Episode 15, Lesson 7: On Visiting Our Country’s Past Again for the First Time

Welcome to Episode 15 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 7 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on pages 11 and 12 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I see only the past.”

For our purposes here, I’d express today’s main idea like this: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”

However we express it though, today’s lesson is setting us up to leave the past aside and consider everything anew, as if for the first time.

In fact, the text goes on to explain that this idea (I see only the past) is the basis of all the Workbook lessons we’ve practiced so far. In the text’s words, seeing only the past:

“Is the reason why nothing that you see means anything.
It is the reason why you give everything you see all the meaning that it has for you.
It is the reason why you do not understand anything you see 
It is the reason why your thoughts do not mean anything. 
It is the reason why you are never upset for the reasons you think.
It is the reason why you are upset because you see something that is not there.”

As we have seen, The Course considers the past as “unreal.” Its events unfolded in yesterday’s present. But that present is gone forever. It is now “unreal.” However, the fact remains that what we’ve learned through past experience determines what we see in the present. In mundane terms, it’s only because of the past that we know what cups, pencils, shoes, hands, and faces are for. It’s almost impossible to view such items as if we didn’t know their purposes.

In political terms, what we see in our world is also largely governed by what we learned as children — in this instance, about our country’s history. As we saw earlier, the shadows on our cave’s wall have established controlling ideas in our minds that determine what we see. Controlling ideas have taught us for instance, that America is the greatest in the world, that it’s a democracy, that its Founders were nearly saintly men, that the policeman is our friend, and that all of us are equal under the law. All those ideas prevent us from looking at our country with new eyes – from seeing it as it “really” is today.

(And, as we’ll see, if we understand what we’ve learned in the past against the eternal and lasting Ground of Being that alone is real (in the sense of eternal and lasting) we’ll reconceive our learnings from the past in a brightly critical light.) 

Politically speaking and because this podcast is about the way A Course in Miracles can move us from unreal perceptions, it’s not too early to point out that the only way we can escape our cave’s interiorized misperceptions is to leave empire’s cave altogether. It is to follow the example of the prophet Jesus by somehow “incarnating” in the imperialized world he inhabited. There, we’ll inevitably encounter stark criticisms of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. 

Of course, you can make that happen by travel that intentionally goes beyond tourism and whose specific purpose is political education. For example, ventures like that brought me to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, India, and (during my five years of graduate study in Rome) to Poland and most of the countries in western Europe. Moreover, stepping outside our cultural cave as a kind of political archeologist is best accomplished by learning the relevant languages.

But no one can learn all the world’s languages. And few can travel extensively in the less developed world as I’m suggesting.

However, we can through reading and documentary films encounter new unaccustomed visions that move us beyond seeing “only the past” as portrayed within our cultural cave. To that end, I’d suggest the following list:

  • James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me
  • Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
  • Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States (accompanied by video documentaries for each chapter)
  • Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America
  • Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  • Vijay Prashad’s The Poorer Nations: a possible history of the global south
  • Haitian director, Raul Peck’s documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes”

Suggestions like those terrify the controllers within our cave who carry statues before the fire that burns behind our backs. They’re afraid students like us will actually understand our manipulation at our keepers’ hands. For that reason, they hate what they vilify as “critical race theory,” but what is only seeing the past “again for the first time” from the viewpoint of those victimized by white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Understanding the past that way can change understandings of the world. And changed understanding (from one based on fear to understanding based on love) represents what A Course in Miracles’ means by the term “miracle.”

Please give Lesson 7 and the thoughts I’ve just shared prayerful consideration throughout this day. Several times for a minute or so, say to yourself whenever your eyes fall upon familiar objects, “I see only the past in this _____ (pencil, shoe, hand, body, face). While watching the news describing and analyzing the day’s events, say “I see only the past in this issue.”

Again, the point of all this is to deconstruct our familiar ways of seeing the world.

Until next time, then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul thanking you for listening. Please join me tomorrow for Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” In the meantime, God’s blessings on you all.

Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.

Time Travel to 1910: A Letter to My Granddaughter

On Saturday, Peggy and I returned from our week on Bustin’s Island in Maine. It was a marvelous time spent not only together, but with our daughter, Maggie, and two of her five children — Markandeya (6 yrs.) and Sebastian (2 yrs.). [Her other three children (Eva 12 yrs., Oscar 10 yrs., and Orlando 8 yrs.) are all away at summer camps.] A dear friend from Berea, Joan Moore, also visited for three days. By way of a report on our collective experience, what follows is a letter to my granddaughter, Eva, who (as I started to say) is spending the last of six weeks at her summer camp (Fernwood) also in Maine.

August 1, 2001

My dearest Eva Maria,

Thanks so much for your two recent letters. It was such a nice surprise to return from Maine to find them waiting for me here — along with the beautiful pin you made for me with our favorite colors, yellow and green. As you suggested, I’ll wear that on my walking duds.

I’m so glad you’re doing the reading you mentioned from Howard Zinn and An Indigenous People’s History. Your comments make me think you’d very much like a four-part film series I’ve just watched (twice!). It’s called “Exterminate All the Brutes.” It’s by Raul Peck (a Haitian born director). He’s the narrator of the series as well. He too loves Zinn and the author of An Indigenous People’s History.

