Sunday, September 11, 2016

Jesus, Spanglish, Elections, Standing Rock, and other stuff

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

-Matthew 6:24 

I'm gonna ramble here. This is not a linear post.

For most of the summer, we've had grandchildren staying with us. Grandchildren of a certain age (7 & 9 in our case) are wonderful. They also demand a great deal of grandparents' time. If you fail to attend to them for very long, they will so something to endanger items of property, pets, or themselves. So watching them consumes too much of one's time to focus adequately on writing projects that require more reflection and correction.

Humans and their extended infant dependency!

Meanwhile, there has been this unusual election year; and I've been posting these little puffs and pops on facebook, because . . . well, anything longer would require attention focused elsewhere than two energetic children. Now they have returned to our grown children, and the only thing left we are babysitting is an energetic boxer (the dog kind). So I want to spell out in a somewhat more extended and coherent way my own orientation to this election year as a Christian; that is, as one who at least wants to follow Jesus. I seldom do that well (follow Jesus), but then the invitation was sent "not for the righteous, but for sinners." So I'm probably in the right place.

I have a lot of facebook 'friends' who I know scratch their heads about the things I post and say there, because the things I seem to advocate and oppose appear contradictory. I should explain that first, then the rest of this post will make more sense.

I've never had an original thought in my life, but I speak Spanglish. Gloria Anzaldúa once described her experience as a feminist and a Mexican-American as mestiza consciousness, a kind of fluency in two different worlds that others tended to separate.

When I say I'm speaking Spanglish, I mean I am operating from several different perspectives with several different 'languages.' This is why some things I say about American politics may appear contradictory. They don't fit into the standard line-item checklist for liberals or conservatives or progressives, because those categories as they are now generally understood are comparatively new and rather taken for granted as a result of media repetition. My own influences are sometimes heterodox, sometimes orthodox, and in some cases, pretty old.

I have been influenced, for example, by the Army, by theologians Amy Laura Hall and Stanley Hauerwas, by Marx and Marxists (not the same), by a lengthy list of feminists, by black nationalists, by a very mestiza family, by churches, by living with my wife Sherry, by trying to garden, by the experience of political organizing, by reading crime fiction and anthropology and Shakespeare. Even by stints as a stone mason's assistant and as part of a deconstruction crew (nothing to do with postmodernism, we took apart houses by hand to salvage what we could). In all that, I remained something continuous, too, embodied from conception to eventual death, held together in consciousness by an unreliable memory. We all have. We all are. As a Christian, there is one influence that supercedes all the others for me and will orient every conclusion at which this post will ultimately arrive.

There are influences on influences, influencers of influencers, like an ever deeper and continuously bifurcating network of roots for anyone. If you want to break the code Hauerwas, for example, you'll need to study MacIntyre. If you want to understand Marx, you'll need a little Hegel. If you want to understand certain feminists, you may need some Marx or some Du Bois or some de Beauvoir or some Woolf or some Foucault, and so forth.

On Alasdair MacIntyre, not an accidental aforemention here - he has had a strong influence on my study of 'ethics.' MacIntyre is influenced by Thomas Aquinas, who himself worked out a system based on a kind of mestiza consciousness - fluency in more than one thing. Aquinas became fluent in Aristotle and Augustine (A's were apparently popular back in the day), who before Aquinas everyone assumed were at total odds - because they were speaking different languages past each other. It took the 'bilingual' Aquinas to use Aristotle to correct weaknesses in Augustine and Augustine to correct weaknesses in Aristotle.

The point is, there are still occasions in which one 'language' is spoken past another, and two points of view seem irreconcilable; but their incommensurability can be overcome to one degree or another by people who speak Spanglish, who are fluent enough in more than each language to be able to find enough terms in common to see where one language has a weakness that another can correct, and vise versa. To anyone who speaks only one of those languages, this may appear contradictory.

I am myself a sort of fledgling Thomist, inasmuch as it is a method-from-tradition and not a set of permanently fixed propositions. In other words, one can be a Thomist without agreeing with everything Thomas Aquinas said. The method and framework is open to adaptation in the light of new evidence, described in demonstration and dialectic, but it retains a traditional framework wherein there is a complex relationship between the virtues of courage, temperance, justice, et al - none of them standing alone - and the conviction that these can not be apprehended apart from practices, which are formed by habits, which are formed in relationships with parents or mentors or craft masters or instructors, etc., who share one's practice and community. Whew!

Anyone who is interested in this in depth needs to read Alasdair MacIntyre, beginning with After Virtue, Whose Justice, Which Rationality, and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. These are part of my philosophical playbook, but so are several key feminist thinkers - which include Kate Millett, Adrienne Rich, Andrea Dworkin, Julia Kristeva, Maria Mies, bell hooks, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Catharine MacKinnon, Carole Pateman, Carolyn Merchant, Nancy C.M. Hartsock, Jessica Benjamin, Susan Bordo, Kimberly Crenshaw, Sarah Coakley, Vandana Shiva, Luce Irigaray, Zillah Eisenstein, Angela Davis, Carol Gilligan, Patricia Hill Collins, Susan Brownmiller, Judith Butler, Gloria Anzaldúa, Susan Faludi, Linda Kintz, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Simone de Beauvoir, Tina Beattie, Sandra Harding, Mary Douglas, Alice Walker, Nancy Chodorow, Nancy Fraser, Mariarosa Della Costa, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Hortense Spillers, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Amy Laura Hall, D. A. Clarke, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Karen Horney, Germaine Greer, Emma Goldman, Donna Haraway, Heidi Hartmann, Selma James, and a few others I can't call to mind right this moment.

I wrote a whole book, in fact, called Borderline, which tries to make the case that the weaknesses of several key schools of feminism can be corrected by Thomism and the weaknesses of Thomism can be corrected by key insights from feminist scholars. What is glaringly missing from Thomism are the standpoints of women as articulated by feminists. Likewise, Thomism challenges the unexamined Kantian assumptions of many feminists. There are, in fact, many criticisms that Thomists and some feminists hold in common, which is why I felt it was feasible to put them into conversations with one another in this book, which actually focused on the relation between masculinity and militarism.

I'm far from being a Thomas Aquinas, but again this is what he did with Augustine and Aristotle - let certain insights from one correct weaknesses in the other. Learn the 'languages' to fluency in order to transcend apparent incommensurabilities. Learn a little Spanglish.

I am a former Marxist. I speak Marxism and its dialect post-Marxism. It will become apparent that I am no longer a Marxist, though I still have friends who are. I believe there is a space for dialogue between Christians and Marxists and even collaboration in the field of politics. Like that other former Marxist and now Thomist, Alasdair MacIntyre, I believe - if we are choosing among the various methods of socio-political critique available to the modern/postmodern world - that Marxism is one thousand times more useful than liberalism, the latter of which boils down to an apologetic for the Western imperial status quo.

Marxism has baggage, specifically the kinds of violent politics which has been practiced in the name of Marxism, and the consequentialist ethic that underwrote authoritarian state socialism. Marxists themselves have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how the Soviet Union became a violent bureaucratic nightmare that quickly transformed itself into gangster capitalism after it fell, and how the Chinese Revolution finally transformed itself into the Asian authoritarian bastion of neoliberalism.

One explanation is that Marx may have misjudged the future of socialism, but he correctly judged the structure and future of capitalism. That's simplistic, even if there is a grain of truth there. Like Thomism, Marxism has retained a capacity for self-correction within its basic analytical method, which, while it also retains an unfortunate Hegelian tendency to accept a 'progress narrative,' it has inverted Hegel's idealism, meaning Marxists assign a more determinate role to the built environment and lived experience than to ideas.

I believe there is also a hidden law of institutional scale that operates in any social project that always tends toward both bureaucratism and authoritarianism, but that is another topic. What needs separating here is the difference between Marxism, the political project, and Marxism, the interpretive method. It is the method that has proven useful, again, far more useful than the methods of liberalism which serve to justify liberalism.

