Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Theology of Scarcity

Pretty sure it wouldn't anywhere. Texas has a statute barring pornography from being distributed or shown to minors. It's language tracks the Supreme Court rulings on what pornography is, and it ain't what upsets a few ladies who read something about it on Facebook. So despite this case is out of Virginia, I would expect it to be replicated across the country, sooner or later.

At a meeting [of the Texas State Board of Education] to discuss the social studies curriculum for K-12 students, one woman identified herself as a mother named Jenna.

"You refer to our flag, bonnets and mockingbirds as a significant symbol to a Texas community," the mother opined. "No, these are emblems of identity and instill pride and connection with our home."

She said that learning about "the importance of collaborating with various cultures" was inappropriate because children should learn about their own "culture" first.

"This revision wants to teach a first grader who is still putting notes to the tooth fairy under her pillow about following Gandhi's lead to a peaceful protest," Jenna gasped. "A first grader! CRT is already rampant and baked into our curriculum and we don't want to be good little global citizens where are borders are considered a military zone."

"It's a border and it's good!" she exclaimed. "Teach that. This is the land of the free, home of the brave. Be brave!"

State Board of Education Member Marisa B. Perez-Diaz observed that the witness had been unable to point to specific Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that contain the standards that she was complaining about.

"Be specific about what you're talking about so that we understand that you actually have a legitimate concern or it's not something you're just hearing and reading and repeating," Perez-Diaz advised. "I guess I want to understand what on the history of how borders were created do you know about?"

"I'm not an expert," Jenna shot back. "I don't appreciate your, um, belittling. I didn't come here with a Ph.D. and I didn't come up here as an educator or somebody on one of these work groups. I'm coming up here as a parent."

Perez-Diaz insisted that she was not belittling the parent.

"You just told our chair that you'd read it somewhere or you heard it, you don't know," the board member explained. "And that is not a belittling. I'm just acknowledging what you have yourself said."


Let me start with context here:  the Texas State Board of Education is an elected body from single member districts across the state.  Granted, most Texans don't know we vote for these positions (you should see the typical state ballot; we elect everyone from street sweeper (well, if feels like it) to Governor.  At the county level alone we elect multiple county court-at-law and district judges, as well as justices of the peace, constables, sheriffs, municipal court judges, up to Court of Appeals judges, Supreme Court judges, and Court of Criminal Appeals judges.  And that's just the judiciary.  There's also the Railroad Commission, the Secretary of Agriculture, the State Board of Education, the General Land Office, the Lite Gov,....and on and on and on.).  But we do.  And that shows in this record of one part of one hearing.  It's kinda like a statewide school board, but with the power to tell local school districts what to teach, and local school boards what to do.  And then you get this nonsense.

I actually heard something similar to this in comments at a local school board meeting earlier in the summer.  The same mindless appeal to "CRT" is a shibboleth empty of meaning but charged with menace.  Nothing about the borders, though; although I find it to be a truism that the farther one is from the border (Texas' border with Mexico is the longest of any state), the more one is afraid of what goes on down there.  There's a whole literature, both sociological and literary, about borders and how they represent "dangerous" places where all the "wrong things" happen. My experience is borders are the most interesting places, where barriers between nations, races, tribalism, etc., break down rather than harden into walls.

This lady clearly wants more walls.

I titled this "The Theology of Scarcity" because this woman's diatribe is fine example of that idea.  It's the idea that there isn't enough to go around, so we need to horde what is ours and preserve it. It's also the idea that what "we" have is under attack, is threatened, and will be lost if we don't preserve it.

"You refer to our flag, bonnets and mockingbirds as a significant symbol to a Texas community," the mother opined. "No, these are emblems of identity and instill pride and connection with our home."

She rejects there all notion of a "Texas community," because that community includes Mexicans and Texicans and blacks and, now, 50 years after Vietnam (the war, I mean), Asians of different descents (Vietnamese don't consider themselves Japanese, if you know what I mean) as well as whites (who still divide into rednecks and roughnecks and upper and lower economic classes, etc.).  I have no idea what "home" she is trying to identify with, but I doubt I'd be welcome there, lily-white as I am.  I assume I'm too educated, for one thing.

And I just like mockingbirds (well, not that much; we called 'em "catbirds" when I was young, because they love to harass cats in the open. They have kind of a nasty attitude, do mockingbirds. Worse than jays.) and bluebonnets (actually more native to south Texas.  I hardly saw 'em in the wild until I moved to Austin, where they are more common.  More common now because of Lady Bird Johnson, but I doubt Jenna would get that connection, either.  Lady Bird championed wildflowers in Texas, going so far as to get a ban on mowing along state roads and highways in the spring, when the wildflowers bloom.  We're all the better for that, too.  Community, you see.)  Jenna wants none of that.  She wants her tribe preserved like a lost tribe in the depths of the Amazon, because she's afraid of what she'll lose if she doesn't concentrate on the scarcity of what she has.

"It's a border and it's good!" she exclaimed. "Teach that. This is the land of the free, home of the brave. Be brave!"