Peck says that all of history can be summarized in three words: civilization (i.e., white supremacy), colonialism, and extermination. The film details the evils of the Native American holocaust and of enslavement of Africans. Grandma Gaga started watching it with me. However, she left after about ten minutes saying that she thought the story and graphics were too violent. So, maybe it’s inappropriate for your viewing at this stage of your life. We can talk about that.

Last night, Gaga and I returned from our week on Bustin’s Island near Freeport, Maine (the home of LL Bean). It was a wonderful experience. It was like going back more than 100 years in a time machine. No cars, internet, plumbing or running water. We fetched our water supply from a town pump, used the outhouse, and boiled all our water including what we used for rinsing dishes. The whole experience was an exercise in simple living. We loved it.

What I liked most about Bustin’s Island was the community of people there. It was formed mainly of families that have been going there each summer for generations. Lots of young people about your age and somewhat older. They were all so enthusiastic about the privilege of living there. I’m sure you’d love it too.

Your mom, Markandeya, and Sebastian shared our experience. Markandeya was especially enthusiastic. Sebastian was fun too. I spent a good amount of time pulling him around in a wagon that belonged to the cottage. Marku loved pumping water and pulling the wagon loaded with more than 100 pounds (including two five-gallon water containers and his brother). Gaga joined the Monopoly enthusiasts. Others of us played Hearts and a bit of Yahtzee. Markandeya’s a fierce Monopoly competitor. (I know you know that quite well!).

Joan Moore, a friend of ours from Berea also spent three days with us. She was a very easy presence – very willing to do her part cleaning, playing with the kids, and generally offering a helping hand. She’s a friend of your grandma Momo’s too and will visit her this week. On her way home, Joan says she may stop off in Westport for a visit. Both Gaga and I love Joan.

Weather at Bustin’s was mixed. But it was never hot. As a matter of fact, at night it was often a bit too cold. Our house was located right on Casco Bay that offered wonderful moments for quiet contemplation.

One morning your great uncle and great aunt, Jerry and Liz (whose summer cottage was nearby on Birch Island), came over and took us by boat to their place. They love it there too. Their house had running water and an indoor composting toilet. I enjoyed talking with both of them.

On the way to Birch Island, we passed some of the Calendar Islands (there are 365 of them) with names like “Sow and Pigs,” “Upper Goose, Lower Goose, and Their Three Goslins.” We passed eagles’ nests that sat like huge card tables on top of giant pine trees. One island that evoked interest from my hermit’s heart was called Moshier. It had only a single house on it. I can imagine living there quite happily.

Your mother and I also had some time together – just one-on-one. We talked over our relationship and other such matters. We both promised to continue the conversation now that we’re back in Westport.

One of these nights all of us here are going to watch the film “NomadLand” on your folks’ outdoor screen. It won this year’s Academy Award as the best film of the year. It’s about people who have left the “rat race” of American life and have returned to simple living of the kind that we experienced last week in Maine. Only, the film’s characters are living on the road in campers, mobile homes, and trailers. I find that stuff fascinating. (Although your mom has hastened to tell me quite emphatically, “Don’t get any ideas, Dad. You are NOT going to end up living that way.”)  

I know your regimen at Fernwood doesn’t allow you to watch “Democracy Now” each day as you’re accustomed to do. And maybe that’s for the best. I mean, the reports on the pandemic, on suppression of voting rights (especially for black people), and on the U.S. support of wars everywhere all border on depressing. Nonetheless, when you get back here, I know you’ll take pains to catch up. I’ll help you with that on our walks together.  

Of course, Eva, I’m very much looking forward to your return (next Saturday!). It goes without saying that I’ve missed you a great deal. I’m looking forward to your account of this summer’s experience at camp. I’m sure you learned a lot and made many new friends. I’m proud of your rock-climbing achievements. As I always tell you, you’re a much better athlete than you give yourself credit for.

So, until Saturday, let me assure you that you’re never far from my thoughts and (yes!) my prayers. I love you so much and am very, very proud of you – especially for your making the best of Fernwood.

Love,

Baba

The Christmas Story: Fact or Fiction?

Grandchildren are wonderful. And so are Christmas pageants.

Last Sunday, just minutes before the curtain went up on our church’s annual play, one of the shepherds (my seven-year-old grandson Orlando) approached me with an urgent question seemingly from out of the blue. “What’s the evidence (he used that word) that Jesus ever lived? How do we know,” he asked, “that he existed at all? Huh? Huh? Where’s the evidence?”

Caught off guard, I replied, “Well, that’s complicated. I suppose we have as much evidence as for any figures from the ancient past. How do we know, for instance, that Julius Caesar ever existed?”

With that, Orlando ran off to tend the sheep.

But of course, my answer – except for the first part about complications – was completely inadequate. It revealed how we elders have dodged sharp questions from our children and grandchildren long enough. We’ve not been honest with them in answering burning queries concerning the very meaning of life and the nature of the sources we claim to be inspired. As a result, we’ve driven them away into a world that is consequently (as Caitlin Johnstone has so delicately put it) completely F**ked. That is, we’ve filled their minds with fictions that pretend to explain the world but that won’t finally hold water.

Let’s face it: we don’t have nearly the evidence for Jesus’ existence that we have for Caesar’s. And there’s good reason for that hard reality – reason that cuts to the very heart of so many questions about figures from yesteryear and even about our contemporaries. It’s the reason we need “people’s histories” like Howard Zinn’s.

Fact is, we never know much about poor people from any historical period (including our own). And Jesus left no direct record. He wrote nothing. Possibly he was illiterate.