If Marxism articulates one crucial concept that Christians need to apprehend for the discernment of social issues, it is fetishism, which is related to the ways in which the organization of ideas as common sense can simultaneously conceal and reproduce power. Fetishism is the concealment of power in social relations by the appearance of a thing (commodities, for example) apart from their history and origins. When you see the box of cherries at the grocery store, exchangeable for a sum of money (an ecosemiotic phenomenon, that is, a 'sign' that can dissolve or disembed things from their ecological contexts), you do not see the way the land is used, or the water, you do not see the ownership of the land that produced the cherries in, for example, Chile, or the landless poverty that forces low wage workers to serve as farm labor, or likewise the networks of power and ownership and domination that ship the cherries to your grocery store, or the power exercised in the store itself between owners, managers, and floor workers.

The whole process is reduced to monetary exchange, money being the 'sign' that allows someone in Michigan or Arkansas to eat cherries from Chile. Hornborg says that general purpose money is what makes rain forests exchangeable with Coca-Cola.

And if Marxists themselves are to overcome their Promethean commitment to industrialism, they will need to learn what the aforementioned Alf Hornborg has called - using the term fetishism correctly - machine fetishism. Just as a commodity appears with invisiblized social relations, the machine itself - or modern technology - carries an unseen social relation that is inherently imperial.

I am composing this treatment on a computer. Computers have become irreplaceable in the current U.S. and world economy. Computers are made from several essential and imported materials – cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, iron from Brazil, palladium from Botswana, gold from Costa Rica, copper from Chile, selenium from the Philippines, zinc from Peru, silver and antimony from Mexico, chromium, manganese, and platinum from South Africa, and aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury from China. These are also the essential materials in every core-nation’s governance and management systems, in maintaining our energy and transportation grids, in education, and in high-technology weapons systems.There are two principle and related facets of American power that assure the reliable inflows of these materials: financial hegemony with military power as both accelerator and backstop. This power is employed not merely to ensure importation, but to acquireimports at unequal exchange rates. 

Technology is not morally-neutral. Ever. Claiming it can only be judged by how it is employed is an example of machine fetishism, which underwrites Marxian Promethenaism.

Marxist Prometheanism, which is being challenged by eco-socialists with Marxist roots in some quarters, is in part attributable to an adherence to the Cartesian objectification of nature in conjunction with the Baconian project to dominate and subdue this objectified nature, and interpretatively situated within the Hegelian framework of history as the rising spiral staircase (progress).

The blind spots of Marxism - in which domination (of nature) plays a major role - has been most effectively and deeply critiqued by feminism, which also exposed the adherence of many Marxists to the previously cited public-private dichotomy, carried over from antiquity, and modified in each epoch to accomplish the same thing: to devalue and subordinate women.
Turning toward the woman, Jesus said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”

-Luke 7:43 
I know I can be accused of defaulting to questions of sex/gender regardless of the topic (guilty), which here includes neoliberalism, ecologic threat, and the convergence of crises - all of which I will address further along. I may as well explain that while we're on the topic: the short version is that gender (as a system that divides power, beginning in the 'private' sphere) is prior to, deeper than, and provides the original coordinates for class - the system that divides economic power in the 'public' eye.

It's another critique I have of the left that many leftists still cling to the last grasping vestiges of the class-only/class-first/class-as-the-primary-contradiction school of the left that we inherited from the nineteenth century. That is not to say that this is some competition or division between which is the most formative, because in reality and apart from our analytical dissections, class and gender and race are but aspects of one dynamic and inseparable whole that is cultural-political power. The invisibility of gender to influential men of the past - even on the left - and the tendency, conscious or subconscious, for men to defend their power and prerogatives, as well as the general blindness of many political theorists and scholars to the gendered origins of concepts that now conceal those origins in gender-neutralized language, have all contributed to this reluctance, and even an element of reaction that tends to rationalize itself by dismissing feminism as 'identity politics.' 

Feminism already draws variously on Aristotle, Descartes, Lacan, Marx, Nietzsche, Althusser, Derrida, and on and on, through a long menu of male scholars and philosophers, adapting these (male) ideas from unacknowledged male standpoints to the explicit standpoints of women.

Feminism corrects Thomism (and its Aristotlelian antecedent), in just one more example, by unmasking the public-private dichotomy that constructs the polis. Let me back up and briefly explain.

Marxists point out is that those who control the means of production (the ruling class, though now they are under the sway of those who control the FIRE sector - rentier capitalists who deal in finance, insurance, and real estate) control the production of our ideas. What passes for conventional wisdom feels natural (there is that naturalization again) and so appears to be self-evident, even when certain common sense presumptions are patently false. Culture is the carrier of these ideas. Our individualism, for example, our materialism, our affinity for 'success,' our belief in redemptive violence, our concepts of masculinity/femininity, our American exceptionalism, our faith in 'experts,' our ideas about 'healthy' relationships, and so an and so forth, are all constantly reproduced by the culture - our work, our technologies, our art, our language, laws, customs . . . our habits. The paradox is that we are inevitably specific, embodied, and embedded in a culture which now reproduces the idea that we are all abstracted, disembodied, and disembedded 'individuals,' and idea enshrined in liberal law (thank you, Catharine MacKinnon).

This enshrinement in law of a completely abstracted individual is necessary to support the idea of 'equality,' which can have no concrete meaning among 7 billion people not one of which is exactly like the other.

This is why this legal liberal individual is stripped of age, ethnicity, sex, family, history, location, etc. It is the only way to make a claim of equality. But what MacKinnon showed is that this abstract equality actually conceals a host of unjust inequalities (my qualifier) that operate prior to the operation of the law. As Anatole France said, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, sleep under bridges, and steal bread."

The legal individual and the notion of equality, then, are common sense, naturalized, enculturated, but they don't hold up well to an analysis that goes out of bounds, that adopts a different standpoint from the culture. On this, we find common ground between the Thomist Hauerwas and the radical feminist MacKinnon (Hauerwas actually quotes MacKinnon on more than one occasion.)

On the other hand, the virtue ethics of the Thomist that are embedded in a tradition, have not yet caught up with the feminist critique of an organizing principle held in common by the classic philosophers of the polis (and Thomists as well) and the modern liberals: that public-private dichotomy.

Liberals and even progressives are quick to defend 'privacy,' and claim that there is a realm into which the public/state should not intervene - the private. But they fail to grasp the history of this separation, which divided the public (male) sphere from the private (captive female sphere), which ceded power to males over females and children in the household. "A man's home is his castle."

In other words, the idea of the private sphere is a place where power is divided by sex, where being the dominant male makes one a Lord in his castle.

The public-private dichotomy and its 'right to privacy' are likewise used to shield the activities of 'private' business, i.e., corporations, etc., from public scrutiny. Finally, the public-private dichotomy is used as a shell game in 'public-private' partnerships to conceal certain aspects of ruling class activity from scrutiny as well as to siphon 'public' funds into 'private' coffers.

One glaring example of this is the ever-more-widespread use of incorporated mercenaries ('contractors') by the mendaciously named Department of 'Defense.'

Maria Mies has pointed out that this public-private dichotomy also serves to devalue the unwaged work of women. It is unlikely that most people, especially liberals, who trumpet the 'right to privacy' as a basis for arguments, say, to remove various sexual activities from the purview of law, either understand or support this more nefarious aspect of the dichotomy.

Thomism, on the other hand, can assist feminism in escaping from it inability to resolve the ethical contradiction between consequentialism and deontology, by showing how Kant and Bentham, e.g., both share a similar delusion - of one overarching, universal, and disembodied ethical presumption, and the endless as well as endlessly fruitless trap of abstraction (which Catharine MacKinnon, as a radical (post-Marxist) feminist critiqued successfully in law, but still adhered to, imo, with the notions of 'sexuality' and 'equality').

This gets kind of tortured, but bear with me. Feminism, like Marxism and Thomism, has its own drama of internal controversies.

One of the key struggles within feminism, in fact, that I have been obliged to engage in the study of the relation between sex and power has been the controversy arising between radical feminists (who are essentially post-Marxists) and the post-structuralists (who are essentially post-Nietzscheans). 

