what must be done to make, grow, and maintain physical life. But when that is done, then certain people are freed up to act on their own without concerns for the necessities of life. Is that right, Plato?

Plato: Yes, Socrates. In the good society of the Republic, because some are concerned about producing what is necessary to consume to live, others are able to devote themselves to the arts, to thinking and discussing like we are doing now, so they can decide policies, that is, what the polis or city should be. And they can command the resources to carry out those policies. They leave the realm of necessity for the realm of freedom. That's the difference between the household (economy and the private realm) and the polis (politics and the public realm).

Socrates: So does that mean that if persons are totally caught up in work and making money, they are still in the realm of necessity and are not free?

Libertus: I guess that would be just like libertines who seem to be free but really are not because of their addictions and compulsions. But still as long as they are acting out of their own desires and interests, it seems to me they are free.

Plato: No, I think liberation is the act or process of moving out of the state of necessity where production for consumption is the major goal and into the place of concerted action--pure thought, disinterested speech, and unrestricted action for the good of the whole. And freedom is that action of freed men working for the true good. But again, that's why I think only a few people who already have all they need to live can truly be free and able to act in a state of freedom.

Socrates: You cannot conceive of a state in which all people can be free citizens, liberated from concern about the necessities of life and participate equally with others in thinking, speaking, deciding, and acting for that state of freedom?

Plato: That's a wonderful dream. But I don't think that would be possible in this life.  Maybe in some heaven with the gods after death when the body no longer has to eat food, enjoy sex, be entertained, or have more and more things. But in this life, if everybody is free from material concerns of life, society would dissipate. We would have pandemonium--"man a wolf to man" as Hobbes said. That's why the freed people have to make and run government (Leviathan) with laws to constrain the workers and servants to take care of the material necessities of life.

Libertus: I argue for no government or as little as possible. Freedom for me is being without the constraints that government laws backed by police coercion make. I think that unrestrained by outside laws and just guided by individual self-interest and personal desires, people will ultimately do the right thing and society will function fine.

Socrates: But is that realistic? Won't those with the most influence, especially those who control the resources for life, try to exert their desires on the rest of us just based on their own individual self-interests? And those few will still control the many but not for some enlightened, philosophic good, as Plato would have it, but to keep increasing their own material resources.

Libertus: Maybe so. But's that's life.

Socrates: Yes, that's life--the realm of the economy here people are focused on accumulating material resources. But we've established that there is also action when and where freed people get together to choose what is good for all. So maybe what you say, Libertus, is for the private realm of the economy; but what Plato says about proper order and choosing the common good is for the public realm of politics--though we may disagree about whether that is for the few or the many.

Plato: If there are two distinct spaces, economy or the realm of necessity which is focused on personal life's resources and politics or the realm of freedom which is focused on public speech and action for the common good, and if all persons go to both of them at different times, as Socrates seems to be inferring, how do we keep from confusing them?

Libertus: I guess that is what is meant by the separation of church and state, by the contrast between private morality and public ethics, by the difference between individual self-interest and common good. But my question is that if there is a conflict, which takes precedence.

Socrates: Well, you both are asking the most important ethical question, it seems to me.

Libertus: I think the economy has to take precedence over politics since you can't act in public unless life's needs are taken care of. How can people really take the steps towards freedom if they don't have enough to live on? Also as I said before, persons as individuals seeking their own economic interests is what makes up the fabric of society and the common good. So leaders, while they pretend to have everybody's good at heart, are really taking their position to accumulate more material resources.

Socrates: Perhaps. Yet don't we see people as heroes when they give up their lives to create or defend the state of freedom? For them the common good, a place where people are liberated, seems like the higher good, doesn't it? Isn't it a higher value to put other people and the community above the individual's life, even my own?

Plato: Yes, for sure. The good of the many outweighs the needs of the few.

Socrates: Do you mean the goods of the many--the consumables that keep them living well? If so, isn't that still putting economics above politics, the demands of necessity over the requirements of freedom? Is it just a number's game?

Plato: No, I guess not. Even if more people died so that fewer people could establish an ideal--a truly free society, that would be better it seems to me. I think of the revolutionaries who risked everything to bring down an oppressive government so everybody could participate.

Libertus: But if you look at most revolutions, they end in disaster.

Plato: Hannah Arendt says that the French Revolution was achieved in the societés or what de Tocqueville would call in his Democracy in America as voluntary associations. But the societés were consumed by economic demands because of the poverty and the tremendous gap between the rich aristocrats and the very poor. So the vengeance and violence of the Terror destroyed the revolution with its free associations. Same with the soviets in Russia when the Bolshevists put their party over all the soviets. So by putting economy over politics, freedom is destroyed.

Libertus: So Arendt means if you have a society that creates a government that is totally focused on economic goals like making money, creating wealth, accruing property, you are undermining freedom and the state of freedom. Then she is saying that libertarians who use the accumulation of money as their measure of success are not really free. They are like compulsive libertines who just think they are free.  But what about the American Revolution?

Plato: Arendt thinks that representative democracy killed the American Revolution. The town hall tradition was where people came together to speak, decide, and act. But when they elected the best and the brightest to lead, they left the public arena for others and just went back into their workaday world--which is just what I recommend for my Republic as long as the leaders are philosophers.

Socrates: Is that like what Libertus said before when slaves give up their freedom and can't take it back? We abandon the public places and elect our masters to make decisions for us.

Plato: Precisely. And even in the old days, it was only those with property, including other human beings, that could vote in the town hall meetings or be citizens and run for Congress. And then the elected became the rulers.

