Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Digging In


TC says things like this all the time:

Anyone who would choose the banal, historically inaccurate and dishonest propaganda of The Freedom From Religion Foundation over Walter Brueggemann's  radical alternative to even that adjunct of the market totalism is too stupid to argue with. 

No, not the part about Ron Reagan, Jr.; the part about Walter Brueggemann.  In fact, if Brueggemann were a public office holder, not an otherwise obscure Biblical scholar (not obscure in his field, but not well known beyond it), I wonder if he's be subject to a "fact check" for his ideas:

I think I'll either find where this talk is published as text or transcribe it over the next month in lieu of reposting my series on the history of abolitionism from several years ago.  This talk is all about how we are enslaved even as slavery is abolished, especially those who were alleged to be emancipated.  

That description puts Brueggemann miles beyond what AOC (I'm lazy, sue me) said in an interview on MLK Day this year:

But I do think a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong. And I think it’s wrong that [1] a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage, I think it’s wrong that [2] you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids. I think it’s wrong that [3] corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, [4] for paying people less than a minimum wage. And it not only doesn’t make economic sense, but it doesn’t make moral sense and it doesn’t make societal sense.
I don't think Brueggemann would argue with her; I know I don't.  I bring this up because it prompted a "fact check" from Glenn Kessler at WaPo where he awarded AOC 3 "Pinocchios" for having the temerity to make an economic argument that didn't praise capitalism in all its rapaciousness.  Yeah, IMHO; but I think this, the heart of the analysis I recommend you read, is accurate to a pinpoint:

So, read in context, everything AOC said was true, even if we accept Kessler’s factual counterclaims! The entire fact-checking ritual was a charade. As I suggested earlier, it was really a boundary-policing episode, meant to keep her “radical” ideas outside the sphere of legitimate debate by portraying her as untrustworthy. Further, it was meant to deter others from similar infractions while trying to break through the barriers excluding them from legitimacy. (See AOC’s related Twitter thread on “gravitas” here.)
Fact-checking is a way of excluding from the conversation ideas the "mainstream" doesn't like.  Such exclusion doesn't mean excluded ideas are sound (racism is rightly excluded, for example); but it does mean only certain ideas merit attention or study, while others don't.  I can agree that Marx was a lousy economist (and historian; but I blame Hegel and the 19th century for that; it's a long discussion); but I can't reach that conclusion without at least reading Marx (something that was considered heresy in my childhood; we were to take Marx as "wrong" and be done with him).  Maybe AOC is as wrong, too (no, I don't think so, but the argument has to be considered).  How do I know until I test her arguments, and the best way to do that is to consider that her arguments may be right, and mine may be wrong.

It takes a bit of effort to learn to do this, but it's worth the price of admission.

It wasn't so long ago that capitalism was not the be all and end all of human existence; partly the withering away of the church as a place where you might get a counter-narrative (it's certainly in the Scriptures, even if most denominations hide from it) is the reason for its supremacy today.  The meanness of spirit, the withering of generosity, the narrowness of vision, are all hallmarks of a generally accepted philosophy that scarcity is the rule and want is the demon, and we must hold tightly to what we have and protect it against all takers who would rob us of our futures, if not our present.  That's the fear I detect in Kessler's analysis of AOC's observations (and the article at the link is right, too, about the radical MLK which we prefer to replace with the anodyne version who basically only "had a dream"); the fear that the future is arriving behind her, and is going to snatch away all the comforts he has.  The theology of scarcity, Brueggemann calls it; the idea that everything is limited and must be hoarded because the future that faces us is as grim and despairing as any apocalyptic cinema vision of the ruin that awaits us all, that we can at best postpone but can never avoid.

There's a reason apocalyptic movies and video games are still so popular; or at least visions of a doomed future our heroes might be able to prevent before the final credits, still creates the rising action in so many films and games.  More and more we believe there is less and less available, and our doom is certain and unshakeable; whether we have brought it on ourselves or it will be brought upon us, is irrelevant to the analysis, to the fear.  We must be afraid but we must be more afraid of those who would show us a different, a better path, because while this path is doomed, all other paths lead to damnation.  AOC, in the spirit of Dr. King, is saying it doesn't have to be this way, it can be better; Kessler, in the spirit of those who reviled Dr. King (and they were legion; ah yes, I remember it well), says it can only be "this way," and AOC is not only a fool but a dangerous one.

While, as the article points out, Donald Trump crosses the threshold of 8000 established lies since he took office, and that number, as this week's events proved, is only going up ever more sharply.  But Trump is just a bull in a china shop; AOC is the threat to the existence of the china shop; apparently.  And the first step, the one we've taken most successfully, is to erase history (it is no accident the Hebrew Scriptures are dominated by a recording of Israel's history, and why the God of Abraham is present and active in history):

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell laughed at the idea [of a 70% tax rate, as proposed by AOC], and said he thought it would be bad for economic growth. “Name a country where that’s worked,” he responded. “Ever.” Sitting there with him was MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson, who supplied the example: the United States, throughout most of its post-World War II expansion. It was a rare, Marshall McLuhan-in-“Annie Hall” moment. Usually, when the super-rich or their sycophants spout off like that, truth does not intrude. Certainly not from the fact-checking media.
Dell is much younger than me, and obviously much more ignorant of history.  What does he need to know, except that his skill and genius made him rich?  They didn't, of course; in a country with no access to the markets, infrastructure, industrialization, established social order, and educated at public expense work force, Michael Dell would likely be an unknown citizen.  That's another leg of the theology of scarcity:  I alone can do it, when in reality, as Donne said, "no man is an island."  It's not just that the funeral bell tolls for thee, but that apart from each other we are each one nothing.  Donne refused to imagine such a society; we refuse to imagine it any other way.  Who is the richer for our radically different visions of community?

And consider this "crazy idea" from George Soros, the man you've heard about yet likely never heard from:

For the last 25 years … the motor of the world economy that has been driving it was consumption by the American consumer, who has been spending more than he has been saving, all right? Than he’s been producing. So that motor is now switched off. It’s finished. … You need a new motor. And we have a big problem. Global warming. It requires big investment. And that could be the motor of the world economy in the years to come.
Has the motor been switched off, and only momentum gives us the impression we are still being powered?  That's the lesson, and the fear, of apocalyptic:  that we've run out, scarcity is upon us, and before us lie deserts of vast eternity; vast, and empty, and lifeless.  There they are, and there's nothing we can do about it; or there is, and it's more of the same that got us here.

What's the definition of insanity?

Fact checkers will not save us from ourselves, nor protect us from reality.  The bird in Eliot's poem was right:  humankind cannot bear very much reality.  But we are still obligated to come up with ways to do so, rather than spend ever more energy finding ways to refuse it.



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