Moreover, the record-keepers of Jesus time (and the Romans were exquisite about records – that and building roads and killing people) just weren’t interested in the nobodies they ruled, especially in marginal provinces like Israel – and especially from towns like Nazareth, a true nowheresville.

Yes, the Romans kept records about their puppet kings and temple collaborators. But even those flunkies weren’t interested in the others, much less about the innumerable insurgents they routinely offered for execution with the special process Rome reserved for terrorists –  crucifixion.

Despite the impression we get from the Christian Gospels (which were written long after the fact) the whole world wasn’t watching Jesus’ trial and execution, much less his birth. No, there probably wasn’t any trial at all. And Jesus’ body was likely thrown into a common grave after it was consumed by buzzards and dogs.

So, actually, my response to Orlando’s question (if he were capable of understanding it) should have been: “If you’re asking about the birth of Jesus and the story you’re about to perform on stage . . . No, we don’t have any evidence that it happened in the way you’ll portray it.

“In fact, the story you’re enacting probably didn’t take place at all. Most likely, there were no angels or shepherds, magi or guiding star.

“I say that because only Luke and Matthew tell stories like that. They’re not found in Mark (the earliest of the Gospels) nor in John, the last one of the four. This means that Mark and John either didn’t know of what scholars call “the infancy narratives” (including the virgin birth) or they didn’t think the tales important enough to include. And if the Christmas stories actually occurred, neither of those possibilities is very likely.

“You see, the infancy narratives are what scholars call Midrashim or Aggadah — interpretative parables based on ancient Jewish texts like Isaiah 7:14, which reads: ‘a virgin (actually a young girl) shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The stories are invented to make a theological point – in this case, that from the beginning Jesus embodied a special manifestation of Israel’s God, Yahweh.”

Personally, I remember when I was first introduced to Midrashim and Aggadah – when I was much older than my seven-year-old grandson. That was something like 55 years ago, when at about 24 years of age, I was beginning my seminary study of ancient biblical texts. I still remember my shock at learning that the story of the Wisemen was Midrashic fiction. What? No magi? No star? No gold, frankincense and myrrh? My mind quickly raced ahead. What then about Jesus’ resurrection? Could that be Midrash too? I was deeply threatened and devastated.

And it took me a long time to come to terms with the faith-implications I saw so clearly then. However, that was the beginning of my ability to think critically even about the most threatening questions I could imagine. There is nothing, I concluded, that cannot be asked. Truth is truth; we can’t be afraid of it, no matter where it leads. God (however we might imagine him or her or It) cannot be contradicted by truth. (But all that’s another story.)

Of course, Orlando wouldn’t be able to understand any of this. And at this point, he doesn’t care. Instead, he’s just learned about historical “evidence” and is testing out that idea. But some day, he may be interested – as most readers are at this point. He’ll wake up some day (as I did much later in life) with adult questions. But because our churches and elders who know better, treat adults as children, he’ll end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But what is the baby we’re talking about?  It’s the point-of-faith conveyed in all the infancy narratives. It’s that “God” or History or Life Itself is for everyone – not just for the analogues of Rome and its Temple mannequins.

No, God is present in unwed teenage mothers. God appears in babies born in smelly rat-infested hovels. God’s there in immigrants and refugees fleeing genocidal tyrants like Herod. God is present on death row – in tortured insurgents and victims of capital punishment. And some of them (like Jesus himself, Gandhi, King, Dorothy Day and Malcolm) are more alive and influential today than ever they were when they walked the earth. Resurrection is real.

The Jesus stories convey all these things. Yes, all those supporting stories – including the infancy narratives – are true.

Some of them might even have happened.

The Real Reason for Trump’s Strategy in Syria

People are scratching their heads over President Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw troops from the Kurdish area in northeastern Syria. In effect, American troops there had been acting as human shields against the designs of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his long-standing vendetta against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and their Kurdish allies in Syria. Both have struggled for Kurdish rights and independence since 1979.

As well, American troops have guaranteed the stability of prison camps for terrorists in Northern Syria, where up to eleven thousand Muslim militants have been concentrated after the supposed defeat of ISIS in Syria. In the absence of U.S. troops, Erdogan now has free rein not only to decimate his Kurdish opponents, but to release those ISIS fighters who, he says, will help him defeat the PKK in Turkey.

But why this apparently impulsive decision on the part of President Trump ?

A number of reasons have been advanced to explain it, as well as to understand Turkey’s sudden aggressive action:

  • The United States is cultivating Turkey to become the dominant regional power rather than Iran.
  • The U.S. is tired of fighting the war in Syria that has cost billions of dollars.
  • Trump has business interests in Turkey where he’s building two Trump Towers. To protect those interests, he’s doing Erdogan a political and military favor.
  • According to Erdogan, he is simply attempting to create a “safe zone” for the relocation of 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Turkey during the war in Syria.
  • As well, Turkey claims that the safe zone would destroy the terror corridor which the PKK and Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces have been trying to establish on Turkey’s southern border.
  • The U.S. isn’t really interested in defeating ISIS. On the contrary, it favors its revival in order to use it in regime-change wars, and to justify continuance of an endless “war on terror” – all in order to benefit the military-industrial complex.

In the end, all of those “explanations” might have some credibility. No doubt, each of them plays some part in creating the chaos that now reigns in Syria.