Libertus: Most elected officials need great sums of money to be elected. So many of them come from  the aristocratic class and do what the monied interests want them to do, like the big plantation owners or railroad tycoons and now the big corporations. So, yes, economic interests dominate.

Socrates: So I guess Hannah Arendt would think that the latest Supreme Court decision that gives corporations, totally organized for economic profit, the status of citizens and the ability to determine elections is the final straw. Now we have private corporations which are citizens just like you and I. They can pay off politicians to make policies that will increase they ability to make profit which is their main purpose. The public is totally subordinated to the private. The American Revolution is totally undone.

Libertus: But maybe that's just the reality of things. We just need to accept the world as it is. The needs and desires of life will always trump so-called higher goals of human spirit. There is no higher freedom than personal and individual self-interest without any outside limits or restrictions. And private corporations organized for private profit are the most powerful ways to make politics subservient to private interests. Read Ayn Rand.

Plato: You think that's the way the world is? Well maybe the shadow world of people who don't understand what is happening. And then we no longer have a republic. We just have the rhetoric and the trappings of the republic. Just like Athens when it became an empire and the same for Rome. In effect we have the rule by plutocrats who judge success by GNP--gross nation product for consumption measured by money.

Socrates: I applaud you both for struggling with the question of freedom. How we answer it will determine who we are and, more important, who we want to be. But now I must be off to the gymnasium.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cousin Vinnie Again

Cousin Vinnie has been a good foil for me. He helps me work out my thoughts.

The other day he accused me that like all "Demos," I use the race thing to defend Obama.

Here is my response to him.

Dear Cousin Vinnie,

I'll say it one more time. Though you never seem to hear me. I am a critic of Obama and his administration and have been. For many reasons he is not living up to his promise.Though most of those reasons have to do with people in Congress who refuse to let him (and the nation) succeed. 

I do NOT like Obamacare, though it is better than what we have at present, because it continues to pay off those most responsible for the high and unaffordable cost of healthcare--which is what the Democrats and many liberals always do. I do not support people because of their Party. I have often voted for Republicans. I do not like partisan politics. And while I am more of a libertarian in cultural affairs, more a social democrat in economic affairs, I am totally a conservative republican in political affairs. Quit stereotyping me and calling names.

I understand why you in the Tea Party are angry, disgusted, feeling used and powerless. I am too. But you tea-partiers are directing your anger at the wrong people and institutions. This is not unusual. Scapegoating, hatred of outsiders, and victim-bashing has always been done by people who feel powerless or think their privileged position is slipping away. I learned this in Chicago among the ethnic white families who were trying to save their neighborhoods. But they in their anger often simply blamed what was closest to them because they didn't understand what was happening and who was really gaining in block-busting and red-lining. They just knew they were losing.

You tea-partiers have very legitimate gripes and concerns. We share the same pains. But you are targeting the wrong people and institutions. And you are letting your anger, fear of loss, and hate of "outsiders" (those different from you) blind you. And you are always negative. You attack without offering realistic and unifying solutions. The Tea Party should be stimulating a revolution, but instead is reenforcing the very people and institutions that are causing the problem. Unfortunately the Tea Party which could have been a movement for liberation is resurrecting the secessionist ante-bellum southern strategy--in line with the Confederacy, the KKK, the John Birch Society, and McCarthyism. That is sad. And the leaders and pundits and financial supporters of the Tea Party are laughing all the way to the bank (e.g. Sara Palin has made $12 million since she quit Alaska); and the little people who have been riled up to fear, hate, and be angry are getting screwed again.

I envision a majority non-partisan strategy that cuts across liberal and conservative tags, that is truly local and grassroots, building inclusive communities where hardworking people have basic services, opportunity, safety and the capacity to innovate. That will not happen through party politics or national government bureaucracy. That will not be brought about by the Ted Cruzes or Barack Obamas.  And it is only when that happens will the Boehners and Reids work things out for all of us. 

I am sorry you cannot see that I am in your corner. I am also sorry that you cannot see that you are being used.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Shame on us

Would Pope Francis and our other moral leaders agree with the article below? I think and hope so. 

But the author's solution is too simplistic--not enough to fit his excellent analysis. Our tax, investment, and incentive policy-as demonstrated in the Farm bill--written by self-interested corporate paid lobbyists, chooses the winners and losers throughout our system. Until that system is based on different moral principles and is restructured to take out the power and manipulation of the plutocrats, it will not change. 

We have built the "recovery" on government action to support Wall Street, rather than by investing in infrastructure, education, and jobs. Our job, housing, and, yes, health programs (e.g. Obamacare) that are supposed to assist the bottom 95%, attempt to do it by paying off the top 5% through the health insurance companies, syndicates of housing investors, and financial institutions. 

Democrats and Republicans, not all but most, are allied in this. Its just that the Republicans or more crass and honest about what both are doing. The Tea Party could be a bona-fide revolution, but, in their fear and hate, are focused on the wrong enemy and so are simply reviving the anti-bellum southern secessionist "Birth of the Nation" and FOX news morality. Liberals compromise and try to reform rather than change our tax and incentive system because they measure success by consumption. Many just don't understand how the system is working and get caught up in ideological rants of pundits. 

But like the author I am optimistic that the "arc of moral universe while slow bends towards justice." But that will only come when the people being oppressed unite on new moral principles (new meaning different, but as old as our common humanity), analyze their situation correctly so they pick the right targets, and resist, rebel, revolt, and renew. I think this can only happen outside government because it is government that needs to change to be an ally of the people's action for justice.