Here is what I have in common with Marxists as a Thomist (even though the Thomist MacIntyre, a former Trotskyist, has quipped that the only thing Marxists and Thomists agree upon is that their orientations are incompatible), and the reason why I remain in conversation with Marxists and why I, as a Christian and a Catholic one at that, anticipate political alliances with some Marxists and post-Marxist feminists. Contra some postmodernists and poststructuralists, who made the claim that reality is structured by language (or text) - which is true - and then jump to the conclusion that there is no reality apart from that narrative, that language, that text - which is not true (they are choosing sides in a false dualism), both Thomists and Marxists (including post-Marxist feminists) agree that there is something 'solid' that stands apart from 'the text,' else we couldn't communicate at all. Soldiers are also forced to assume realities that exist apart from 'the text,' as are carpenters and nurses and mothers, et al.

No one actually lives as a radical poststructuralist (which hearkens back to Nietzsche's love of sophistry and iconoclasm [his whole body of work was a rebellion against his dad, imo]). This is why I sometimes have a hard time taking them seriously. You cannot drive a car in traffic, for example, and exercise the notional privilege of the academic by regarding the road signs, the other cars and drivers, the boundaries of the roads, and the operation of one's own vehicle, as 'mere' social constructions. Yes, there is social construction in all of it, but these constructions correspond to things that would remain whether or not we acknowledge their existence (they are there whether we are looking at/thinking about them or not), and without their material existence, there would be no shared references in material reality between oneself and other drivers. The 'no passing' sign is a sign (in the semiotic sense), a text, a social construction, to be sure, but it is also made of metal and paint, situated in time and space, perceived through embodied senses, and interpreted through a biologically-based central nervous system.

It is also for this reason that I agree more often with radical feminists (who are post-Marxists) than with poststructuralist feminists (who are post-Nietzscheans).

My tensions with Marxists and with radical (post-Marxist) feminists are pretty close to the same things: (1) the reduction of every person to a political subject (women are women as political subjects, e.g., but they are also daughters, sisters, mothers, etc., which often define the limits of an actual woman as a political subject - same thing applies to workers). (2) The lack of psychological depth in their analyses (why do we not follow the various formulae of political struggle, and why do we sometimes participate in our own oppression?). Some have tried to correct this with Lacan (which harkens to Freud), but for me the theories of mimetic learning and intersubjective psychoanalysis (Freud and Lacan are intra-psychic theorists) are more useful, especially Jessica Benjamin's theses on domination. (3) The centrality of 'structural' conflict (most people don't have the time or inclination for relentless political struggles). And this last is a vestige of Hegelian abstraction, which is analytically useful but also dangerously deceptive.

Conservative ecumenical churchmen (mostly men) and Marxists (also mostly men), it turns out, often have a common philosophical ancestor in Hegel. Post-structuralists, who have established themselves as a kind of late capitalist academic dogma, seldom go back and examine the roots of their dogma in Nietzsche, who celebrated sophistry, warfare, and the utter enslavement of women, even though the most vocal post-structuralists are now academic 'feminists' who only name their philosophical ancestry as far back as Foucault (who was a Nietzschean).

Amy Laura Hall recently remarked that Hegel tried to explain the whole world as a vast metaphorical history reaching toward some secular Christian idea (contradictory, yes, but he did) - and that metaphor became the myth of progress, including the pseudo-eschatological visions of communists and anarchists. I blame abstraction to a great degree, which Hegel inherited from Descartes, Bacon, Böhme, Kant, etc.

Here is one of my issues with Hegel, nicely summed up by Hall, in her writing on Kierkegaard:
I continue to teach Kierkegaard’s Works of Love in part because I believe [it] continues to pertain today. The unspooling of what I will call ‘Hegelianism,’ through Marxism, social-Darwinism, and multiple other compatible descriptions of the ‘moving stair of human history’ continues in dominant Western culture and, inasmuch as dominant Western culture continues to define everything that marks an upward trend of ‘progress’ and ‘development,’ also in non-Western areas seeking the legitimacy of dominant Western culture. There is still very much of an incentive to . . .‘fathom the regularities of the world plan and know one’s place in it’. ‘God’ can become the liquidator of individuality, to make a person see herself as a serviceable tool for the ideology and economic machinery of a region, a family, a nation, or any other human institution.
It is this idea that history is aimed at the pinnacle of progress, whether that is Hegel's Ideal (state) or Marx's final communist pseudo-eschatology after the "withering away of the state," underwrites our most catastrophic and self-deluded efforts to 'design societies' and 'build communities' (note the mechanism of these metaphors).

But to give the Marxists their due - again they can self-correct, even as Thomists can - the post-Marxist Hornborg describes the fundamental problem with the progress narrative in terms that are intelligible to Marxists, i.e., fetishism (in this case, applied to technology):
The main argument  regarding 'machine fetishism' is that the modern concept of 'technology' is a cultural category. It refers to what is technically feasible to achieve at a given time and place, but remains largely oblivious to the extent to which a local increase in in technological capacity is a matter of shifting resources from one social category to another within global society. [see above on computer components] The notion of 'fetishism' can be applied so as to suggest that the apparent generative capacity of machine technology is an instance of how the attribution of autonomous productivity to material artefacts can serve to conceal unequal relations of exchange. The unequal exchange underlying machine technology can only be revealed by exposing, beyond the monetary price tags reified by conventional market ideology, material asymmetries in the net flows of biophysical resources gauged in terms of alternative metrics such as energy, matter, embodied land (ecological footprints), or embodied labour. The mechanical 'power' of the machine is thus an expression of the economic and ideological 'power' through which it is sustained. Ultimately, what keeps our machines running are the global terms of trade.

The prospect of peaking oil extraction presently prompts us to rethink processes of development and decline in the world system. Rather than simply revive Malthusian concerns over the dismal destiny of humankind as a whole, we need to approach the popular notion of 'cheap energy' as an experience situated in social space as well as historical time. Energy has been perceived as 'cheap' only within core segments of world society, whose ideology of progress and development has tended to construe contemporary global inequalities as representing different stages in time. Draft animals and wood are here often perceived as elements of the past, yet remain an everyday reality for significant parts of the world's population. . .

. . ."[M]ainstream modern conceptions of 'development' can be viewed as a cultural illusion confusing a privileged position in social space with an advanced position in historical time." (Hornborg, Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange)
This is not merely the progress narrative of some Marxists, but of some feminists, and of many members of liberal churches. It is at the center of 'progressive' ideology, which has been criticized roundly by Christians as diverse as Karl Polanyi, Karl Barth, Amy Laura Hall, Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jacques Ellul, Charles Taylor, and Ivan Illich.

The greatest historical embarrassment of progressivism is eugenics, which was situated within progressivism's original, aggressive, and masculinist social Darwinism.

The word progress, used in the sense of historical inevitability, didn’t appear until around 1600, and then only occasionally. It was not an ideological term until the nineteenth century, and then mostly in the United States, especially around the time of the Civil War. The British long considered it to be an Americanism. By the turn of the twentieth century, the term became the root of a new American noun that was explicitly ideological: progressive.

The “scandal of particularity” with regard to progress is that it is not universal and axiomatic; it is a particular notional construction of a particular culture and epoch. Particularity forces us to turn to an embarrassing question about results. If this is just an idea, what is our idea of the goal of progress? What is the final result that progress aims at, or that it is being pulled toward? How do we know when we have reached the goal? Honest natural science, ironically enough, has confronted us with some pretty scary answers about where our current progressive trajectory has aimed us. Ronald Wright writes that “material progress creates problems that are—or seem to be—soluble only by further progress . . . the devil here is in the scale: a good bang can be useful; a better bang can end the world.”

Progress constructed as economic “growth,” the belief in ceaseless commodification, has thrust humanity into simultaneous and terrifying ecological and cultural impasses. Progress has given us the ability to wreck the biosphere and blow ourselves up, yet the very people who seem most interested at the moment in turning these trajectories around insist on calling themselves “progressives.” This to some degree accounts for why our record at turning things around has been so dismal. We use the methods of progress to correct the problems of progress.

