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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ideologically Speaking

A few decades ago I was the featured speaker during a Sunday Worship service at a community church in Kingston, Jamaica. For my text that morning I chose Psalm 24 verse 1..."The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." The Psalmist was of course being consistent with the worldview expressed in the Book of Deuteronomy where it is written: "Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it."

As a young man seriously preoccupied with issues of Justice, the sentiment expressed in this particular text had a certain resonance with me. It was the 1970s, and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa was generating a profound consciousness of the impact of a cruel system that disenfranchised the inhabitants of a country in which they were the majority. The name Nelson Mandela was well known in my generation, as he had become the face of the struggle against wickedness in our world.

That Sunday as I spoke to this congregation in Kingston, I sought to explore with them the contradictions inherent in a belief system that at once proclaimed the fatherhood of a loving God, while its adherents rationalized the very real inequities found in our social, political, and economic experiences. If we believe in the fatherhood of God, I argued, that then makes us brothers and sisters. As such we have a right to demand a certain quality of relationship with one another, relationships consistent with the nature of our heavenly parentage. What then gives a few of us the right to demand the lion's share of our Creator's endowment, while relegating our divine siblings to a life of poverty?

To further substantiate my point, I drew on The New Testament, specifically the Epistle of John which declares: "God is Love, and all who live in Love live in God, and God lives in them." This same Epistle goes on to hammer home the point that... If a man says he loves God whom he has not seen while he hates his brother whom he can see... That man is a liar! Made sense to me. This was a theological conclusion that nullified all the ideological rationalizations of those who practiced the evil of unbridled greed.

That morning as I stood in the doorway of that church greeting congregants as they exited, a man whom I had known since I was a boy walked up to me with a scowl on his face. I had known him all these years as the mild mannered insurance agent who had come to our home every month to collect the premiums on the policy my mother had purchased through him from a company which was one of the largest of its kind on the island. "You are a communist!" he reprimanded, as he passed me without offering his hand. He was very angry for some reason...Maybe something I had said? His rebuke surprised me... It took me a minute to recompose myself... But I was young and inexperienced in the art of ideological warfare,

Four decades later I have come to realize that the reaction of that mild mannered Christian businessman is pretty much the template for opposing the demand for economic and social justice in our society. "Communist!" is the epithet of choice for those who would deny the demand for equal treatment of all in our society. Anyone, preacher or politician, who dares stand up against the culture of inequity is branded as such in an effort to alienate them from a populace that has deep religious instincts. The obvious contradictions between a culture of greed and a faith that touts the brotherhood of man are thus hidden in the crude fog of what is called "a godless ideology". In the midst of this ideological fog I know this one thing for sure: We cannot own the Earth and its fullness... But we can be good stewards of its bounty. That is how we establish the brotherhood of mankind... And this is our divine calling.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Inherent Tensions of an Ever-Changing World

