Posts Tagged 'Pope Francis'

Loonies On The Path ….

Remember the Pink Floyd tune, “Brain Damage”?

“And everyday the paperboy brings more.

  • Grant wealthy individuals more votes than the rest of us.
  • Tax the working poor at a higher rate than billionaires.
  • Put undocumented workers in jail for using public toilets.
  • Privatize Social Security, indeed, do away with all social safety nets.
  • Make teachers responsible for failing students.
  • Do away with health care.
  • Permit guns everywhere. South Carolina residents may now carry guns into restaurants. Wait for first shoot-out at a salad bar.

The lunatics are in my hall.”

  • In Chicago a Republican candidate for office told her base autism is punishment by the “almighty” for support of abortion and marriage equality.
  • In Texas, Republican Joe Barton, explained, as wind power is a “finite resource”, harnessing it “would slow the winds down” causing temperatures to go up.  You can’t make up stuff like this.
  • In Georgia a legislator equated women to cows and pigs when it comes to childbirth.

… if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes …”

  • Rick Santorum (Remember him?) declared that only “God” can mandate health care.
  • Republican governors led by none other than Mr. “Ooops” himself, Rick Perry, refused to implement Medicaid. As Rick put it, “I will not be a party to socialize health care.” It’s all about him isn’t it?
  • In Wisconsin a Catholic US Congressman criticized the Pope for speaking out against barbaric treatment of the poor and the “idolatry” of money.

 

The lunatic is on the grass.”

Day after day the news reports one outrageous assault after another against the social contract. Social body blows from politicians, billionaires, and the bankers who bankrupted thousands of small investors and savers with impunity. One of those bankers was recently rewarded with a multi-million dollar raise. Our Citizens United Supreme Court happily awarded a presidential election to the Republican candidate (They knew his Daddy.) and have granted political organizations status as human beings. The Court also decided that it’s perfectly OK for the police to strip search you for jay-walking. Drop your shorts America. Again – this stuff cannot be made up – it has happened, it is happening, and we are living with it. Let’s not even discuss Florida where it seems to be legal open season on black kids.

The lunatic is in my head.”

In light of all this it seems to me reasonable to ask what motivates people to act barbarically. Many of the politicians are self-identified “Christians” whom it is presumed are supposed to integrate the teachings of their deity into their own lives and actions. On evidence, however, nothing could be further from the truth. So, what’s going on here? Why would Paul Ryan object to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance? What moral authority informs his imagination?

Got to keep the loonies on the path.”

Human society has always oscillated between physical and moral challenges; between civilization and barbarity. This cycle has determined the course and ultimately, the fate of all societies. The entire thrust of social evolution we always hope has been about making a more secure, more equitable, and healthier world for more and more people. If that be the case, why the relentless assault on civilization and civilized behavior? Should we not be past that? Well, it seems obvious the barbarians have not gone away, they have not been truly assimilated, humanized, or integrated into the mainstream of human consciousness. The barbarians are still with us, it’s just that they now wear suits not animal skins.

James Davidson Hunter in, The Death of Character, said this: “History and philosophy both suggest to us that the flourishing of character rooted in elevated virtues is essential to justice in human affairs; its absence, a measure of corruption and a portent of social and political collapse, especially in a democracy. … Character matters, we believe, because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” Where lies the character of politicians who would deny school lunches to children? Many “great” societies have come and gone throughout history and when there have been great inequalities in the goods of life as Hunter has indicated, social collapse inevitably follows. What loyalty to the economic and social contract is expected when employees are reduced to poverty wages because entrepreneurs prefer to maximize profit? When employers prefer to provide information about welfare instead of paying a living wage, what are the possibilities?