Smith documented the emergence of cleanliness, respectability, and progress as part of the same constellation of meaning in affluent Western culture and showed how consumption was part of that movement, tangentially understood but materially essential to it. This constellation of respectability, progress, and cleanliness was inscribed on a worldview that drew a borderline between the civilized imperial cores and the barbaric (we now say “under-developed”) peripheries. Women were charged with upholding civilization through domestic respectability. They promoted progress via domestic femininity, including the provision of an appropriate environment for raising children. Roosevelt emphasized the role of women as breeders, producing vigorous citizens and soldiers. After the war, public relations amplified the notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority, a providential United States tutoring its colonies, and of progress, in order to conform the American public to the postwar buildup of a white industrialized nation.

The discourse was increasingly medicalized. The body, like the soldier’s inducted body, was the object of a program of professional evaluation and optimization; and the body politic was likewise understood as one that had to be simultaneously optimized and protected from disease and disability. The female body became a site of social re-production. The womb became the means of production for new citizens. (Borderline, pp. 301-2)
Re Hornborg above, the progress narrative, or progress myth, is inherently imperial, but it conceals its imperial roots and aspirations with a collective we that separates the exploiting core from the exploited periphery into time (false) instead of space. Those poor people are 'under-developed,' 'backward,' 'stuck in the past.'

Progressive white American churches in the early twentieth century were explicit in their support of eugenics. This is where I am going to complicate the topic of abortion - because it is a major fault line between many Christians and many progressives.

There are a host of articles appearing on the internet, on Christian and Catholic Christian sites, with titles like: "How does a Christian vote in this election?"

This is not surprising, because there are tens of millions of American citizens who - faced with a choice between an arch-neoliberal warmonger and loony narcissist - are being abraded by the realization that this whole voting thing is not an expression of popular will - at least not on the scale of a nation of 323 million people - but the outcome of a ruling class game, sublimating a war for leadership, and played on a field that has been destroyed by a storm.

One thing that constantly rears its head in this discussion among Christians is the question of abortion. And it is a minefield for at least two reasons: first, there are three absolutely different bottom lines on both sides of the question as it is posed with regard to policy; second, the reduction of the issue to a question of policy and law has distorted the arguments of both sides by the tendency of policy fights to resort to manipulative speech; and third, there are mixed motives, the most important of which, in my view, is that many Christian men oppose abortion not because they oppose killing (they are happy to support capital punishment, war, and even vigilante killing), but because they want to retain control over women in that so-called 'private sphere.'

The core convictions of so-called pro-choice and pro-life advocates, their lines in the sand, can never be reconciled. Opponents of abortion say that our personhood begins as conception, that killing a person is murder, and that killing a person who is conceived but unborn, then, is a form of murder.

Proponents of abortion say that a woman cannot be an autonomous political subject without sovereignty over her own body; and they deny the personhood of the 'fetus' (which they sometimes refuse to call a prenatal human) so long as the yet-to-be-born relies exclusively on its mother's internal biology for its life.

The very terms pro-choice and pro-life are polemical and conceal more than they reveal, because they are deployed on behalf of policy debates. The actual debate is between those who oppose abortion (anti-abortion) and those who believe it should be legalized (pro-legalized abortion).

The debate itself happens against a background of historical patriarchy, in which women were legally subject to the wills of fathers and husbands and even brothers, and many women-as-women are still subject to the will (prior to and apart from law) of men-as-men, which complicates the issue itself.

Many male anti-abortionists see the issue as part of their own larger agenda to prevent the loss of male power over women generally and to restore an earlier gender order. But these are not all anti-abortionists. There are substantial numbers of women who oppose abortion, as well as anti-abortion feminists (though some feminists who would enforce feminism as a set of propositions will argue that this disqualifies them as feminists).

This is more complicated for atheist and agnostic feminists than it is for Christian feminists (many of whom are opposed to abortion because they seek a consistent ethic of nonviolence - also opposing war and capital punishment), in the same way the debate about pornography is complicated for radical feminists who oppose pornography. In both cases, either anti-abortion feminists or anti-pornography feminists, opponents employ guilt-by-association arguments against them because on one or the other of these 'issues,' they contingently agree with many conservatives.

Christian feminists are asserting the standpoints of women within the Christian framework, where 'liberal' and 'conservative' tend to lose their popular meanings. And some feminists - again, who make feminism a set of inviolable propositions - will deny that a Christian can be feminist.

Speaking for myself, here, I am avoiding this question for the same reason I avoid the question of who is a real man or a real woman or a real progressive or a real Marxist or a real Christian, etc. In understand the need for standards, read Mary Douglas on boundaries and communities (purity and pollution), and agree that terms should stand for something; but there is an element of the tail wagging the dog in this, too. Mark 2:27 is when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees (and I would argue that Jesus was quite Pharisaical in many ways) for the tail wagging the dog with regard to Sabbath. This or that litmus test becomes a means of policing and excluding instead of a gift of and for the community.

I'm not seeking membership in anything (I am a baptized Christian already), certainly not to become a 'progressive,' and trying to get at certain truths that bear on questions of politics which may very well force us to look beyond the assumptions that underwrite various membership criteria.

I'll say up front that I oppose the criminalization of abortion, even though I would never encourage abortion to anyone (as a man, I am obliged to remain a step back), because if it were treated as legal murder, more than half the women I know would then be imprisoned. If that jars us because we have determined the formula, killing = murder = abortion is murder, oh well. It ought to jar us. Something is telling us that there is a problem with our formulation.

I seldom hear anyone, even 'pro-life' people, suggest we criminalize every man who has killed human beings in war. Murder is a legal construct, that does not necessarily extend to all killing of humans, and it muddies the waters on this topic.

On the other hand, it is pretty clear on its face that what grows inside a woman's womb is a prenatal human, however that fact might embarrass certain arguments for abortion. It's not a puppy or a cauliflower, but a human. And the inevitable fact is that abortion is the act of killing that human (the reason there are such intellectual contortions to remove the 'fetus' from this biological status).

On the other hand, what many anti-abortionists are trying to convince us of is that this prenatal human is a citizen, that is, they want to extend citizen's rights to the unborn as a tactical maneuver to criminalize abortion. The various arguments about trimesters embarrass both  positions, especially in a polity that is essentially based on Kantian philosophy applied to law (or liberalism!).

Those who claim that the 'fetus' is a parasite until he or she can survive ex utero ignore the fact that postnatal humans are utterly dependent on others for their survival long after birth; and those opponents of abortion who want to qualify the terms of abortion - even if the goal is to prevent some abortions - using trimester formulae, are already incorporating the dependency premises of the pro-abortionists. The argument of pro-abortion feminists and their allies is to "keep your hands off my body," which is a sound argument within the liberal individualist framework, but a problematic one for feminists who critique liberalism for its abstraction of the individual and its consequent removal of said individual from accountability to larger society.

The use of the law to compel a Catholic hospital to provide abortions runs counter to the notion of religious freedom on the one hand, but the same churches seek charters from the state (most are listed as non-profit corporations), and can appear to be trying to have the cake and eat it, too. 'Pro-life' people frequently refuse to extend their sanctification of the abstraction 'life' to postnatal humans, many even supporting the mass murder of warfare. The notion of 'life' is itself a naturalized abstraction, an idol even, as Barbara Duden has pointed out, which diverts us from its concrete instantiations - actual lives. My life. Your life. Her life. His life.

And this is where the abortion debate really fails on both sides, because it has been subsumed into questions of 'ethics' and law. Pro-choice and pro-life are 'messaging' terms, manipulative on their face.