Nevertheless, U.S. history after World War II indicates that Tulsi Gabbard put her finger on the real reason for the events unfolding in Syria. I’m referring to her remark that the conflict in Syria represents an illegal regime-change war initiated by the United States. That is, absent U.S. efforts to unseat Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, the current crisis would not exist. That she was onto something was indicated by the severe backlash she experienced from Hilary Clinton, a principal advocate of U.S. policy in Syria.

None of this means that without American intervention Syria would be care-free. On the contrary, its unprecedented climate-change drought and accompanying desertification have caused farmers to migrate to Syria’s large cities in turn leading to an unemployment crisis and civil unrest that beggar description. The drought and resulting state of emergency also created an opening and excuse for the U.S. to mount a campaign to remove Syria’s president from office.

But why specifically does the United States want al-Assad removed? As I’ve indicated elsewhere, the U.S. wants him out because he’s a Baathist, i.e. a Pan Arab socialist.  And wherever the United States encounters socialism, Pan Arabism or Pan Africanism, it works for regime change, since such movements constitute a threat to America’s white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy. Think of Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, Brazil, the former Yugoslavia, and a host of countries in Africa.

To implement its world-wide regime change strategy, America creates and/or employs local anti-government groups like the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, or the Kurds in Syria. It continues to use “terrorist” forces like al-Qaeda as it did successfully in Afghanistan against the Russians. In the Syrian conflict, those forces were renamed and described as “moderate” for purposes of fighting ISIS – another U.S. creation this time unintentionally produced by its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, America’s real quarry in Syria remained Bashar al-Assad.

As Chris Hedges has recently noted, the United States has no loyalty to such agents, and often drops them as soon as convenient once their services are no longer required. It vilifies them anew with their old names restored – al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Using such forces, efforts to overthrow Assad (begun in 2013) have failed miserably. So, the U.S. and Turkey have decided to give up on the Kurds, who in northeastern Syria are also socialists. Additionally, they are allies of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdogan’s archenemies in Turkey. In terms of socialism, the PKK’s name says it all.

Put otherwise, in the face of our country’s regime change failure, Trump and Erdogan are trying to save the imperialist day by at least defeating the socialist Kurds in both Turkey and Syria. However, they have instead driven Syrian Kurds to seek protection from Bashar al-Assad. His troops have been welcomed as heroes in the Syrian northeast. And so have Russian support troops who represent the only legal foreign military presence in Syria, since they are there at the behest of the Syrian government.

The bottom line here is that the United States has no legal leg to stand on in Syria. It should leave the country entirely. In fact, its military should leave the Middle East altogether. The U.S. should instead sponsor diplomatic solutions to the mess it has created. There are no military solutions to any of the problems in the region.

While this does not mean completely abandoning the Middle East to its own devices, it does mean abandoning the use of force. Correspondingly, it entails seeking diplomatic solutions through the U.N. which was created precisely to avoid the kind of illegal, arbitrary military measures routinely implemented by U.S. presidents of both parties.

But to prioritize diplomacy over war, the U.N.’s international law as well as U.S. legislation must be respected. I’m referring to the international requirement that member nations seek U.N. approval for initiating any military action not demanded as immediate response to direct attack. Similarly, our own government must respect the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that Congress (not the executive branch) approve any acts of war by our nation.

In summary, while Trump’s reassignment of U.S. troops in Syria from protecting Kurds to protecting Syria’s northeaster oil fields may have been puzzling to those not paying attention, consummate insiders like Tulsi Gabbard, see the pattern. And it looks like serial regime change criminality.

What even Gabbard might not see is the pattern’s very raison d’etre. It’s that American leadership always becomes alarmed when any head of state on the one hand or anti-imperialist force on the other attempts to create a country where the interests of all (not just the elite) are served. When that happens, the “guilty” party will be subject to regime change measures of one kind or another. In the Middle East, that’s been the case with Baathists, Pan Arabs, Pan Africans, and now with the PKK.  As Ozlem Goner has indicated, such indigenous entities typically cultivate democratic, non-patriarchal, anti-imperial, and gender-egalitarian structures.

To repeat: that invariably proves intolerable to the United States and its bought-and-paid-for clients. History since the Second Inter-Capitalist War has shown as much.

But you won’t read about this long-standing dynamic in the New York Times. Instead, you’ll find it in sources like Howard Zinn‘s A People’s History of the United States, in Eduardo Galeano‘s The Open Veins of Latin America, in Walter Rodney‘s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, in Oliver Stone‘s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, and in Vijay Prashad‘s The Poorer Nations: a Possible History of the Global South.  I recommend all of them very highly.

Twenty Lessons I learned from My 40 Years of Teaching Social Justice

mike teaching

During the fall semester of 2014, I taught a Religion course at Berea College called “Poverty and Social Justice.” The course was personally significant because it rounded off 40 years of teaching at Berea, where my first class convened in 1974 – exactly 40 years ago. I remember how I came to Berea, fresh from leaving the priesthood, on fire from Vatican II, sensing the increasing importance of liberation theology (see below) and (naively) ready to change the world.

In this 2014 semester, nineteen students (mostly juniors and seniors) participated in REL 126. The students were engaged, committed, funny, energetic and smart. They, along with our readings, films and required community activism, taught me a great deal.  And that, by the way, has been my consistent experience since 1974 – I’m the principal beneficiary of the courses I’ve taught. (I’m thankful every day for the path Life has so gently led me follow.)