Both Aristotle (Politics) and Plato (Laws) warned that too great a disparity in the goods of life lead to disruption of societies. We live in a time of unequal justice when people of color are still singled out for police abuse, when profit motives exceed any sense of economic justice defined as living wages, when the jobless are blamed for their joblessness by elected officials unconscionably neglecting to acknowledge that American jobs and industries have been relocated offshore to countries where a living wage is a fraction of what it is here. Can we escape this defection from civility? Probably not. So, everyday, when the paperboy or internet brings more news of lay-offs, food stamp cuts, denial of medical care and welfare for the disabled, disenfranchised, and the unemployed will “the dam break open many years too soon”? We’ll see.

The lunatics aren’t just on the grass – they’re in high places making decisions that determine the path and, ultimately, the fate of the country – our embattled democracy, our society. If Michelle Bachmann is correct declaring we are at the “end days” perhaps none of this matters. Perhaps the band was right, there’s someone in our heads, but it’s not us.

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”

“… and they all went to the beach”

As you may recall, the beach was where everyone went in Melina Mercouri’s, Ilya’s telling of Greek tragedy in the film “Never on Sunday”. In Ilya’s versions of Media and Oedipus, no one suffered they merely “went to the beach”. In the minds of some Americans no one is suffering, no one is involuntarily unemployed, no one is without adequate health care, and if you do have difficulties it’s your own fault and your’s to solve. There are those who, in some kind of fevered Tea Party fueled delirium, see Reaganesque “welfare queens” lolling about watching TV, driving Cadillacs; or in Mike Huckabee’s lascivious fantasy, women exercising their libidos at public expense. Apparently poor people in general are just having too much fun living off the rest of society. The view from the beach, a mirage, a delusion? In reality it’s everyone for themselves.

Unemployment Compensation barely puts food on the table for a family of any size but in the distorted imagination of some politicians relief in the form of food stamps is living high on the hog and leads to permanent dependency on government hand-outs. One has to wonder what people like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert and their colleagues see as the beneficial outcome of policies leaving 1.6 million people who used to have jobs until they were laid off left without help. Do begging bowls dance like lemon drops in their dreams? Do they relish seeing children in rags and people in soup lines?  Do they believe publicly supported charities and food banks can cover the loss? What is the future these guys so dearly covet? Where are the jobs the welfare addicted are supposed to be avoiding? Right now there are 3 people looking for work for every job open. Jobs have been and are being exported overseas to places where wages are low and workplace safety is nonexistent. Should all employers follow the lead of WalMart or McDonalds and provide advice on how to apply for welfare?

What are people like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin thinking when they characterize raising the minimum wage a “misguided political stunt” and “political grandstanding”? How does arguing against raising the minimum wage improve life for working Americans? Right now 85% of those earning minimum wage are 20 years of age and over, 26% are parents, 49% work full-time and there are 3 job seekers for every job available. Congressman Paul Ryan, at odds with the head of his church, apparently believes “Atlas Shrugged” is the bible and Ayn Rand a more reliable moral beacon than Pope Francis. On evidence it seems elected politicians have become storm commandos of class warfare leading the assault on our social contract being rewarded for their efforts by the multitude of “Institutes”, “Foundations”, and PACs underwritten by sociopathic billionaires. We are seeing the death throes of ethical behavior and public service by politicians being replaced by pandering and self-promotion.

Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do and they have been doing so for millennia and much for the same reasons. When societies become excessively extractive and economically exclusive, they have, across history, failed. When the arc of greed exceeded the arc of inclusiveness a downhill slide became irreversible. No matter how repressive, attempts at control ultimately failed. Restricting or denying voting rights for example will not protect the 85 people who have more wealth than half of the world’s population. It will not insulate them from the inevitable repercussions even if they generously “donate” to police departments as in New York City during the Occupy demonstrations. And this is why I find myself wondering:  What about all those guns people are encouraged to own and carry? What would happen if people, perceiving themselves as having nothing left to lose, decide to act out their frustrations and anger? When the constraints of shared community and mutual regard are shed I’ll suggest that we won’t be on our way to a beach party.