When you listen to the actual stories of actual women who have been faced with this choice, then you can begin to appreciate how comprehensively inadequate policy and law are to provide answers. Women are sometimes pressured not to have abortions; but many are intensively pressured by boyfriends and husbands to have abortions. Women who are raped. Women who 'consent' in the face of relentless pressure. Women who are addicted. Women who are poor. Women who live with abusive partners and see no way out. Women who are pressured to have sex without birth control or for whom that birth control fails. Women who have been trafficked and prostituted. Women who are mentally ill. Women who have been abandoned. Women who have lost hope. Women for whom a pregnancy to term might kill them. Consider for a moment Iraqi women who've been exposed to depeleted urnaium and have seen their neighbors produce children with monstrous deformities. None of these situations in actual lives can be accounted for by the inhering and implacable idiocy of law.

On the other hand, as Hall points out in her book Conceiving Parenthood, many of the suburban, middle to upper middle-class moms (with variable support from Dad) spend a great deal of time, effort, and money on prenatal care to ensure optimal babies. Some have used abortion as a means of eugenic selection. And this is where some Christians (myself included) depart dramatically from 'progressives': more than 90 percent of pregnancies that detect Downs syndrome are now terminated. Because progressives, by and large, believe there are some humans who are fit to be born and others who are not (many churches, for the record, supported eugenics as a progressive movement and still support this privatized eugenics). I emphatically disagree.
I believe it is important to complicate the standard narration of eugenics past and present. The core assessment of burden and birth led to an arsenal of biotechnological tools to plan, evaluate, and enhance children and to measure the worth of a given family -- tools that today have become standard parental and political equipment. I suggest there are links between current hopes for genius and past attempts to vaccinate the social body against the menace of poverty, disability, and deviance. As individual parents navigate the strand of genetics that supplanted the science of Davenport and his ilk, they are choosing in rising numbers to terminate pregnancies that show signs of genetic difference -- choosing, in the majority of cases, to terminate for conditions for conditions ranging form physical disease to mental disability to sexual ambiguity. At the same time, U.S. citizens view with increasing skepticism public spending on the supposedly indiscriminately bred children of poor African American mothers as well as the "huge" families of recent Latino Catholic immigrants. The cultural context in which individuals make what are increasingly seen as purely "personal" decisions and in which a society makes what are often deemed purely pragmatic decisions is shaped by the powerful rhetoric of eugenics. . . The quest to create a more perfect union through "fewer and better babies" is alive and well. (Hall, pp. 217-219)
The point to which I need to return, then, is that when we typically see controversies and public debates between these various philosophical and political orientations, and our first impulse is to compare certain assertions or propositions - without reference to their historical antecedents or metaphysical implications - to determine our agreement or disagreement, our support or opposition, with those assertions and propositions. Only then, after ensuring our litmus tests are met, do we decide whether we are partisans of this or that school of thought. Tail wags dog.

I'm perfectly happy to support the church's teaching on abortion without reservation, albeit without recourse to policy proscriptions, at the same moment the church abandons the male supremacy that hides behind the curtains of rhetoric about male and female essences and complementarity. . . that is, as soon as church men stop demanding the exclusive right to define women in order to 'keep them in their place.'

If I had put ABORTION in the title of this ramble, how many readers would have gone directly there to see what the conclusion would be - framed as pro-life or pro-choice - then determined based on that one criterion whether the rest of this ramble was worth the trouble, whether I was one of the good guys or the bad guys?

Today's progressives unabashedly call themselves 'progressives,' and even set up certain propositions or assertions in the form of political or 'issue' positions that determine whether others are sufficiently lined up with those positions to merit membership in the 'progressive' club. We align ourselves with particular positions that qualify us for membership in particular groups, and the genealogy as well as the underlying assumptions of those positions remain largely unexamined. In fact, they are naturalized. We assume that what is underneath out positions is axiomatic, a fact of nature impenetrable by critique.

"Hillary Clinton (or whoever) is not a real progressive." Fine. That means absolutely nada to me in determining how I will relate to her as a candidate for office.

The actual Progressive movement, to which you can actually trace today's progressives in a relatively straight line with a couple of major traumatic hiccups, rose out of the late nineteenth century, and was directly associated with white supremacy, eugenics, social Darwinism, and the creepy idea of 'social hygiene.' Hitler queered everyone's pitch on some of this, especially eugenics and white supremacy, but even today, most (not all) self-proclaimed progressives are white (but often anxious to display a degree of white liberal guilt as a sign of moral fitness).

Note, I am not saying white folks need not approach all questions of race with an attitude of contrition - we should, because . . . privilege is real, But it is transformed into something else when it is a way to establish one's bona fides as morally superior (and must be demonstrated by calling out as many people as possible) or when it cops to the idea that racism is a personal moral failure instead of an historical power structure.

The underlying narrative of the progressive 'movement' that remains, even after social movements stripped away some of these more egregious artifacts, is the idea of Progress - that (all) people (everywhere) can be led into some ideal future by means of social engineering, led by a technocratic cadre of credentialed experts. In that sense, today's most conservative imperialists and today's Marxists share certain beliefs, while disagreeing on what the 'correct' route is to attain it, i.e., a radical technological optimism underwriting a kind of social teleology.

The recognition of ecological limits to these delusions of 'building the future' has given progressives a certain pause, but by and large, they still fail to recognize Hornborg's insight that this future-building is inevitably imperial.

That is not to dismiss progressives out of hand. Whatever the metaphysical assumptions - or lack thereof - we might hold, no one can be held totally accountable for all the different ways in which past thinkers work might have been appropriated. The label has become convenient shorthand for people who tend in various degrees toward a various ideas of socialist politics, which does - along some fuzzy line - exclude committed neoliberals like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. One problem here is that once such a label is applied and accepted, and once it gains popularity, capitalism has shown itself to be very adept at exploiting the most superficial understandings of various modes of resistance, then selling the impression of that resistance back to us as commodities. Plenty of advertising nowadays is hip and edgy. Consider the words 'natural' and 'sustainable,' that are routinely perverted in commercial discourse. Which is yet another reason to avoid these labels. They are easily annexed.

I am not a progressive. I'll have none of this eugenic hallucination, or its other stairways to heaven. I do not share progressives' enthusiasm for educating everyone to be like themselves. I regard compulsory public schooling as state indoctrination in the service of this imperial hallucination. I do not share the Marxist teleology that aims at some ideal future. I am not modern or even postmodern. My 'secular' friends my not understand this - because some things you need to understand to believe, but other things you need to believe to understand - but the vulnerable love and bottomless grace of God are what "sustain our existence" and give us hope. Progress was the two-step that pulled God into the world with us (the univocal metaphysic) and placed the world into 'God's hands,' where we could then take the world out of God's hands and into our own.

"To hell with the future," said Ivan Illich. "It is a man-eating idol."

Truth is, I am myself some kind of socialist, not the fun kind (as the feminists taught me to say), but certainly not one who is willing to make change at gunpoint. Christian socialism is not new.

And so I find myself throwing my lot in with 'progressive' candidates in this year's American elections, and with revolutionaries in the politics beyond elections. In a liberal society where 'freedom' or 'liberty' have no connection whatsoever with any form of moral authority, this same freedom that enslaves us with endless choices and limitless desire - and all its captivity to envy and addiction - where any form of restraint is anathema, any person who recognizes the necessity of moral authority - as opposed to coercive authority - has little choice but to become part of some community apart from this vacuous 'liberty,' a community where the idea of freedom has some meaning that can be concretized in one's life. As a Christian, for better or worse, and with all our failures as sinful creatures with our disordered and besieged desires, I have that community in church. For those who do not, some try to find it in communities of resistance, even revolution. None of us - once we abandon that empty cipher - is likely to be a good 'American' any more. In that, we are together.

While the term 'progressive' was bandied about promiscuously in support of the Sanders campaign (which is what engendered this writhing anaconda narrative), there was no ideology that suddenly took root to cause this explosion of discontent expressed by this insurgent candidacy.

Chronic economic insecurity and deep alienation as its result were the wellsprings of this rebellion. These 'material conditions' as my more mechanical leftish friends might call them, short-circuited the feel good bullshit of consumer capitalism's incessant babble, and gave people enough of a dislocative knock on the heads to cause them to ask questions about the legitimacy of the whole enterprise.