America's Greatest Shame: Child Poverty Rises and Food Stamps Cut While Billionaires Boom

There are 16.4 million American children living in poverty. That's nearly one quarter (22.6 percent) of all of our children. More alarming is that the percentage of poor children has climbed by 4.5 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. And poor means poor. For a family of three with one child under 18, the poverty line is $18,400.
Meanwhile, the stock market is booming. Banks, hedge funds and private equity firms are making tens of billions of dollars again. In fact, their bonuses are expected to climb by 5 to 10 percent this year, while Wall Street banks doll out $91.44 billion in bonus money.
Most amazing of all is the fact that 95 percent of the so-called "recovery" has gone to the top 1 percent who have seen their incomes rise by 34 percent. For the 99 percent there's been an undeclared wage freeze: the average wage has climbed by only 0.4 percent.
To add to the misery, Washington has decided that the best way to tackle childhood poverty is to have poor kids eat less. Both parties already have agreed to cut billions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps). As of November 1, payments dropped from $668 a month to $632 for more than 47 million lower-income people -- 1 in 7 Americans, most of them children.
And more cuts are coming. The Tea Party House passed a bill to cut food stamps by $4 billion a year, while the Democratic-controlled Senate calls for $400 million in cuts. How humane! And since it will be part of the omnibus Farm Bill, President Obama will sign it. (I wonder how our former community organizer will explain this to the poor children he once tried to help in Chicago.)

But that's just the start. More austerity is coming in the form of cuts to Social Security as well as a host of other social programs. When times get tough, you've got to suck it up and take more from the poor.
Rewarding Billionaires Who Increase Poverty?
It gets even more revolting when we realize that the financial billionaires who are profiting so handsomely from the recovery are the very same who took down the economy in the first place. They were the ones who created and pedaled the toxic securities that puffed up and then burst the housing bubble. Those financial plutocrats caused 8 million workers to lose their jobs in a matter of months. Those bankers, hedge fund honchos and fund managers are directly responsible for the rise in child poverty rates. Washington bailed out those billionaires and is now asking the poor and the middle class to pay for the ensuing deficits with further cuts in social programs at every level of government.
Why do we put up with such injustices?
Washington Is in Wall Street's Pocket
Before we entirely succumb to financial amnesia, let's recall how we got here. Since the late 1970s, the financial sector has been on a crusade to remove any and all financial regulations. The goal was to undo all the controls put in place during the Great Depression that so effectively curtailed financial speculation and outright gambling. Once deregulated Wall Street engineered a Ponzi-like housing bubble that netted it astronomical sums. By the time it burst in 2007, 40 percent of all corporate profits flowed into the financial sector. Wall Street wages grew by leaps and bounds.
As the crash hit, all the largest Wall Street firms, not just Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, were in serious trouble. Had AIG gone under, so would nearly every major bank and investment house, along with thousands of hedge funds that depended on AIG to insure its toxic bets. So Wall Street's Washington cadre engineered a $13 trillion bailout consisting of cash, no interest loans and a program by which the Federal Reserve would buy up Wall Street's toxic waste at par value. To produce a financial recovery, the Fed also drove down bond interest rates which in turn drove money into the stock market, sending it to new heights.

Here's the best of all. After getting $480 billion in bailout cash, the top financiers in the country paid themselves more than $150 billion in bonus money for a job well done. Is this a great country or what?

What didn't happen is this: Mortgages were not written down in mass to assist underwater home owners and those who suffered from predatory loans. No lasting jobs programs were created to put the unemployed back to work. No lasting penalties were paid by the individuals who took down the economy. And there was no serious effort at all to cap financial wages and bonuses in the name of justice.

All in all, you could not have designed a more perfect program to enrich the rich and do absolutely nothing for the 99 percent -- and as a result, sink ever more children into poverty.

Waiting for the Recovery That Will Never Come
We are constantly told that the recovery is just around the corner. Liberals say we need more stimulus. Conservatives call for more austerity and cuts in regulations. But all agree that sooner or later more growth will benefit the 99 percent. Unfortunately, it's not happening and it won't happen. Here's why.
First of all, they assume that trickledown actually works, that there is something mechanical within our heavily financialized economy that will bring renewed prosperity to the 99 percent. They look back at previous recessions and recoveries and continue to believe that slumps are followed by renewed growth and income gains for all.
But as financialization has spread throughout the economy, new mechanisms are in place that siphon off wealth into financial gains for the very few. Productive enterprises are turned into financial enterprises that are loaded up with debt and then carved and slaughtered so that wealth can be extracted for hedge funds and private equity firms. In our brave new financialized economy renewed growth turns into renewed incomes primarily for the investment class. The stock market will rise but jobs and incomes won't. The traditional capitalist slump-recovery process died more than a decade ago. Adam Smith's invisible hand no longer produces shared prosperity -- instead it picks our pockets.

Waiting for the Political Pendulum to Swing
Second, we are told how America is essentially a moderate country -- how there's a kind of invisible political pendulum that swings from the extremes back to the sensible center. When the left or the Tea Party gets too wild, the center supposedly pulls them back and common sense economics prevails. (e.g. the McAuliffe, Christie victories).
But this consoling media meme obscures the fact that our politics are moving ever more rightward. Today's "moderate" Democrats and Republicans (McAuliffe, Christie) are to the right of Eisenhower, Nixon and even Herbert Hoover. They have already agreed to cut the very entitlements that are needed to help alleviate poverty. In fact, they have agreed it's quite OK for America to have 442 billionaires and also have 22.6 percent of its children living in poverty. The sensible center now sees its role as forging a "compromise" on how much to cut food stamps and other supports for the poor.
Obviously, both political parties lose little sleep worrying about economic injustices. Here's a quiz: What is the Democratic Party's plan to eradicate poverty? Answer: It hasn't had one since the 1960s. Now, the Democrats view that kind of idealistic thinking as "unrealistic" in the real world where politicians have to make peace with billionaires in order to survive. As for the poor, alas, they will always be with us.