Driven by the inherent tensions of a dynamic environment, every generation produces its crop of seers proclaiming the end of the world. From leaders of religious sects to perusers of the Mayan calendar, they all proclaim various end-times scenarios. Whether religious or quasi-scientific, these eschatological prognostications may all be traceable (in our psyches) back to the anxieties related to an inability to deal with inevitable changes in the natural, political, cultural, spiritual, and social order of things.
One may observe, on further examination, that such predictions are a result of the clashes between inescapable chronological /historical realities and our kairotic under-development. When we are unable to reconcile the changes around us with our own inability to grow, our worlds come crashing in. This is always an uncomfortable reality. The inevitable tearing down of the walls that maintain the status quo creates a shaking that unsettles those unwilling to facilitate the emerging new order of things. The events that mark these critical developments in human history are well documented in the transitional epochs of various societies and civilizations. The revolutions and other social upheavals that mark these transitions remain lessons we must continue to learn from.
We cannot escape the consequences of our proverbial dogma being over-run by our karma, when our unwillingness to adjust our point of view makes coping almost impossible. So, for example, in a culture where racism proliferates, a person of the oppressed class ascending to the highest office in the land presents those who insist on maintaining the status quo with a crisis of gargantuan proportions. It happens in economies where workers rise in revolution against bosses who make more in a day than they make in a year. The world as they know it ends, and the readjustments necessary to cope with the new reality is, to say the least, overwhelming.
The same thing happens in the cultural/political environment when persons of the same gender begin to insist on the same conjugal rights as heterosexuals; or the female politician in a patriarchally oriented society insists on the shattering of the “glass ceiling” of male dominated pre-eminence.  It happens when “widow cleansing” is called by its real name “abuse”, wherever it occurs. It happens when women and girls insist on going to school when the males of those societies would rather they be uneducated and subservient. Why can’t women be priests and bishops and cardinals and pope? I would ask why homosexuals are rejected for ordination, but you would laugh at me, and rightly so. Hippocrites have built guarantees into their statusquoisms designed to facilitate their own existential challenges.
It is the inevitability of change that drives reactionary groups having to deal with a new cultural/political reality to announce that they have come "to take their country back”. This backwardness of which they speak is not just a function of chronology, as in back to a time when; it also expresses a wanting to repeal the socio/political/ cultural advances that they now see as a threat to an old status-quo. We have come to expect this dynamic to play itself out in the shift of power that then makes meaningful the declaration that every person has a right to determine her/his own destiny. Change, like any meaningful process of growth, is uncomfortable.  It demands new structures of being and  a reorientation of  our traditional mindsets. Storing new wine in old wine skins is never a viable proposal.
The demands of change make no exceptions for the unpreparedness of intransigent persons and their stale philosophical positions. Change prods us, in some cases... forcefully pushes us, toward a thorough examination of all our positions. The only thing sacred in this process is its necessity. For every anxious finger pointed at the new demands of an emerging new order of things, there are three pointing back at us and our own sacred cows.

Changing times necessitate a thorough examination of our most dearly held biases. They require, and force conversations about our most firmly held beliefs on family, religion, gender and sexuality, race, nationalistic claims; and all the alliances we have come to take for granted in our old sacrosanct world. It calls into question all the convenient  positions that we have built to maintain the status quo in our lives as individuals, as groups, and as nations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Jesus of History vs The Christ of Conservatives

Jesus upset the business of crooked capitalists
Jesus of Nazareth, whom many Conservatives worship as their “Savior”, was a man surrounded by the working class. He himself is believed by many to have been, among other things, a carpenter.  This was a man who understood the predicament of the Mary Magdalenes of his world. He did not look down his nose at fishermen among whom he moved easily, his buddy Peter being one of them. He got Matthew, a tax collector, to leave a profession that many saw as oppressive and join him in the work of liberation. Jesus stood up for the poor, as his embrace of that well read mission statement from Isaiah 61 shows. The good news he proclaimed to the poor was bad news for those who gained from keeping things the way they were.

There is no doubt in my mind that today’s Conservative would condemn this Nazarene’s “social gospel” as unadulterated Marxism. His relationship with the political leadership and its economic partners was by no means a comfortable one. Remember that incident with the “money changers” in the temple? These economic vampires were using their monopoly of the currency supply to make exorbitant profits, charging “whatever the market would bear” for coins that the people needed to pay their annual Temple tax. Jesus physically threw them out of the Temple after branding them “thieves”. Days later these same bankers called for his death. How dare he do anything to compromise their hard earned profit margins. 

According to Bloomberg, the average CEO makes 204 times the salary of the average employee. Is this what we mean in fact when we spout off about “American exceptionalism”? How long will civility hold when the social contract engendered by our economic relationships continues to guarantee the fecundity of the few at the expense of the many? Simply put, how long can we expect that the poor will accept that their lot in this life is to be fodder for the ambitions of the greedy rich? 