Crossroads – Questions Without Answers

Here are some questions that have been plaguing me for months: Why are people like the Koch boys and their wholly owned politicians on such a rampage to destroy the American social contract? What’s in it for them? After all, they and their friends have or control nearly all of the money and resources. And when they have it all then what? What is the point or purpose of such behavior? Does it even have a point or purpose? Is it a sickness? A mental disturbance? Why would anyone want to deprive other people of food and sustenance when they, themselves, have more than they need? What sort of gratification comes from denying health care to those who need it but can’t pay? As we follow this line of questioning we arrive at this:  Do we actually have core “American Values”? Have we ever?

What is even more disturbing is that the majority of those attacking the social contract are self-defined Christians. It is my understanding Christian teachings require compassion and identification with others. This is the so-called “Golden Rule” that one should treat others as one would want others to treat them. This “Rule” exists across history in nearly every religion around the world. So what kind of belief systems allow some people to act with complete disregard for others? Is it depravity? It certainly isn’t civilized. A suit and tie don’t confer civilized status – only behavior does that. The Pope, speaking out against the patent absence of moral standards that has created the current scenario was criticized by a right-wing radio show host who claimed the Pope to be a Communist. When the Pope comments about redistribution of wealth he is speaking as a moral being not as a politician.

If we cannot ask moral equations of ourselves or of our society without being labeled what does that say about us? Moral questions have been replaced by power, profit, and gain. It does’t seem to matter whether or not environmental safety questions are settled before fracking for oil and transporting it across oceans, prairies, or tundra. Safety is only a matter of whether or not litigation can be successfully defended against by your phalanx of lawyers and PR firms. This strategy is deemed cheaper than moral considerations of environmental, social, and human damages.

People lose their savings or lose their homes when the economy and markets tank. The government bails out bankers, “too big to fail”, who gambled away their depositors’ money with taxpayer money to the tune of billions of dollars. This is the taxonomy of greed in a society that once represented a shining shore of exceptionalism. Moral questions will not be asked here. Profit and loss take precedence over morality. This is what we have become.

A recent example of displacement of moral thought by legalism is one Barry Engle, a lawyer involved with off-shore trusts for people stashing their wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise, out of reach of the tax man. Engle made the following statement: “Lawyers can debate the morality of these trusts… My first duty is to my clients and my clients have a need.” Apparently “morality” is not Mr. Engle’s brief. (“Paradise of Untouchable Assets” Leslie Wayne, NYT 12/15/13) So, what is it that lawyers do if their “first duty” is to their clients and not to Justice? As I understand it, Justice serves the whole of society by protecting individuals from injustice. That Truth and Justice are held to be blind to social status is why Lady Justice is depicted as blindfolded and why lawyers supposedly have a sworn responsibility to serve that ideal.

If Justice has been undermined so too has religion been stripped of moral value. Case in point: Paul Ryan, the Republican, Alter Boy, Congressman who is working relentlessly to dismantle social safety nets, is a Catholic. My question is, to what extent has Ryan been informed by his religious beliefs? I don’t see a connection between the teachings of the Catholic prophet and Ryan’s behavior as a member of society. So far as I know, the prophet Jesus is nowhere depicted as a sociopath.

We will never have a just society without a sense of shared community. As Alasdair McIntyre put it: “In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community’s good for man, there can no longer be any very substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good.” The United States seems to no longer qualify as having a shared conception of what is good.

Using their offices as instruments in service to the wealthy politicians are creating  a destructive social fractiousness. We have a society of rent-seekers – asking, “what’s in in for me?”.  It’s all about price not value. Using power to selfish ends isn’t confined to politics it operates within religious entities, trade unions, businesses, police departments – organizations led by individuals with insatiable appetites for wealth, fame, and power. Is this our new measure of life?

As the world turns there are so many questions and few and fewer answers. Volver … volver….