In any case, I’d like to share twenty of my own specific learnings here. Of course, none of my students would be able to draw these conclusions. After all, they were exposed to the underlying historical events and to the resulting ideas for the first time during the course. However for me, as I’ve indicated, REL 126 represented a kind of capstone to forty years of teaching and nearly half a century of trying to understand the world from the viewpoint of its disenfranchised majority. Grasping that understanding, I’ve come to realize, is the only hope of salvation our world has.

But before sharing those conclusions, let me tell you a bit more about the course itself.  Like all of my courses over the years, its basic purpose was to stimulate critical thought about poverty, hunger and what the Christian tradition teaches about social justice. Our readings included Ron Sider’s Just Generosity, Cynthia Duncan’s Worlds Apart, and the Bread for the World 2014 Hunger Report. We also analyzed the (still relevant) 1973 Pastoral Letter by the U.S. Catholic bishops of Appalachia, “This Land Is Home to Me.”

In addition, all of us attended monthly meetings of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) and volunteered for their “Get out the Vote” actions. A KFTC activist spent two of our class periods leading us in a game of “Survive or Thrive,” a wonderfully instructive game she had invented to replicate the problems of international “free trade” agreements. The activist wasn’t our only class guest.  A grass roots entrepreneur from a clothing factory in Nicaragua and a Glenmary priest-activist campaigning against Appalachian mountaintop removal also graced our classroom.

Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and taking Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as our guiding image, the course had us attempting to re-vision U.S. history from the viewpoint of the poor and disenfranchised rather than “the official story” of presidents, generals, the rich and the famous.

So we made sure that our current events source reflected those usually neglected viewpoints. To that end, students watched and reported regularly on “Democracy Now.” We even spent some class time watching and discussing a number of interviews with street-level newsmakers by the show’s anchor, Amy Goodman. Additionally class participants researched and reported on issues highlighted on the program including climate change, police militarization, prison privatization, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, reparations to descendants of African slaves, the campaign for a living wage, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, and Israel’s bombing of Palestinians in Gaza.

In line with our commitment to understanding the experience of the actually poor and disenfranchised, our approach to the Christian tradition in this religion course was that of liberation theology – understood as “reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of those working for the liberation of the poor and oppressed.” Our readings here were drawn from a series on the topic which I had authored and published on my blog site.

A screening of the film “Romero” along with some other shorter documentaries, put flesh on those intentionally brief to-the-point readings. The documentaries emphasized U.S. sponsorship of third world dictatorships under genocidal U.S. allies like Pinochet (Chile), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), the Duvaliers (Haiti) and Somozas (Nicaragua), Mobutu (Congo), and Diem (Vietnam).

Together our intentionally subversive approaches to history and faith were intended to expose students to the untold history of the United States, and to the untold story of Jesus of Nazareth.  From all of this, I drew the twenty conclusions I mentioned earlier. Remember, my students could never reach such conclusions. My hope is that someday (if they continue reading outside the dominant culture) they might:

  1. Historically speaking, the United States is the country Adolf Hitler and his backers imagined Germany would be had they triumphed in World War II – the absolute ruler of the capitalist world at the service of corporate interests. In short, the U.S. has become the fascist police state Adolf Hitler aspired to lead.
  2. As such the principal enemies of the United States are those Hitler imagined being the protégés of “Jewish Madness”—viz. the world’s poor and disenfranchised.
  3. These are (and have been since the end of World War II) the objects of what C.I.A. whistle-blower, John Stockwell, has termed the ”Third World War against the Poor” located throughout the developing world. It has claimed more than seven million victims.
  4. This war by the United States has made it the principal cause of the world’s problems in general and especially throughout the former colonial world, as well as in the Middle East, Ukraine, and in the revived threat of nuclear war, along with the disaster of climate change.
  5. Its war against the poor has made the United States a terrorist nation. Compared to its acts of state terrorism (embodied e.g. in its worldwide system of torture centers, it unprovoked war in Iraq, illegal drone executions, the unauthorized bombings in Syria, its preparations for nuclear war), the acts of ISIS and al-Qaeda are miniscule.
  6. Far from “the indispensable nation,” the United States is more aptly characterized (in the words of Martin Luther King) as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Without the U.S., the world would be far less violent.
  7. At home, “our” country increasingly tracks the path blazed by Nazi Germany. It has become a state where corporate executives and their government servants are excused by one set of laws, whereas U.S. citizens are punished by another. Following this regime, law-breakers go unpunished; those who report them are prosecuted.
  8. This type of law is increasingly enforced by a militarized police state in which law enforcement officers represent an occupying force in communities where those they are theoretically committed to “protect and defend” are treated as enemies, especially in African-American and Latino communities.
  9. As a result, new wave of “lynchings” has swept the United States at the hands of “law enforcement” officers who execute young black men without fear of punishment even if their murders are recorded on video from beginning to end.
  10. In addition, disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos have been imprisoned in for-profit gulags that rival in their brutality Nazi concentration camps.
  11. The point of the militarized police state and prison culture is to instill fear in citizens – to discourage them from constitutionally sanctioned free speech, protest and rebellion.
  12. As in Nazi Germany, the dysfunctions of “America’s” police state (including poverty, sub-standard housing and schools, drug addiction, and broken families) are blamed on the usual suspects: the poor themselves, especially non-white minorities. They are faulted as undeserving welfare dependents and rip-off artists. Systemic causes of poverty are routinely ignored.
  13. In reality, welfare and other “government programs” represent hidden subsidies to corporate employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds. These latter pay non-living wages to their workers and expect taxpayers to make up the difference through the programs just mentioned.
  14. Government programs such as food stamps could be drastically shrunk and limited to the disabled, children, and the elderly, if all employers were compelled to pay their workers a living wage adjusted for inflation on an annual basis. Currently, that wage must be at least $15.00 an hour.
  15. Moreover, since education quality and achievement are the most reliable predictors of students’ future poverty levels, the U.S. education system should be nationalized, teachers’ salaries should be dramatically increased, and all facilities K through 12 regardless of location should enjoy highly similar quality.
  16. All of this should be financed by declaring an end to the so-called War on Terror, withdrawing from foreign conflicts and reducing by two-thirds the U.S. military budget.
  17. Instead, the current system of corporate domination, state terrorism, war against the world’s poor, and lynching of minority men is kept in place by rigging the nation’s electoral system in favor of right wing extremists. They control the system through practices such as unlimited purchase of government (the Citizens United decision), voter suppression tactics (e.g. voter I.D. laws), redistricting, and rigged voting machines. They do not want everyone to vote.
  18. U.S. citizens are kept unaware of all this by a mainstream media and (increasingly) by a privatized system of education owned and operated by their corporate controllers.
  19. As a result, revolution has been rendered inconceivable.
  20. The only hope and prayer is for a huge general economic crash that will awaken a slumbering people.