America Leads the World
Not a day goes by without hearing about how God blesses "American exceptionalism." We are told by our leaders and pundits that we are the best, the greatest, the mightiest and the most democratic of all nations. It is our mission in life to uphold justice and freedom around the world. But as this chart shows, when it comes to child poverty, we are just about dead last.
Why is that? Because in wealthy nations, children live in poverty if and only if that nation allows it. Our nation, the richest in history, has more than enough wealth to go from the bottom of this list to the top, right next to Finland, if only we decided to act justly.

A Simple Proposal to end Child Poverty
America has 442 billionaires with an average net worth of $4.2 billion each according to Forbes. That means collectively these 442 Americans have nearly $1.9 trillion in wealth.
During the current "recovery," these 442 billions saw their wealth rise on average by over 12 percent per year to a current total of nearly $1.9 trillion. What would happened if those billionaires received only 6 percent a year and the other 6 percent ($111.4 billion) was taxed away in order to pull all of our children out of poverty?
That 6 percent would provide sufficient revenue so that each child now living in poverty would receive an extra $7,000 per year which would pull nearly all of their families above the poverty line. The 442 billionaires would not suffer. No one in their families would go hungry. No luxury goods or services would be out of reach. No cooks, maids, chauffeurs or pilots would have to be let go. The 442 billionaires would feel no pain at all -- not even an itch. As a result of this painless tax, America would eradicate childhood poverty overnight.

Dream on?
Of course, our simple proposal sounds insane in a world where austerity reigns supreme and where billionaires are immune from such distributive proposals. But I wonder who is sane and who isn't. It seems utterly psychotic to live in a society that chooses to spread poverty to its young. It also seems psychotic to claim that cuts in food stamps are good for the poor while at the same time saying that it's quite OK for billionaires to pile up unearned, tax-sheltered income, and even receive federal farm subsidies from the very farm bill that contains food stamps cuts.  The fact that we're putting up with all this should be driving us all insane.
Sooner or later, the millions of Americans who still have souls that ache for justice will take democracy into their own hands. I don't know how it will happen or when, but one day we will eradicate needless poverty and reclaim our nation from those who are robbing it blind.
(The is an updated article that originally appeared in

Les Leopold is the director of The Labor Institute and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds get away with siphoning of America's Wealth (Wiley 2013)
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Monday, November 4, 2013

All's well that ends. Well?

Months of planning our six week European adventure--mostly by Bernie. Now its over. So quickly! Only memories and some photos. They remain in the cloud.

We saw lots of monuments to dead people.

And cemeteries.

It's Autumn and the leaves are turning and falling. Days are shorter. I'm 75--still kicking but at least three quarters to game's end. And so it goes.

Science is endeavoring to immortalize human bodies and their souls. One way of realizing the myth of eternal life. That might be a good thing--or not.

More than organisms with neuronic memories, we are our stories. Some of us, the famous ones, tell them well. But the rest of us, we who listen, appreciate, and repeat them in our own ways, who teach them to our children, or just live them out with others are just as important. Together we are combining, illustrating, weaving, dramatizing the whole human story. Our moments contribute to that story. Our little adventures do not compare to those of Ulysses or Faust or Lincoln, but they too make up the whole story.

But stories must end to be good stories. A beginning, a middle, and end-- although we always start in medias res.

The Universal Story as well? Perhaps. Scientists tell us that the earth will be eventually swallowed by an expanding then exploding sun; and the universe will be stretch into cold death. Will the Story endure?

We act as though it will. We enjoy our moments, start another project, seek out another adventure--even though it be our last. We act to ensure that it will.

Start planning, Bernie.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cogito Tutto (Je pense tout)--From the Rodin and Pompidou museums.

The New Federalism

My friends know that I am a libertarian when it comes to culture, a social democrat when it comes to economy, and a conservative republican when it comes to politics. All within limits that I have elsewhere spelled out.

By "conservative republican," I mean I am committed to conservation: resources, families, religion, ethnic diversity, history, neighborhoods. And I hold that political power belongs to publics--not to the church, not to the state, not to the rich, not to the ethnically advantaged, not to unengaged masses, not to the princes, not even to representatives. Publics are where people come together as equals to discuss and act on behalf of their interests, their values, and their associations. I think that conservative republicanism argues for an effort to build publics and create a new federalism among them.

The new federalism is a restatement of the "principle of subsidiarity"in Catholic Social Teaching: "human affairs should be handled by the lowest and least centralized level of authority possible." It ties to a central canon of community organizing: "don't do for others what they can do for themselves." It is of course balanced by the principle of solidarity through which the well-being and dignity of all are assured. (O would that the Church would apply its social teaching to itself! But that is another matter.)

Recently Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley wrote the "Metropolitan Revolution" to show how cities and suburbs are the new locus of power and can do what national government cannot. Good thesis but perhaps more the world as it should be, rather than it is. This excellent work is the harbinger of the new federalism.

In 1790 5% of the US population lived in cities. It is projected that in 2050, 95% will. Now the urban population is just over 80%. And the whole world is urbanizing rapidly. With cities come big problems with health, safety, education, mobility, equity. I just came back from a six month tour of cities in Europe and found that while languages, religious sensitivities, political parties, economic policies of nations are quite fragmenting, the cities share the common problems and possibilities and the best of cities are embracing new urbanist approaches that build on and respect their urban heritage. As Jaime Lerner, Brazilian former governor and mayor, said: The city is not the problem. It is the solution.