Crossroads: We Dare Not Call Its Name

It’s time to drag a beast out of it’s cave—it’s time for a national dialog about the most vicious and most pernicious of the so-called Animal Spirits, the one that has for millennia sunk into oblivion every society and civilization afflicted by it. The expression, “Born on third base and thinks he hit a triple,” has been around for a long time to define the attitudes and demeanor of certain people. When these people buy secondnd base and then first it becomes their ballgame, they make the rules, and they always win. This analogy well represents what is happening in the US and in the world today. Even the pope has taken notice and has expressed dismay over what he calls “unfettered capitalism.” A bad case of pleonexia, the ruthless and arrogant assumption that others exist for one’s own benefit, with complete disregard for any considerations of common humanity. Doesn’t sound good, does it?

 Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do and have from the dawn of history. The story of civilization is littered with failed states.  When societies become excessively extractive in nature— when wealth has been redistributed unequally between the many and the few, collapse has inevitably followed. This is the story of extractive overreach.

In their book, “Animal Spirits”, Nobel Prize winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller explain the dynamics which drive the world of economics from pillar to post but never name the “beast.” I will venture to say that it wasn’t because they don’t know the beast, rather that it must not be spoken of. Lying at a comfortable remove from the name we dare not say, “Animal Spirits” is their euphemism of choice. (Alan Greenspan gave us “irrational exuberance.”)

Denial has become a style—don’t actually call things what they are but find ways to sanitize or neutralize them. Orwell called this “newspeak.” There are very good reasons for this: if we called some things what they really are, the social consequences would be dire. For example, Rebecca M. Blank, a first-rank candidate to serve on the Obama Council of Economic Advisors, was rejected for having said several years earlier, “A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to the redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system.” For having used the term “redistribution,” Ms Blank was not appointed.

It’s going to be a rough ride for this country as we establish just what kind of society we are becoming, what we are being driven to, against what we want to be. From Wisconsin to Texas, from one coast to the other, legislation to restrict voting rights, health care, even a simple resolution in Wisconsin to honor the children and teachers who were shot to death at Sandy Hook, could not pass the partisan legislature. Heartless, yes, and heartlessness of the sort that beggars the imagination—callow heartlessness that serves no purpose other than to attend a depraved, mean-spirited social agenda. The intellectual and moral polarization this represents is stark. Sadly we haven’t had leadership in recent years that measures up to the task at hand, to staunch the bleeding of social commitment, to truthfully explain to the country what is happening and why. Neoliberals are no more prone to truthfulness than Neoconservatives, and the rest of us are stuck in the middle.

It is, at times, impossible to grasp the many fronts in the assault on the American social contract. For example, the pawns and agents of the Animal Spirits are attacking society’s commitment to educate children. Schools are but one pawn in the game; there are many others: middle-class Americans who are in the process of becoming lower-class Americans are fair game. Like wolves, the Animal Spirits are circling with the scent of money in their snouts. Republican/Tea Party loyalists are howling about health care, unemployment, veterans’ health care, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs. Our Neoliberal president seems willing to throw those to the curb to achieve his “Grand Bargain.” The beast wants to tear down this edifice of civilized regard for others that has been built over the years to provide aid and comfort, food and medical care for the part of society that isn’t wealthy and never will be. The beast wants to maintain low wages so low that employers like Walmart will, out of the goodness of their hearts, sponsor food drives for their underpaid employees who can’t afford groceries enough to feed their families. The American middle class is fast becoming what an 18th-century Dutch economist called “the laborious poor.”

The Animal Spirits rise again and again. They are indefatigable. Economists offer euphemisms and technical terms because it is safer to frame the question as an economic abstraction when, actually, it is concretely moral. Greed is what we are talking about here. Greed has always been a moral question.

When the world reaches a point where the pope feels compelled to speak out about greed it is certain we have turned a significant corner in the human condition and the civil society. If we never call things what they are we will never deal with them. The arc of greed throughout history has only ever led to the collapse of every society so afflicted. Let’s call it what it is—pure, simple, old-fashioned, down-and-dirty greed. It should have been a four-letter word.

December 6, 2013


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