It is crystal clear to me that the Christ of Conservatives is most definitely not the Jesus of History.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Media, Hate-mongering, and the Love of Money

Ultimately, corporate media is driven... in all things, by its profit motif. Those who own and operate the media complexes that muscle their way into our attention, have no more noble an aspiration than to maximize their profit potential. They know that it takes money to make money, and they are committed to the making of money by any means necessary.

To accomplish their goal, programmers must attract and hold our attention. The formula for doing so is a rather uncomplicated one... present more and more of the stuff that their core audience "love" to see and hear. Those who want truth and esthetically uplifting content will generally not be satisfied with the content on our most dominant networks. These networks feed at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They tap into the insecurities that drive those still focused on their own survival in a dog eat dog world, and cultivate their fears with an unrelenting persistence. 

A culture of insecurity has become the desired environment for those who seek to profit from an audience still preoccupied with issues of its own basic survival. Through well honed "dog whistles", groups are turned against groups. The crass political banter that passes as "discussion" on daily news programs are just representations of this dynamic. The most basic of our human concerns are exploited through the grossest of our individual instincts. Our need to procreate and our anxieties about our ultimate decline become the triggers that get us to act out against each other in the cultural and political arena. 

Sex and violence... Self-propagation and death... These are the triggers constantly being fingered to keep us on the edge of our existential seats. From cartoons to fake reality shows; every dramatic medium is utilized to cultivate mindsets that then become the agencies of the mayhem that we witness all too often in our society.

Our preoccupation with the underlying insecurities in our psyches is what explains the phenomenal rise of politicians who exploit the insecurities of a declining middle class. By generalizing about immigrants as "rapists" and "murderers", these charlatans tap into and exploit the most basic fears of the group they see as their ticket to the the top of the political hill. The whores in corporate media then partner with their political counterparts in the enterprise of hate-mongering to maximize their audience share... and therefore their profit margins. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mr Bombastic... Donald Trump's Season of Bluster

Wise leaders are known for their measured tone, their demonstrated ability to think things through, and their penchant for clarity in the presentation of complex issues. They present themselves, and their philosophical offerings, with an evenness of temperament that commands the attention of the most critical audience. Their depth of perspective makes those willing to work for progress in their societies, and toward a better world, want to emulate them. Such persons have mastered the art of subjecting their egos to the discipline necessary for the lifting up of their stated purpose above the pettiness and dysfunctions of their personalities. Wise leaders understand that the greater good lies above and beyond the afflictions of selfishness.

Consider the experiences of a Nelson Mandela. The wit and wisdom of this revered patriot of the new South Africa were molded in the harsh flames of a process of dehumanization that many of us can identify with. Many among us can connect with Mandela's struggles because we were subjected to that same process of dehumanization as a function of our common history. We  still bear the existential scars of a history of domination through colonization. The vile injustices of the system of apartheid birthed by greed, and nurtured through white racist cultural praxis, snuffed out the hopes and potentials of many generations of dominated peoples of color. It thwarted the aspirations and shared dreams of one generation of black South Africans after another.

Nelson Mandela had every reason to lash out at this system of injustice with all the energies of his humanity. One could well understand if he and others like himself let loose that hostility borne on the shoulders of a systemic process of disenfranchisement and dehumanization. They had every reason to be hateful. Yet, what we got from Nelson Mandela as a leader was the kind of determination and focus that was inspirational not just to the oppressed masses, but to their oppressors. A true leader understands that we cannot save ourselves, nor will we prosper, by pursuing the denigration and destruction of those we perceive as "others". Wise leaders understand the sacred responsibility that we all have to water the seeds of our common humanity, and to see to their growth and prosperity. That is how we build great nations. That is how we will become great... again.

As a society that aspires to greatness we have come to expect a certain maturity in the moral and intellectual disposition of those who would occupy the highest office in the land. By "maturity" we do not mean perfection. The fact is we have seen our share of moral and intellectual infants among those who have aspired to the Presidency. Indeed we have endured the coming and going of those who lacked both character and charisma. Imbecilic tendencies run rampant in those who desire greatness but have not cultivated a value system that would inform and validate their ambitions. It is in consideration of this reality... of this history... that many now ask: Is Donald Trump the worst candidate for President we have ever seen?