These same conditions, among different people - 'middle class' white people mostly, and especially the most authoritarian kind - shifted them into the Trump column and have now nearly completed the destruction of the once stable and more circumspect post-Nixonian party of white supremacy - the Republicans.

The narrative that spoke most directly to the concerns of those who didn't fall for the okey-doke of white xenophobia was that of the progressives - because among them there have arisen a number of sound critiques of the heretofore unnamed 'system' of neoliberalism - popularized by the Occupy movement in a simple formula: the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent.

In a self-organized social matrix, layer upon layer of dependencies and defaults prevent any meaningful resistance to the situations we face, and the two preceding movements - the antiwar movement during the Bush II era and the Occupy movement - were not widely available. The antiwar movement was dissolved by the election of a Democrat who was also the first African American POTUS (for reasons too complex to describe here without a massive diversion); and the Occupy movement was concentrated in a few places, mostly New York City, which did not lend itself to more general participation. Then this little insurgent candidacy came along, and suddenly everyone who was within reach of a polling station had the chance to do their thing. There was a way now for everyone to register a protest against 'the one percent.' This was consistently Senator Sanders' best opening applause line - castigating "the one percent."

In military parlance, this was a breach - and people flooded through it. Until this happened, most of us didn't realize (I sure didn't) how much pressure had been building inside this chronic insecurity and its corresponding, sixties-like anger at the hypocrisy of the political-media complex.

The reason it was expressed in the elections instead of any of the leftist formations was twofold: first, these grouplets spend more time fighting each other over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin than they do actually working with the people they think they can lead, which makes them self-caricaturing and self-marginalizing, and secondly, they were just incredibly small and mostly concentrated in little urban enclaves.

Further up, I pointed out that Marxists, post-Marxists, some progressives, and Thomists share the conviction that language structures the world in terms of our consciousness of it, but this does not mean there is no reality apart from language. My grandson recently asked me, as he listened to a weather report on the radio, "What is hail?" The word hail refers to a phenomenon that occurs whether or not we are aware of it, and the word is not ideologically freighted. Moreover, if it is hailing, that places real material limitations on us.

So with that, what are some of those things that I, a Christian, and others who agree that there are material conditions that place limitations on our actions and choices (which is why politics as 'transgressive performance' strikes me as silly [transgression is almost always a function of relative privilege])? Going back to my driving metaphor, what can we recognize in common, the street signs and stoplights and road boundaries and other cars, that we can all acknowledge to work together in the realm of politics?

The answer is threefold: there is a looming environmental crisis, there is a globalizing politico-economic regime that is responsible for that crisis as well as a host of social pathologies, and there is culture (which includes ideology). These are all aspects of the same reality, and each aspect is mutually influential with the others.

We could begin in any number of places, but now I'll begin with the Ghawar oil field. That is the source of the incredibly low price of gasoline in the United States right now, even if the specific gasoline you are buying is not refined from Ghawar oil. Located in Saudi Arabia, Ghawar is the largest pool of oil in the world, accounting for around half of all Saudi production. Ghawar produces not only oil but natural gas. Normally operated at around 5 million barrels a day of oil (it also produces 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day), the Saudis are now pulling around 6 million a day, and producing almost 11 million barrels a day nationwide. As this is written, the Saudis have added 123,000 barrels a day over the last month, further spiking output from already record highs. Since September 2014, this saturation of the oil market worldwide has dropped oil prices from around $100 a barrel to around $40 a barrel. This is not only costing the Saudi government almost $100 billion a year, it is taxing Ghawar itself, which requires increasing amounts of precious water injected into the margins of the field to maintain pump pressures. Even Ghawar is finite.

The Saudis are gambling. They are facing market competition from Russia, and were losing market share in the US (where hydraulic fracturing was squeezing more domestic oil out of short term wells, albeit at a greater production cost than the 'sweet' oil from Ghawar). In addition to that, Saudi Arabia is fearful that it is losing influence to Iran in the region, and killing global oil profits is a way to deny Iran a principle source of development capital. The Saudis learned this from the US, which convinced the Saudis to do the same thing in the late 1980s to undermine Soviet development capital, and which substantially contributed to the collapse of the Soviet government.

Knock on effects include: Venezuela, which was financing its Bolivarian projects with its own oil revenues, has had to tighten its belt, whereupon the US, which has been trying to destroy the anti-neoliberal Bolivarian project for years now, is taking advantage to foment unrest there in anticipation of overthrowing the Maduro government. The US, which is holding its finger in the financial dike with 'quantitative easing' (the government buying up shitty assets to reflate the bubble that caused the 2007-8 crisis), and which is suffering from grinding economic stagnation at the street level, has been afforded some relief in lower prices for gasoline - which translates into lower prices for everything else that requires transportation; though the US oil industry, which now relies on fracking, is barely staying afloat with its profits slashed. Meanwhile, these short-term frack-wells lose 70% of production within the first year, and 50% every year afterward until death (when it costs more energy to get the oil out than the oil itself contains), and leave behind a destabilized geology and contaminated ground water. There are more. It's the butterfly effect, further complicated by many intentions.

If we haven't made the case yet for the interconnectivity of the world with Ghawar and Ghawar with the world, we can also point out that, one used, not only does oil production destroy potable water on a grand scale, as well as topsoil, all this oil will add to the quanta of atmospheric carbon.

As it stands right now, the likely effects of climate change are only whispered among scientists who fear they might spark a general panic if the public were to understand in how many ways we have already passed several points of no return. Refugees? Starvation? Storms? Deadly heat waves? Flooding? Drought? Sea-level rise? Crop losses? Fishery destruction? The collapse of ecosystems and migration of diseases? The greatest mass extinction in 65 million years? And we ain't seen nothin' yet. When tundra and permafrost melt, they release methane - a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is the acceleration scenario no one wants to speak aloud. The European plague epidemic of the fourteenth century will pale by comparison in terms of its tectonic social impacts.

The Malthusians want to explain all this in terms of  two variables - populations and resources; but this is inconceivably simplistic, potentially racist, and always an imperial default.

The industrial-capitalist system (and the former state socialist industrial systems that were its antagonistic offspring) is not a product of biological evolution or even biological determinism. It is the outcome of a specific and contingent collection of social relations.

This dangerous environmental impasse is happening, and accelerating, within a social framework, or perhaps more dynamically and accurately, within social relations that are multiply self-organized and therefore relatively stable . . . until they are not. Marxists describe these punctuations of social equilibrium, or disruptions, the result of mounting contradictions. The pumping out of Ghawar, e.g., to defeat one's opponents contains a contradiction (the ability to flood the market 'contradicts' the finitude of the field), and there is a point at which it shall no longer be possible. The financial bubble phenomenon that created the crisis of 2007-8 was staved off by a variety of measures, but the bubble is now being reflated to ensure the continuity of the neoliberal regime, and this, too, faces a host of mounting contradictions. The drama of Ghawar, by the way, is inseparable from the drama of neoliberalism. Oil is not only the fuel for neoliberalism, is has fueled almost all of modernity - that larger material and philosophical epoch withing which neoliberalism is just the latest act.

Switching back, then, to neoliberalism, which is shorthand for globalized capitalism under the sway of rentier capitalists - particularly speculators. While we can and will unpack the basics of how neoliberalism works, we seldom attend to the fact that this handful of men in Saudi Arabia can exercise such a forceful influence over that global economy through control of this one pocket of this one resource. Say what you like about this false dichotomy between the material and ideological, without that material (oil), the whole show will have to pack up and go home. You can't fly an airplane with a solar panel or a windmill. In terms of its energy density, ease of combustion, and portability, nothing, repeat, nothing matches oil. And precisely nothing will replace it.

This bare-naked fact may seem compelling, but the world's captains are locked into thinking that cannot see past business and election cycles. And as long as we ourselves are locked into these cycles, the chances that anything will be done about them is dramatically reduced. And we are. Locked in. That is the essence of self-organization. It doesn't require conscious guidance; and it is characterized by intractable inertia.