It is the solution, that is, if we design our cities correctly with the density that preserves land, water, energy, with the spaces that encourages diversity, interaction, and safety, with the amenities for mobility, recreation, education, and commerce. Civilization, civil society, civility, and citizenship are possible only through cities, the cives, from which they take their names. The city or polis is the place of political power where freedom occurs among citizens speaking and acting as equals to shape their state, their economy, and their culture.

In the new federalism, it is the alliance and interaction among metropolises that is crucial. The responsibility of the nation-state and in the US that means both the federal and state governments is to protect and foster great cities, large and small, as places of equity, mobility, economy, smart growth, and power. Cities should not be limited by the culture, politics, and economics of the state. Austin, Dallas, and Houston should be able to strike different paths than the one determined by Texas. Fresno and the Central Valley league of cities are not LA and its suburbs. Cleveland needs to include its suburbs in its development and visa versa and perhaps has to look to Akron and its prosperity while the state and national congresses play a supporting, not dominating role.

In the new federalism, it is the urbanizing region, like SE Michigan (Detroit Metro), the Washington DC region, the Mahoning Valley, the San Diego region, Metro Chicago that are members of the federation with direct access to the federal government. And the federation should not stop at national boundaries. Mexico City, Toronto, Vancouver and all the cities between should be a part of the federation.

How do we get to this new federalism? (To be continued)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Action in the Reaction

(This is a continuation of my first reflections on our European adventure which I entitled Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, and Renewal).

Ten days in Ireland, staying with people who became friends and visiting monuments and historic sights in Dublin, Galway, Inis Mór Island gave us insight into Irish history and culture. But it was in Belfast that we learned the most about ourselves. Driving and walking through the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods past the murals that staked out turf and honored their martyrs and along the "peace" wall that separated them indicated to us that while there has been a brokered peace, the prejudice remains ready to raise its ugly head much like American racism.

Yesterday at Costco while Bernie was grocery shopping I speed-read Malcolm Gladwell's new  book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He examines the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland as an instance as to how the Big Guys stumble, in this case the British Army "protecting" both Unionists and Republics. Ironically, it was the same mistake the Brits made in their response to the at first unpopular Eastern Rising that led to the independence of the Republic of Ireland.

This has been documented many times before for example in the books on "Blowback" and "Overreach." It illustrates a Saul Alinsky Rule for Radicals: the action is in the reaction. The minority oppressed can usually count on the dominating power to over react. The American Empire, just like the British and all those before, cannot learn this so obvious lesson. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq are instances of the undoing of American power by the little guys.

But the Irish struggle is also illustrative of the cultural complexity of liberation movements. Catholic against Protestant in Ireland has little to do with religious belief systems, but more with a minority restricted in civil rights. Indeed this was recognized by black Baptist civil rights leaders with whom I was working in Chicago when Bernadette Devlin came to town to raise money for the IRA. There was an immediate identification between these black Baptist and the Irish Catholic activists. Ironic since it was in the main Irish Catholics which led the fight and caused the Boston riots against school desegregation. Further irony since it was a Boston Irish Catholic president who had to overcome prejudice against Catholics to get elected who introduced the major civil rights bill for African Americans, but of course a Protestant president from the South who pushed it through.

We got the black cab tour of the "Troubles" from a unionist and we stayed with a person who was a community worker with a Protestant background though he worked across the divisions. We were toured through the Northern Ireland Parliament by a member of a Unionist Party. So while we had sympathized with the Catholics while we were in the US, we saw the struggle from the other side as well.

Reflect on America's civil war where it was the southern slaveholders who wanted to break from the union, the northern abolitionists who wanted to keep it. Think of the Ku Klux Klan who saw themselves as defenders of American principles and the white race against Irish and Eastern European newcomers, papists, and the coloreds. It was astonishing to find that our European hosts were more aware than we and most Americans that the Tea Party movement with the treatment of Obama as a usurper and alien was a continuation of that war for southern succession and of the Klan.

When we look at the murals in Belfast, we are reminded that clanism is very much alive in the world, that it takes the form of urban gangs armed and ready to rumble whenever they feel dissed. Like old feudal Europe with its fiefdoms and castles that are still remnants throughout Europe, modern clanism, racism, religious and ethnic clashes are reminders that our species has yet to evolve towards the ideal that is also signified by our common human nature.

The gospels, Protestant and Catholic, speak of the little ones, the dispossessed, the least of these inheriting the earth. Today in the Washington Post was an article on probably the largest of dinosaurs, the 80 ton Argentinosaurus and how it must have walked and how fast: five miles per hour. Evolutionary anthropologists have speculated that what gave homo advantage over larger carnivores and by which they achieved dominance was the ability to run long and in groups--at 25 miles per hour. The ability to make images gave homo sapiens the way to anticipate and thus to bob and dodge and plan next moves. The naked little David with his slingshot will beat the armor-encumbered Goliath almost any day. The little ones will break through the structures established by the mighty--even of those who were once little ones themselves.

Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, Renewal

We just discovered Jean Moulin on our trip to Caen and the Peace Museum on our way to Normandy and the monument to D-Day. Moulin was an organizer of the French Resistance who at General DeGaulle's instructions connected the various factions of resistance into a shadow army to support the Liberation. We then visited the Moulin Museum in Paris to learn more about him and the Resistance. I just bought, but have not yet watched, L'Armeés des Ombres, a 1969 film on the Resistance by an author and a film maker inspired by Moulin and who were also members of the French Resistance.

To resist is to "stand against" dominating forces. It is to stand with ("con-sist"?) those who are being oppressed by those forces, those who are not free to act on their own to shape their world. To resist is also to "stand out," that is ex-sist. Here I am. Me voici! I am able to act. I have power. Power that the Resistance showed can only be achieved with others.