American “Deceptionalism”

exceptionalism

Last Wednesday’s reflection was about Peggy’s and my experience in St. Peter’s Square ten days ago. It was then, I was saying, that Pope Francis gently and subtly confronted our bellicose president and joined Russia’s President Putin in defusing a potentially disastrous crisis not only for Syria and the United States, but for the world. I suggested the pope might be the unsung hero of day.

By all measures, President O’Bomb ‘em was the villain.

His speech last Tuesday confirmed that. There he maintained his belligerent stance despite world opinion, that of the U.S. electorate, and of world moral leaders. Worse still, he portrayed the administration’s position as continuous with a supposed United States moral leadership. Specifically, he claimed that for seven decades the United States had been “the anchor of global security.”

Let’s see: that would bring us back to 1943. Was Mr. Obama referring to the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1954 and the 25 year reign of terror by Mosaddegh’s CIA replacement, the brutal Shaw of Iran, Resa Palavi? Or perhaps Obama had in mind the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guatemala’s democratically elected president that same year – and the 40 year dirty war waged by the U.S. supported military which then killed more than 200,000 of “their own people.” Or was the president thinking of the U.S. wars in Indochina and the millions of lives it claimed. Or perhaps he was referring to the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende in 1973 – on September 11th of that year (what Latin Americans refer to as “the first September 11th). By all measures, the Chile coup was far worse than what occurred here on September 11th 2001. Or maybe the president was referring to our countries disastrous support of Mobutu in the Congo or of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The list truly goes on and on.

Either our Harvard educated president is ignorant of those details, has forgotten them or he was deliberately lying to intentionally foster Americans’ legendary ignorance of history. I’d recommend that he read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States. That would make him realize that only the ignorant can say (as the president put it in his speech) that we are “exceptional.”

That is, unless by American “exceptionalism” he meant (as Rob Kall recent
ly put it) that:

“We have more prisoners than any other nation– and most of them haven’t harmed anyone, but prosecuting and jailing them keeps them off the voter roles in many states.

We have the largest military and largest military budget– which means more money going to expenses that do not grow the economy or build the nation’s inner resources and strengths.

We spend more on healthcare than any other nation, yet we are the only first world nation, the only member of the G-20 nations which does not provide health care for all citizens.

We are a nation that spends more on spying on citizens than any other nation.

We are a nation that uses more psychiatric drugs than any other nation.

We are a nation that sets the standard for voting corruptibility, with electronic tallying that is impossible to reliably recount.

The list goes on and on, and then there are all the other list items where we are low, like infant death rate, access to WIFI, educational skills…”

No, America is not exceptional in the way the president meant. It is a rogue state, an outlaw state. It is the world’s bully and needs to be reined in.

Interestingly, the ones doing that reining are the pariahs of the last century, Russia diplomatically and China economically. For example, it was the Russian president who in the Syrian crisis ended up taking the high road stressing the need for diplomacy, dialog, and reconciliation.

Definitely conceding that high ground to Mr. Putin, Mr. Obama seemed content with the low. While calling Mr. Assad to observe international law, Mr. Obama himself violated those norms by peppering his speech last week with threats of violence that are themselves thereby prohibited. (Remember, the use or threat of force outside circumstances of immediate self-defense is prohibited by international law.)

So with black hat firmly in place, the U.S. president attempted to persuade Americans, both conservative and liberal of the moral superiority of bombing rather than diplomacy, dialog, and reconciliation. In defending the morality of bombing, the president said nothing of the will of his constituents or the alignment of votes in Congress. Certainly, no mention was made of the dissenting positions of Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Dali Lama all of whom had strongly opposed Mr. Obama’s plans.

Meanwhile, the president ignored a golden opportunity for using Mr. Assad’s concessions around chemical weapons for ridding the entire Middle East of such threats along with nuclear weapons. He could easily have done so and reclaimed the true moral high ground by calling for a Geneva Conference to that end.

He did not for one simple reason. And that is that Israel, America’s staunch ally, has refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits not only the use of chemical weapons, but their possession. Israel stands in violation of international law in virtue of its huge stockpile of chemical weapons along with an equally huge arsenal of nuclear weapons. No one in our government or the mainstream press says anything about that. They never will.