The Standing Rock Sioux and their multiplying allies opposing the Dakota Access pipeline right now are acting within this larger context. The oil companies are backed by the rentier capitalists of Wall Street and even a few Europeans, gambling that even though the environmentally catastrophic shale oil and tight oil being plundered from the Canadian countryside is now at a low, because of the Saudi gamble, they will be prepared when - at some point in the future - that oil will become necessary to continue business as usual, the prices will jump, and they will need to get the crude to the Gulf Coast for refinement and export/sale. The same people who are financing the pipeline project run the electoral process in the United States. The ruling class (a useful and accurate Marxist term) is vertically and horizontally integrated. They run business, government, and 'civil society.'

This brings up a central point in the Christian politics I will eventually describe: the leaders themselves have only very limited ability to determine outcomes in the so-called system. They are not controllers, but administrators. They spend most of their time dealing with two things: short-term stability and the crises that threaten that, and power struggles with others who might seize the means of administration.

Like it or not, if Christians are to engage in worldly politics - and I believe we should, but only if we are vigilant against our own tendencies to Constantinianism - we cannot do so lightly, and we ought not do so without a process of deep discernment . . . deeper than the standard political discourse that we can find in mainstream (read: capitalist) media outlets, and deeper than looking at elections from the standpoint of simple electoral outcomes - who wins, who loses. Moreover, we have to remain in touch with our own theological and metaphysical convictions; and we have to take risks without recourse to violence.

My ultimate hope is in God's revelation, which obliges me to do what I can to relieve suffering, even in the shadow of my own ultimate limitations and defects. I have a rule that many will not share. I cannot rely on the infliction of pain and death to solve problems, because I'm called to imitate and exemplify vulnerability, to face even my enemies as fellow children of God, and to live with neither answers or control.
When Christianity is assumed to be an “answer” that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be. Such answers cannot help but turn Christianity into an explanation. For me, learning to be a Christian has meant learning to live without answers. Indeed, to learn to live in this way is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers. That is to put the matter too simply, but at least such a claim might suggest why I find that being a Christian, makes life so damned interesting.

-Stanley Hauerwas
Elections are on everyone's mind now, and there is a hailstorm of speculation about what this or that administration will mean, but this needs to be put into greater historical perspective. I may not be a Marxist anymore, but I am still emphatically anti-'capitalist.'

The term 'capitalism' is used advisedly here, ergo the scare quotes. What are understood today as capitalist relations of finance, production, and consumption were not by any means new when the nation-state emerged from the earlier inter-city-state system. Many theorists date such relations to as early as 1204 and the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in a flood of looted silver and gold to northern Italy and the low Countries (becoming the basis for banking and finance), followed by a century of colonial extraction from Byzantium to Europe—establishing a core-periphery dynamic upon which European accumulation could build. The material impetus for the emergence of the nation-state was, in large part, the need for larger stable polities to accommodate expanded capital accumulation. The system we now know - the term 'capitalism' was not invented until midway through the nineteenth century 'hundred years’ peace' - has several requirements. It requires a general purpose currency. It requires enough wage workers to man the machinery. It requires banks to make loans for initial investments. It requires the externalization of costs (e.g., rivers in which to dump industrial effluvia, or free access to minerals. etc.) sufficient to guarantee a profit so the investor can both pay off his loans and flourish financially. And it requires markets sufficient to soak up expanding production. The state is the guarantor for these requirements; but there is one other feature of this system that is a driver. After a certain period, the market becomes saturated, and the rate of profit - profit being the motive for production, but now also return on investment for rentier capital - inevitably falls. This accumulation regime had to expand or die; and for this it needs to do two things: to conquer new exploitable peripheries and to create demand for new commodities. Today, this imperative to expand has an economic euphemism—growth. And this system is not only the most rapacious in history, it is now undermining its own material foundations in the biosphere.

My criticisms of the liberal feminism that sees the elevation of a Hillary Clinton to the position of the next Killer-in-Chief is not a criticism of feminism, but of liberalism as the political expression capitalism, which has altered its forms over time to accommodate new realities, the current form of which is neoliberalism

Some say the old Keynesian solutions are obsolete in this period because of de-industrialization; but de-industrialization is not an ontological phenomenon, it is a spatial one. The same people who write about the virtualization of the economy are core nation residents, surrounded by industrial products, writing on industrially produced computers, eating industrial food, and washing their asses with water that is pumped into their houses by very material machines.

What throws Keynesianism into doubt is not the myth of de-industrialization, but the idol of 'growth,' which goes hand in hand with the dilemma that industrialization is at the root of our ecological impasse. Industrial activity, and the Marxian surplus value model that corresponds to it, have been moved into the peripheries and semi-peripheries, where the cost of living ('social reproduction') is low enough to pay pennies on the dollar for throwaway labor.

The crises in the cores is related to this process of de-industrialization not by virtualization per se, but by the domination of global markets - and by extension all of them - and the domination of industrial production, by the aforementioned rentiers, or the FIRE sector. Not only the bankers who in the past supplied loan capital to launch industrial enterprises, but the speculators and derivatives traders who have been integrated with banks since the New Deal suppression of the rentier sector has been abolished (President Bill Clinton drove the last nail in that coffin in the US with the repeal of Glass-Steagal.)

What so-called virtualization has dubiously accomplished is twofold: it has accelerated economic exchanges to heretofore unimaginable speeds, and it has facilitated the management of these accelerated processes. The problem for people like core nation Millennials who are just entering the economy is that in their virtualized enclaves, where they do not have the value to the masters of the universe that an industrial worker might, many of them have become merely redundant - a surplus and devalued mass whose only marketable purpose can be return-on-investment for the rentiers - through debt, that is.

As an aside, our infatuation with aggregate numbers has led those of a Malthusian bent to look at the 'big picture' - in which each of us is homogenized - and decide that 'surplus people' (read and abstract: surplus 'population') can be measured against aggregate 'resources', therefore The Solution is to reduce population (no one is ever very explicit about how this happens or to whom). What is lost in this abbreviated account is something highlighted in a recent news story, where one megafarm couple in California was consuming the approximate amount of water per day required to sustain Los Angeles.

Debt is motive force of the neoliberal economy. Force is its backstop. The militarization of police and the policification of the military are the future.

Pinochet's Chile and Deng's China, as neoliberal polities, were not and are not catching up to the pluralist republican models of the United States, UK, and increasingly the rest of Europe; they were glimpses at our own future, moving ahead without hesitation to the inevitable future of the form. Because when freedom is this meaningless sign, detached from any history or moral authority - no matter how flawed - there is no authority left except coercion, even if it is bureaucratic coercion subtly administered. And when that regime is in crisis, when its leaders and principle class beneficiaries are threatened, it will come out with a mailed fist.

It is no accident that Germany - and these analogies can be grossly overdrawn - had two simultaneous trends afoot prior to its authoritarian crackdown: a economic crisis that threatened and even heaved over the 'middle' class and the polarization of mass politics to the left and right. People forget that prior to Hitler's appointment, the reason the government had decamped to Weimar was that thousands of post-war, armed communists and rightists were shooting one another in the streets of Berlin.

It is coming, because this restless 'growth' dynamic, capitalism - now neoliberal capitalism - will always run into two limits: limits on materials and limits on the patience of its victims. This is what we are seeing now in a variety of guises - some justice-oriented and some reactionary. Some of these developments are the largest strike in human history in India, anti-austerity campaigns throughout Europe, many aspects of Arab Spring, anti-military-base demonstrations in Okinawa, the election of left-leaning governments in Latin America (and the reaction against US coup-plotting there), the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the new movement against the US National Anthem, the internal breakdown of the two major American political parties, the debt-fueled rise of Millennials as a political force and the likewise debt-fueled insecurity that underwrites Trump, and, of course, the Sanders insurgency that, had it not been for a concerted effort by the ruling class, its bureaucratic voting apparatus, and its media, would have taken the nomination from the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Indeterminate and stupidly-planned wars fought to determine who will control the oil rich Middle East have also added millions of refugees to the mix, which is accelerating the political polarization of Europe.