Resistance leads to rebellion. I can resist quietly by not cooperating with the dominant force wherever I can. But when I speak and act against that force I am in rebellion as were the leaders of the resistance who were writing articles and plays and stories to attack the dominators and more so, those who were passing on information and organizing actions to undermine them.

I once published a work on the difference between rebellion and revolution. Taking my cue from Camus, I argued that rebellion is consistent with a more linear concept of time which does not aim to end or overthrow history, but considers human existence as an ongoing struggle to change, never satisfied with the existing order even if we helped to bring it in. Sisyphian rebellion is continuous questioning, ongoing critique, never ending striving. Whereas Promethian revolution is more consistent with a circular concept of time by which history is overthrown or repeated in constant cycles.

I was arguing against the Third Age, Stalinist, Hitlerian, Pol Pot, Apocalyptic notion of history which usually accompanies the wiping out of the past and all its remnants in the present through violence to bring in the radically new world order. I was opposing the demonic, i.e. the non-correcting true belief tendency, in the "movement" that alienated the very persons for whom the movement claimed to be acting.

Chris Hedge's piece today about the silent Revolution that is gathering steam in the US and could break out in violence is both encouraging and frightening. The elements of righteous new fascism and leftist new socialism over against a liberal collaboration with a government-supported corporate state are harbingers of that silent revolution and its potential pitfalls. Where do I stand?

Resistance and rebellion, activities of defiance and opposition, can lead to the affirmative activity of building a new order based on new ideas, structures, and practices. Revolution in that sense need not be inherently violent and self-defeating. Then revolution springing from the human ability to act in concert, i.e. political power, renews the political in human being, actualizes human existence and creates a space of freedom which the Greeks named the polis. While the order and its institutions may be new, revolution which renews is actually a restoration of the human ability to act and is continuous with and learns from other freedom moments in history. In that sense it is conservative. Though, as Arendt showed in her analysis of the three major modern revolutions, they often get consumed by economic concerns and wind up undermining the polis.

In reflecting on resister and rebel Jean Moulin (along with Sam Adams, Sojourner Truth, Michael Collins, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, and others), I see various levels or steps to the revolution that renews.

  • I pass you on the street, smile and say hello. The beginning of civility.
  • I listen to your story and tell you mine. We find commonality.
  • I introduce you to someone else. We connect.
  • We gather to decide what is best for all of us. We create a public space.
  • We act, reflect, learn, and go on.

The first act towards the renewal of civil society is recognition of the other. She is a human person like me with the same dignity that I expect others to recognize in me. The beginning of political space is nodding, smiling, saying hello as I pass by someone on the street, especially the stranger. This is the courageous act of stepping out of ones private comfortable world where I am in or under control and appearing in public where control is left behind.

Secondly, a more intentional act towards the restoration of freedom is listening to and telling our stories towards uncovering interests, values, affiliations which are common to us. It is what community organizers call the "one-on-one" or the "intentional interview." It extends the courageous act of appearing in public because it exposes one's limits and vulnerabilities.

And finally, it has been said that the most radical political act is that of introducing someone to another. Connecting people is the prelude to organizing ourselves for action. Or perhaps it is the very essence of social justice organizing.

Father Jack Egan was one of my heroes in the 60s and 70s when I was starting to do community organizing as a vocation. He helped Saul Alinsky in Chicago, was Alinsky's link to the Chicago Archdiocese, and served on his IAF Board. Egan was one of the first to give effective voice to religious women and Catholic laypersons. When Archbishop Cody came to town and tried to mute Egan by giving him a parish in all black West Lawndale where most of the Catholics had run out, Egan, conceiving the parish as the community, got a number of us raw seminarians to knock on doors which led to the Contract Buyers League and the beginning of the end of redlining in Chicago. He connected the leaders of CBL to Tom Gaudette, Gordon Sherman, Rabbit Marx, and John McKnight. He started the Catholic Council for Urban Ministry that led to the support of organizing through the Campaign for Human Development in relation to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. His CCUM meetings at Notre Dame were great moments and culminations of his connections that cut across all boundaries.

Egan considered himself as "just a connector." Like Jean Moulin and his colleagues in history, connecting those so they can think, speak, and act to overthrow domination and renew the political space of freedom is resistance, rebellion, revolution, and renewal. Being a connector is the affirmation and restoration of our common human existence. And it starts with a simple "hello" on the street.

Monday, October 28, 2013

European Reflections

We are just back from our European adventure--Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, France by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles--and busses, trams, and feet. A lot of fun, yes, and so much learned--and, best of all, so many new friends.

I have three sets of reflections that I will articulate in coming days:

1. The first is on Resistance, Rebellion, Revolution, Renewal. I suppose the history of Iceland as a Viking settlement with looted Irish women starts it off. But it was the experience of Ireland with its medieval fiefdoms and feuds, but especially the Republican against Unionist conflict that still continues in its euphemistic "troubles," that fuels most of these reflections. And then the visit of Caen and Normandy and the still living memories of European 100 year and then World Wars that raise questions about my angelic/diabolic human nature and what is in store for humanity. It also renews my vocation to organizing.

2. The second has to do with cities--what is good and bad regarding the cities of Reykjavik, Dublin, Galloway, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Roche Bernard, Kemper, Caen, and Paris that we enjoyed so intensely, the urbanizing of Europe and the world, how it is continuing the evolution of our humanity for good or ill and what my role needs to be in that process as resistant, rebel, revolutionary, and renewer.