She's just made it clear the border is good because it is militarized; which would be a surprise to people on the border, who are growing weary of the disruptions to daily life brought about by Abbott's free use of the National Guard to stop and inspect cars and trucks plying their daily business.  But she's also saying this is the land of the free because of the brave, which would shock the "Founding Fathers" who more or less agreed freedom came from free people, not from a quasi-military state and soldiers standing along the borders.

I'm guessing Jenna isn't as concerned with the Canadian border.  Not enough brown people there, at least in her imagination.

Scarcity means there is never enough, and what there is already is soon to be lost if it is not physically protected and ideologically guarded, if it is not ringed with armaments to prevent intrusion, and constantly restored to prevent erosion.  It's really no different an ideal than the one that fired Plymouth plantation; and it always ends just as Plymouth did:  with the borders between "us" and "them" dissolving as not enough of "us" see a reason to avoid "them," and the compelling ideas that founded "us" seems less compelling over time and to younger generations, and pretty soon the walls protect an emptied space inside.  Scarcity eventually creates scarcity, and from that cries its point proven.

And it is, isn't it?

 "I'm not an expert," Jenna shot back. "I don't appreciate your, um, belittling. I didn't come here with a Ph.D. and I didn't come up here as an educator or somebody on one of these work groups. I'm coming up here as a parent."

It's not that Jenna is not an expert.  But her use of the term "parent" indicates, again, she is trying to protect her children from a world that is not exactly like her.  Plymouth plantation becomes the metaphor, here.  Established to be apart from the world, it could not hold on to those who did not choose that kind of isolation.  Abbey Gethsemani springs to mind (a friend who lives in Louisville related a story of a recent visit there; he and I visited together decades ago).  Abbey Gethsemani thrived before Merton, and remains after, because the people there choose to be there: to be cloistered, to live apart from the world, to maintain a world within the walls and live by that world's rules.  Think of the Abbey as an example of the theology of abundance.  I told my friend of the Lovely Wife's new interest in beekeeping.  He mentioned he met the prior of the Abbey on this last visit; and he's also the beekeeper for the Abbey.  He does it without even a mask (beekeepers tell me that's really all the cover you need.  Bees go for the face, because their biggest threat is bears, and the face is the only part vulnerable to bees.).  I don't know how the Abbey supports itself; I presume they sell honey, among other things.  Most monasteries have some trade with the world.

Drifting back to the anchorites of medieval Europe, the most extreme of the cloistered sets.  They literally underwent a funeral service and were treated as "dead" to the world; and spent the rest of their days in a cell, "anchored" to God usually by living in a small room inside a church.  Visitors could come and speak to them, ask for prayers, receive spiritual guidance and counseling.  So they had renounced the world, but not people. Plymouth plantation wanted to renounce the world and build a new one with select people.  But then the people selected the world, and the whole thing dissolved.  Jenna can, if she really wants, establish her own world for her family; but she can't make the rest of the world conform to her fears and insecurities.  The theology of scarcity always runs up against that problem:  that the world refuses to participate in their anxieties.

Is the theology of scarcity the way of the world?  No.  The birds that come to my backyard feeders don't despair if I let the peanuts run out on the tray, or fail to refill the seed.  They come back when food is available again.  They eat what is available, and find other food or just stand by, until it is available again.  People grown anxious.  People fear scarcity.  People create most of the troubles they have.  People draw lines, create borders, insist none shall pass and that only their family shall know what is to be taught.  For them other families have no reality, are even a threat to be blockaded.

Perez-Diaz added: "My point in asking you the question about borders is that is a clear example of why we need the standards the way that they have been written because this country did not always have borders. This country, we're sitting on stolen land."

Members of the audience erupted at the mention of "stolen land," forcing the chair to call for quiet.

"That isn't something that is in the standards," Perez-Diaz noted. "But what is in the standards is understanding our indigenous roots and understanding how indigenous communities have been impacted and those sorts of pieces of our history are very important."

"And so, again, I ask, what do you remember about learning about indigenous histories?" she wondered.

"I don't remember very much about indigenous histories," the witness admitted. "I'm sorry I can't answer your question about what I learned about indigenous communities and the border. I know our border is open right now and thousands are flooding over!

I have a pretty good idea what Jenna learned about indigenous histories, because it's the same thing I learned:  nothing.  I learned about Columbus and his enslaving of native peoples here when I read excerpts from his fellow traveler's book, in a Norton Anthology of World Literature for a course I taught.  That was not so many years ago, and the book itself was written in the late 15th century as a stern moral warning to the Spanish crown.  Gold, of course, was more important, so the moral lesson was lost.  But that text existed for over 500 years and if I hadn't been assigned a World Lit course to teach, I might still be ignorant of if.

So much for my "education."

A patch of ice, and it doth not a winter make; but it's a simple example of a much larger problem, one Ms. Perez-Diaz is keen to remedy, and good for her.  Texas history alone has been so whitewashed for so long that any mention of the importance of non-whites in Texas history will still make members of the audience erupt, and force a call for order.  But the theology of scarcity insists "our border is open right now and thousands are flooding over!"  The theology of abundance, the fundamental behind the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, of Moses and the prophets, is that there is plenty for all, and our highest calling is to share in joy, not horde in fear.

Surely joy is greater than fear, and better.

No comments:

Post a Comment