The financial crisis that appeared in 2007-8 is not past, but delayed with a finger in the dike called quantitative easing which will ensure that the ensuing continuation of that crisis of massive fictional value created by rentier capitalism will be far worse than if they'd have done nothing at all.

In the background, looming like a rumbling distant storm across the horizon, the very climate we inhabit is warming and destabilizing in ways we cannot possibly predict.

These things are discernible from the evidence right now that point to the least dangerous path for a humanity that is about to suffer, in many cases already suffering, the consolidated effects of the world's convergent crises - financial, environmental, and cultural.

The overview can be described as the kind of systemic breakdown that will absolutely further immiserate billions of human beings and accelerate the generalized disruption of the biosphere upon which we utterly depend - which will certainly lead to increasing social destabilization - which has historically led to the emergence of violent authoritarianism (which will happen under a neoliberal regime seeking to protect its power) - which has and will increase the incidence of civil wars - which will provoke unpredictable conflicts between 'great powers' that can and probably will transcend existing diplomatic and military fail safes - and which, even if the political leadership is changed in a more 'progressive' direction, will require taking political risks that themselves will have unpredictable outcomes - perfidious claims by starry-eyed leftish social engineers notwithstanding.


In short, the world is experiencing the first stages of an inevitable climate crisis and an ongoing financial calamity that will not respect political borders or social planning, for which we are not only unprepared, but for which we are self-organized to perpetuate in spite of our best intentions, and we are armed to the teeth, including with nuclear weapons. Contra Ecclesiastes, this is something "new under the sun."

There is not a real question (except for the radical technological optimists who fail to appreciate the Second Law of Thermodynamics) about whether this plane is coming down. It is. It is running out of fuel. There is damage to the wings. The landing gear doesn't work. The question now is whether we can find a runway, get someone to foam it, and have pilots skillful enough to crash land without us all roasting in a ball of flame. This is, in my perhaps brutal opinion, the best scenario available to us now.

So, in spite of my deep misgivings about the various brands of New Deals being touted on the left, there does need to be some kind of foam on the runway. Letting things continue as they are is a sure fire way to move us closer to reactionary governance and ultimately to a more general state of civil war which will eventually reach from the periphery back into the metropolitan cores. Green jobs is, under these circumstances, a Good Idea. Debt forgiveness is a Great Idea - for everybody!!! Redistribution through attrition is a Good Idea. Nationalization of banks is an essential idea. And the last but not least essential idea is that of active stater support for across the board relocalization projects. We must begin to move production and consumption closer together in space.

This may or may not happen under some form of socialist government; but is guaranteed not to happen under any kind of capitalist one. In this, I risk a kind of lesser evil politics.

And - as any look at my own facebook newsfeed with around 800 people aboard will tell me (or you) - not only is there no consensus about what is going on, there are 20 ideas for every 25 people about what the 'main' problem is - and fifteen of those are the snake oil of the week. Our vaunted pluralism has left us culturally dissolved - united only by our dependence on general purpose money and our inability to escape from that dependency.

We are up the proverbial estuary without visible means of locomotion.

Many people will say that Sanders lost the campaign, a campaign that mobilized concern about all of these things, and I agree. He lost. But that is the tree. The forest is the unmasking of the Democratic Party, an historic accomplishment. And it was the first emergence of a homegrown American anti-austerity movement.

Delegitimation is a crucial first step for any successful social movement, and that is what is developing now, as Black Lives Matter reaches out to Palestinians with one hand and the Standing Rock Sioux with the other, as more and more athletes refuse to stand for that militaristic anthem, as in the US a nationwide prison strike kicks off.

I am not a progressive, but when 'progressives' stand up for justice, no matter how fouled up their metaphysical assumptions, then it is time for Christians to stand with them. δικαιοσύνης (dikaiosýni) in the scriptural Greek means righteousness, but is also means justice. How about that? I am not a progressive, because I don't believe in the bloody and pernicious myth of progress. I am, however, a dikaiosýnian. This is my political persuasion. And that means merging with people possibly unlike myself in social movements.

If justice is to be had - and I remember Dr. King's warning that the arc of history is long - then it will not come from elections, even if elections are part of the tactical landscape. It will come through the social movements. And they will meet resistance from our rulers. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline protest has become an international lightning rod in the past few days, such that the administration was force a couple of days ago to halt construction. But do not for a minute believe that this administration will stop that pipeline. They are trying to find a way around the political embarrassment the protesters have created, which may mean extending the pipeline around the now-contested site. It will take a continued struggle for every foot along the route to halt this. The investments are huge and the role of the capitalist state is to ensure return on investment. This state will follow through. Its character has not changed. It is retrenching. 

Investors in Dakota Access include Citibank, JP Morgan Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America, ,Morgan Stanley, HSBC, Enbridge, Marathon, Sunoco, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas, SunTrust, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Mizuho Bank, TD Securities, ABN AMRO Capital, DNB First Bank (Philly, not Norway, but DNB Norway, too), ICBC London, SMBC Nikko Securities, and Société Générale.

Any questions about why the Obama Administration, and any future Clinton Administration will try to bulldoze over or work their way around these troublesome Indians? It may not work, though. We cannot know. We have to act in faith. Dorothy Day said, "“Don't worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” Show up. Tell the truth. Be the light, because thieves and assassins love the darkness.

I suspect that this protest is more historic than we can yet know. It is just beginning to ramify.

The fact that Black Lives Matter has declared solidarity, that Wall Street is at the epicenter, that BLM has also raised the issue of Palestine, that the nation's largest prison strike is being prepared, and that the establishment parties are in shambles, are all indicative of a groundswell like we haven't seen in fifty years.

Mab Segrest wrote, “it is only in the present moment that transformative reconfigurations of self can occur.” She calls the somnambulance of power - male power, military power, the power of a ruling class - anesthesia: “the anesthesia of power.” In what she terms the “metaphysic of genocide,” people “don’t need to respond to what they can pretend they do not know, and they don’t know what they can’t feel.” We have been sleepwalking, anesthetized.

Is all we aim for, at the end of the day, to live a bit longer? To live a bit more comfortably? To pass them time anesthetized by entertainment to avoid thinking about the abyss?

Somewhere, between this danse du mort of colonizer-colonized and the disengagement that begins the process of undoing, is a dangerous terrain, an abject terrain, where in the casting aside of old norms in the absence of new ones, there are no limits. If total depravity corresponds to total control, chaos might correspond to the deconstruction of that control and that depravity.

This is a dangerous time, a time of uncertainty, but the story of Jesus is one of uncertainty. Dead on the executioner's cross, his followers scattering, stumbling away from the screams and stench and flies at Golgotha, drifting up the road to Emmaus, they were surrounded by nothing but uncertainty and danger.

Human existence, our world, is in a fallen state because humans are uniquely sinful. Each of us contains within us - as individual persons - the latent capacity for great good and equally great evil. And we do not have the capacity to always know the difference, especially as it pertains to the eventual consequences of our meddling. But we still have to show up.

We have to show up. We have to tell the truth, no matter how bitter. I can only hope that every foot of that oil pipeline will be contested, that armed thugs show up along the route like Bull Connor's dog-cops, that athletes continue to kneel for the anthem, that prisoners will strike, that angry women will stand before armed men without flinching, that we can do what we do in time to prevent some suffering, that love finds a way. I am pessimistic. I am hopeful.

The anesthesia is wearing off. We are waking.

3 comments:

  1. I'll finish reading this later, but this comment caught my eye: "I am myself a sort of fledgling Thomist, inasmuch as it is a method-from-tradition and not a set of permanently fixed propositions. " I wish I could get my Thomist friends to understand this, since they tend to treat Thomism as a closed system with all the answers, if only you know which question to consult.

    You might like reading this or even joining the discussion: https://www.academia.edu/s/a749ac13b2/the-paradoxical-metaphysics-of-fritz-wilhelmsen?source=news

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