3. The third has to do with endings. All's well that ends.Well?  We saw lots of cemeteries, monuments to dead people, cathedrals, castles, and museums housing stories of passing cultures, epochs, achievements. And indeed our sojourn, where every new day, brought with it the adventure of fresh, new sights and smells and sounds, is over. The photos recall the memories, but the day is done, the voyage complete. Now what?

Which leads me to a fourth: a new beginning?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ethics and Religion in a Post Christian Age

(Note: I must like to start over. I keep writing new introductions to my work. Maybe my work just consists in introductions. Here is another one.)

Ethics and Religion in a Post Christian Age

Intro 1: Post-Christian! Who says so?

Am I implying that the Christian tradition has ended and that Christianity no longer has validity or influence? Not at all. I could just have easily talked about Post-Muslim or Jewish or Hindu or whatever. None of these have lost validity or influence. Religion is very much a part of culture and I think will always be. But that's just it. We live in a very pluralist society with many different religions--even religions within religions. And we face some very momentous decisions in confronting huge trends that are threatening our very existence. We need to reach deep in our differing traditions and beyond their sometimes opposing expressions to find and affirm the humanity that is common to us all at a time when that humanity is fundamentally challenged. (One could argue that it is always that time, that to be human means to be in crisis; but more on that later.)

I speak of post Christianity because that is the tradition from which I emerge; and it is to the people of this tradition that I address these thoughts. I'll let others address their own traditions as indeed many are so doing.

But there is another meaning of being in a post-Christian age. The Judeo-Christian western culture itself has developed many traditions and expressions. And many of us have left our old-time religions and are accepting, even welcoming, the secular humanist and post-modern society without beliefs in supernatural entities or events which formerly defined religion. Some may say they still have these religious beliefs and even fight to enshrine them. But if they are honest, they acknowledge that they generally set them aside in their work-a-day life.

So not only do we have to find common cause with other religionists, but also with secularists, agnostics, skeptics, and atheists if we are to live, work, and especially act together for our common good.

What are those megatrends that are confronting us and threatening our existence? There are at least four that almost everyone recognizes 1) urbanization, 2) wealth creation, 3) earth change, 4) transhumanism; and you can put the word "global" in front of all of them. The question with all of these is not whether, but how. Can we find some universal standards to guide us in all our expressions within these megatrends? Is there a universal ethic that can stand over, within, and above our religions and their moralities? I think so. I think that ethic is easily discoverable by most of us who have not suppressed it because it is our human existence itself--that which make us most human. (I will have to explain that I know.)

But it is less easily expressed because once it is put out there with all the other moral and religious expressions, it is just one more contribution to the rich diversity of our pluralistic culture. We have seen that starting a new religion or morality with its own holy book, creed, and ritual can be quite lucrative. But usually a new religion and ethics are started not for profit reasons, but because their founders think they have been given or stumbled upon the answer to all our problems, war, poverty, health, and everlasting life. And indeed they probably have. And just as often they and their followers, in rationalizing and concretizing their insights, develop a school, a cult, a movement, a priesthood, a territory, and a truth that has consequences destructive to our common human being together.

So unless we want to start a new religion or a new morality (and I don't!), we cannot pretend to lay out a new revelation or insight or truth. All we can do is use our language and other human artifacts or symbols (I'll explain that later) to point to what is already there in all of us before it is expressed or, better, while we are expressing anything in our interaction with each other and our world.

And if it is difficult to express that universal ethic, it is even more difficult to apply it to the current megatrends that are putting our human existence at risk. But that is exactly what I am trying to do--for myself in my solitude and with you, especially those of you in the "west" emerging within or out of the Judeo-Christian culture into an age of post-Christian and post-modern experience and expression. I hope to clarify those megatrends, how they are putting us at risk, and how we might explore and exploit these megatrends to continue our adventure in human being.

First a note on my language. When I use the word "ethics," I usually mean the same as morality, that is, the formal and informal rules of behavior that are legitimated (law) or sanctified (religion) within the culture of a particular society. However when I use the word "ethics" as a discipline of social philosophy or behavioral science, then I mean the inquiry into a particular morality or of ethics in general. I reserve the word ethic (without an s) to the fundamental dynamic structure of human existence before, within, and beyond its many expressions and ethics, i.e. that which can only be pointed to so people can recognize it for themselves within their own expressions.

That language presumes my own philosophical orientation and style which will not be compatible with yours. (See my earlier blog on style which will be inserted here).

Okay let's review what I have promised you so far in this introduction usually between the parentheses:
1) a notion of human being that is always in crisis and finally cannot be expressed.
2) a clarification of four global megatrends that confront us and put our human existence at risk.
3) the meaning of symbol in language and other human artifacts to define our human way of being.
4) how ethics and religion are part and parcel of culture.
5) a universal ethic which belongs to the notion of human existence that we can use to explore and exploit these megatrends.

All without advancing a new ethics (morality) or religion (though perhaps critiquing our old ones), without arguing to any absolute truth (though hopefully pursuing truth), in a circular redundant style of discovery, and without diminishing your responsibility and effort to think things out for yourself and join the conversation.

Now if you want to go on, and I hope you do because I need the conversation, you deserve to know a little more who I am, my own interests and values, and the actors and thinkers who have made me who I am. So I proceed to my second introduction.

Intro 2: The Philosophy Stone (to be inserted)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

God is a Verb

Universalists and Unitarians in America (2011) by John Buehrens is excellent background to the church we have been attending: All Souls UU in DC.