Israel also continues to illegally occupy the Golan Heights in Syria no less.

There’ll be no discussion of that either by our president, secretary of state or mainstream media.

Mr. Obama succeeded in only one thing last Tuesday. He made it clear that he and his country are not exceptional.

We are “deceptional” on the one hand and deceived on the other.

Fascism Is “Capitalism in Crisis”

Princess Bride

This is the third installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

[Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler tried to connect Hitler and the response to the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of those events, the U.S. Vice President’s wife, Lynne Cheney and her American Council of Trustees and Alumni identified university and college professors as “the weak link in the fight against terrorism.” They found it particularly offensive that some of the latter had identified the September 11th attacks as “blowback” for “American” Hitler-like policies in the Third World. Such response inspired me to do some research on the question paying particular attention to data found in a standard Western Traditions textbook used in many institutions of higher learning, Jackson Spielvogel’s “Western Civilization.” This third installment attempts to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Spielvogel’s text.)]

The thesis here is that privatized globalization is a continuation of Hitler’s system of fascism which is understood here as “capitalism in crisis.” To understand that position, it is first of all necessary to clear up prevailing confusions about fascism itself. Not surprisingly, misunderstandings abound concerning its nature. Most correctly identify fascism with a police state, with institutionalized racism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarianism (though they typically remain unclear about the term’s meaning). Most too are familiar with concentration camps, the Holocaust, and, of course, with Adolf Hitler. Some can even associate the Nazi form of fascism with homophobia and persecution of Gypsies. However, rarely, if ever will anyone connect fascism with capitalism. For instance, here is Jackson Spielvogel’s (Western Civilization) textbook description of Hitler’s thought:

“In Vienna, then, Hitler established the basic ideas of an ideology from which he never deviated for the rest of his life. At the core of Hitler’s ideas was racism, especially anti-Semitism. His hatred of the Jews lasted to the very end of his life. Hitler had also become an extreme German nationalist who had learned from the mass politics of Vienna how political parties could effectively use propaganda and terror. Finally, in his Viennese years, Hitler also came to a firm belief in the need for struggle, which he saw as the “granite foundation of the world.” Hitler emphasized a crude Social Darwinism; the world was a brutal place filled with constant struggle in which only the fit survived” (794).

Here it is interesting to note that racism, especially anti-Semitism, nationalism, propaganda, terror and Darwinian struggle are signaled as defining attributes of the Hitlerian system. Capitalism is not mentioned, though “struggle” is. Perhaps, had the term “competition” been used instead of “struggle,” the basically capitalist nature of “Social Darwinism,” and fascism might have been clearer.

Fascism and Communism

Textbooks typically add to the confusion by closely connecting fascist Nazism and Communism. For instance, Spielvogel’s Western Civilization deals with Hitler’s fascism and Josef Stalin’s socialism back-to-back, linking the two with the term “totalitarianism.” Spielvogel’s transition from one to the other illustrates how the merely mildly interested (i.e. most college students) might come away confused. He writes, “Yet another example of totalitarianism was to be found in Soviet Russia” (801). Spielvogel defines totalitarianism in the following terms:

“Totalitarianism is an abstract term, and no state followed all its theoretical implications. The fascist states – Italy and Nazi Germany – as well as Stalin’s Communist Russia have all been labeled totalitarian, although their regimes exhibited significant differences and met with varying degrees of success. Totalitarianism transcended traditional political labels. Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany grew out of extreme rightist preoccupations with nationalism and, in the case of Germany, with racism. Communism in Soviet Russia emerged out of Marxian socialism, a radical leftist program. Thus, totalitarianism could and did exist in what were perceived as extreme right-wing and left-wing regimes. This fact helped bring about a new concept of the political spectrum in which the extremes were no longer seen as opposites on a linear scale, but came to be viewed as being similar to each other in at least some respects” (Spielvogel 789).

Here Spielvogel correctly points out “significant differences between fascism and communism. One is radically right, the other radically left. Nazism is identified with nationalism and racism (not, it should be noted, with capitalism). Communism is associated with Marxism and socialism. In the end, however, the two are viewed as “similar to each other in at least some respects.” Thus, clarity of distinction given with one hand seems to be erased with the other. Confusion is the typical result. Such fogginess might have been cleared had Spielvogel employed greater parallelism in his expression – i.e. had he identified Stalinist communism with police-state socialism and Hitler’s Nazism with police-state capitalism.

National Socialism

Nonetheless, history books and teachers are not solely at fault for student confusion. There are other understandable reasons for the distancing of fascism from capitalism. For one, Hitler’s Party called itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). As a result, it is quite natural for students who reflect on the question at all, to conclude that Hitler and his party were “socialist,” or even “communist,” since the two terms are almost synonymous for most Americans. After all, well-indoctrinated students would be justified in reasoning that Hitler did such terrible things he must have been a communist.

Lost in such analysis is the historical realization that during the 1930s, all sorts of approaches to political-economy called themselves “socialist.” This is because they supported state intervention to save the market system that was in crisis during the Great Depression. Thus, there were socialisms of the left as found in Soviet Russia. But there were also socialisms of the right, such as Hitler’s in Germany, Mussolini’s in Italy, and Franco’s in Spain. In other words, interventionist economies easily adopted the “socialist” identification to distinguish themselves from laissez-faire capitalism, which in the aftermath of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, had been completely discredited. As we shall see below, in such context (were it politically possible) Franklin Roosevelt’s interventionist program to save capitalism could easily have been called National Socialism instead of the “New Deal.”