After his primary victory in Indiana Trump is quoted as saying: "We're not gonna lose. We're gonna starting winning again, and we're gonna win bigly". This is the exotic rhetorical formulation that came out of the philosophical treasure chest of a presidential candidate who "went to the best schools". They are the declarations of someone we can now justly call Mr Bombastic. This is a man who tends to make up for the deficiencies in his ideas with a kind of novel grandiloquence. He compensates for his lack of charisma with an unsettling pomposity, parading his affluence with a grossness unbecoming of one who would lead a nation where the top one percent own more wealth that the bottom ninety percent. His "trophies", from Mara Lago to Trump Tower, all declare: If you are not me, you are a loser! Look at how bigly have succeeded... and how miserably the rest of you have failed!

Trump's pseudo-verbosity is devoid of meaningfulness. In terms of what we should expect of a presidential candidate and a world leader, he is the proverbial "empty suit". He insists that he is not a politician... of that we are sure. If by politician we mean: a person experienced in the science of government, or one engaged in conducting the business of government; then we are most certainly not speaking of Mr Donald Trump. He has demonstrated no real grasp of what is entailed in the position for which he lusts. Everything we have seen so far tells us that he possesses neither the temperament nor the character to be Commander In Chief.

What Trump lacks in substance he makes up for in bluster. He has demonstrated no fluency in any of the issues that demand the attention of an occupant of the Oval Office. What Mr Bombastic is very fluent in are the gross insults and indecent aspersions that he carelessly discharges at anyone who dares to require him to speak intelligently and cogently to any issue. In place of any effort to be a meaningfully articulate candidate, what we have in Trump is a carnival barker. Given his current negatives among every polled demographic, his chances of being elected to the Presidency are close to zero. Trump is perceived as being such a liability to the GOP that many of their most prominent officials have vowed never to vote for him. Many Republicans are shaking in their political boots at the down-ticket implications of an election that has him at the head of the ticket.

All considered, Trump's ascendance to the the top of the Republican ticket is in fact the ultimate expression of poetic justice. This is the chicken that the GOP has hatched after seven years of roosting with the TeaParty. They now find themselves in the awkward position of desperately wanting to defeather their own hatchling. This is without doubt a painful existential moment for the Grand Ole Party. When they look at the face of this bombastic offspring of their own reactionary overindulgence they see themselves... And it is not a pretty sight. They would love to snuff out his political breath, or put a cork in his outrageous mouth... but it is too late. Short of breaking his proverbial wings with the blunt force of some kind of obstructive maneuver, they are helpless. They are at the mercy of his bombast and bluster. The GOP is now left to tend to its own self-inflicted wounds. One look at Reince Priebus' face during recent interviews reveals the extent of their pain.

For Donald Trump's part, the true nature and potential of his ascendancy is about to be revealed. The prospect of having his wings clipped by the Grand Ole Party that regards him with unbridled disgust is one thing. Finding out that his rise has largely been a function of the superficial nature of the whole process will be quite another. He seems genuinely surprised that he rose to the top of what was quite a heap. His closeness to the luster of the nation's highest office is apparently quite thrilling to him. Like the son of Daedalus, he is all fired up about his ability to rise to unexpected heights. Hell, he had no problem negotiating the GOP's political labyrinth. Daedalus is to Icarus what the Republican Party is to Donald Trump... His daddy.

But, like Icarus flying too close to the sun with wings created by his father, when Donald discovers that the feathers enabling his political rise are fixed by wax... his will be quite a dilemma. The fate of our Greek protagonist is not to be wished on anyone. If Mr Bombastic is lucky he may land on another one of those TV reality dramas... much diminished of course, but with the ability to rehabilitate his unwieldy ego much like the banks have repeatedly rehabilitated his financial life. Icarus was not so lucky... he fell into the sea and drowned, leaving his father to bitterly lament his own craft... Much like the GOP will lament theirs.