Unitarians and Universalists: All-American denominations, one more out of rural, the other more out of urban areas. Both emerging from Christian tradition but one more tending to a spiritualist dimension beyond any religion; the other more tending to a rational transcendentalist dimension beyond any religion. Both considered liberal (and almost came together as the Liberal Church of America) in reaction to Calvinist evangelicalism. Both with strong history of social justice action beyond faith and works. And cradle for many great leaders, known and unknown, for social, racial, and economic justice.

Their concept of God varied from spiritual principle to loving parent, but totally opposed to God as the mean Father or punishing Judge of the evangelicals. And their concept of humanity was certainly different from mainline Protestant and Catholic traditions which saw even infants with original sin requiring the sacrifice of God Himself in human substance and unity of believers with that sacrifice in baptism. For Unitarians and Universalists, sin or evil exists in the world, but within each person is the divine spark that can grow to fight and overcome that evil--as was demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth and other great spiritual persons.

"Unitarian" may once have referred to the one rather than three-in-one doctrine of God, but now means that we are all one together against racial, sexual, and class divisions. "Universalist" may once have meant the belief that all persons are saved, but now means we are all universally related on a voyage to human progress. "Transcendentalist" may once have been the belief in a universal Divine Spirit, but now means the ability of the human spirit to transcend--that is, to advance past the prejudices, injustices, and inequalities of the present.

Is there a place for God in this liberal humanist tradition? God, whether conceived as principle of personal unity or personal agency of Love, is not a proposition to be affirmed or denied. Neither ardent theists nor principled atheists, neither true believers nor holders of absolute truths allow for transcendence. Transcendence, often referred to as the spirit of life and the spirit of love, is not a being or state of being, not a place or a time, not an idea or belief. Transcendence is an act, a passing, a voyage, a going beyond the normal, the ordinary, the status quo, beyond beliefs and creeds and the world-as-it-is towards the world-as-it-could-be.

In scholastic philosophy, at least the neo-Thomist kind, God is defined not as matter (though the font of all matter), not as form (though informing the whole), but as Pure Act. God is not a noun; God is a verb.

Transcendence is all of us living and acting with each other, with our earth, with our universe to co-create our selves and our world. Transcendence is the ethical and political activity of achieving freedom and justice for all. No more, no less.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Le style, c'est l'homme même

A lawyer acquaintance who was reading my stuff told me that my style of composition is very confusing. He said I should simply lay out my position and the arguments for it.

Now that might be fine in a courtroom where you have a position, guilty or non-guilty, true or false. But I don't have a position I am trying to prove. I don't have an argument to win. And truth for me is not some objective formulation that is either right or wrong, but rather a convergence of positions of  many thoughtful people. In fact, truth for me is not in the formulation and who or how many hold it, but in the search.

That makes no sense to him. He has a very different epistemology, spirituality, and style than mine. But I'm not saying he is wrong (how could I?); and his comment did urge me to consider different styles of getting positions, putting forth positions, and advancing positions--i.e. composition, exposition, and imposition.

Every person has her own style or as the French naturalist Buffon said: le style, c'est l'homme même. Style is a good definition of personhood. In reflecting on my style, as in these blogs or the work on ethics that I am writing, in relation to others, I have identified five generic style types--though there are as many writing and presentation styles as there are persons.

1. Explanatory. The first is linear like a legal brief. You have a conclusion. You argue for it, presenting evidence and reasoning. You consider the arguments against it and rebut those arguments. You sum up and repeat your conclusion. Apologetic and didactic treatises as well as  commission reports are examples of this.

2. Scholarly. The second is what most academics use. It too is quite linear though it refers to the discovery method. You pose the question and lay out its status--e.g. how it fits with other questions. You give the results of a comprehensive search of the literature that relates to this question. You provide data from any experimentation that you or others have done. You lay out the findings and conclusion. You suggest questions for further research. More comprehensive and leads to further discussion. Rawls, Sen, Crossan, Dewey, Merleau-Ponty and most books from the academy are thus.

3. Reflective. The third is what activists whether on the streets, the board room, the counseling office articulate. They interview people and enter into situation which they observe. They take notes and write down their memories. They narrate actions. Then they mull over all they have observed and written down and discern patterns and meanings. This engages the reader by bringing her into the process of discovery. I think of Ernst Goffman and his observations while living in prisons and mental institutions and monasteries to identify the characteristics of total institutions. I think of Alinsky reflecting on his own community organizing to write the rules of radicals whose first rule is that there are no rules.

4. Thoughtful. The fourth is a series of thoughts or essays or meditations or dialogues on topics that may build up to conclusions but without finality. It engages the audience and encourages them to think for themselves. It involves the reader in the circular and redundant mode of discovery. I think of Hannah Arendt reflecting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as her essays Between Past and Future; Karl Rahner and his forays into the histories of certain religious rituals; Christopher Hitchen's Essays; Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, and Bach; Pascal, Descartes, Badou.

5. Poetic and prophetic. The fifth provokes and shocks the reader to think out of the ordinary. It uses exhortation and rhetoric, stories and drama to push a different way of looking at reality. Neitsche, Kafka, Camus come to mind--as do many dramatists and film makers.

When I reflect on my style I find that I have large element of #3 because I have been an activist and do reflect on what I have learned in pursuing affordable housing, new urbanism, racial and economic justice.  But also #4 because I read, meditate, and write almost daily on topics of the day that interest me trying to weave them together with some consistency, but always questioning any positions I come to. I love #5 and at times try to write poetry and stories to point to ways of pursuing truth. No wonder I am confusing; but confusion is a way of being for me. My style.

So, dear reader, if you want consistency and invariable positions, if you want straight lines to the truth, if you want to be sure, do not associate with me. I am on a voyage and want to be with fellow wayfarers who are also searching and finding pleasure not in a final destination, but in the journey itself.