However, analysis of fascism’s approach to socialism must recognize the national character of the socialism advocated. [Yet even here, according to Spielvogel, Hitler’s program had a distinctly international dimension eerily evocative of promises associated with the current global economy. Spielvogel recalls, “After the German victories between 1939 and 1941, Nazi propagandists painted glowing images of a new European order based on “equal chances” for all nations and an integrated economic community.” (829)] The critical adjective (nationalist) was intended precisely to distinguish the right wing brand of socialism from its left wing international antagonist. In this connection Hagen Schulze writes in Germany: a New History (2001):

“The catch-phrase “national socialism” itself had been created before the First World War as a means to unite a variety of nationalistic organizations in the battle against “international socialism.” The term was designated to appeal to the working class, but it also proved attractive to young people from the middle and upper classes with romantic notions of Volksgemeinschaft, a “popular” or “national” community” (231)

The implication here is that right wing zealots “co-opted” a popular term to confuse the young – a strategy employed to this day with great success. Here as well one should note that “national socialism” is signaled as a direct opponent of “international socialism.”

Fascism as Mixed Economy

Yet another reason disjoining fascism from capitalism is that fascism was not capitalism pure and simple. (The same might be said of Roosevelt’s New Deal – and even today’s U.S. economy.) Both systems were “mixed economies.” That is, if capitalism’s essential components are private ownership of the means of production, free and open markets and unlimited earnings, socialism’s corresponding elements are public ownership of the means of production, controlled markets and restricted earnings. Both Roosevelt and Hitler combined the two approaches to economy.

Once again, in a period when free market capitalism had been widely discredited, both Hitler and Roosevelt performed a kind of “perestroika.” Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev would later use the term to refer to the restructuring of socialism, in order to save it by incorporating elements of capitalism. The suggestion here is that more than a half-century earlier, Roosevelt and Hitler had done the opposite; they had incorporated elements of socialism into the capitalist system in order to resurrect it. So, while the means of production most often remained in private hands, others (such as the railroads, the postal system, telephones and highways) were nationalized.

Similarly, while the free market was allowed to continue in many ways, its freedom was restricted by measures socialists had long advocated (e.g. rationing, legalized unions, social security, wage and price controls). Finally, high income taxes were used to restrict earnings and garner income for the state to finance its interventionist programs. [Few recall, for instance, that during the 1940s, U.S. federal income tax rates assessed incomes over $400,000 at a rate of 91% (See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, 567-8). Government revenue collected in this way paid for populist programs that modestly redistributed income to the American working class and unemployed. Such redistribution found its way into workers’ pay envelopes, but also took the form of “social wage.”]

None of this is to say that Roosevelt’s and Hitler’s interventionist economies were the same. Mixed economies, after all, are not the identical. The key question for distinguishing between them is, “Mixed in favor of whom?” Some mixed economies are mixed in favor of the working class, others, in favor of their employers. As the product of a liberal capitalist, Roosevelt’s mixture successfully sold itself as the former. That is, while keeping most means of production securely in the hands of capitalists, Roosevelt gained the support of the working classes through his populist programs aimed at gingerly redistributing income downward towards those unable to fend for themselves. In other words, Roosevelt’s “mixed economy” was blended so as to facilitate its defense in populist terms – that is, as mixed in favor of the working class. And the defense achieved plausibility with the American people. Despite objections from more overtly pro-business Republicans, Roosevelt was elected four times in succession. His party remained in control of the U.S. Congress for nearly a half-century.

Hitler had another approach. Influenced by Herbert Spencer and (indirectly) by Friedrich Nietszche (see below), der Fuhrer was an extreme social Darwinist whose programs unabashedly favored elite Aryans and despised “the others,” particularly socialists, Jews, trade unionists, non-whites, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other “deviants.” On the other hand, Hitler despised “liberal” politicians like Roosevelt, with their programs of social welfare. On those grounds, he vilified the Weimar government which preceded his own. During the early years of the Great Depression, Weimar politicians had attempted to gain the favor of the working class, and to sidestep civil war by implementing wealth distribution programs (233). Funding the programs necessitated tax increases, unpopular with middle and upper classes. It meant strengthening unions along with socialists and communists.

The point here is that is it with good reason that few make the connection between fascism and capitalism. A student of Spielvogel, for instance, would have to be quasi-heroic to do so. After all, he or she would be not only resisting the confusion fostered by the text itself, but would also be swimming against the stream of American propaganda, which treats Hitler’s system as the product of an evil individual, and unconnected with any specific economic system (other than, mistakenly, socialism or communism).

Despite such ambiguity, next week’s blog entry will attempt to demonstrate more specifically that even a closer reading of a text like Spielvogel’s makes unmistakable the connection between fascism and capitalism.

Mali for Dummies (Part One: General Background)

Are you confused by what’s happening in Mali? Welcome to the club. We’re probably all puzzled and feel like dummies overwhelmed by information pieces that provide a welter of names, dates, organizations and explanations that are complicated, contradictory and vague. As a result, we probably accept the “official story” behind France’s U.S. – supported intervention in Mali as promulgated by our own State Department, France, Algiers and others.

That story goes that “we” are fighting AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) which has suddenly materialized in Mali as part of a world-wide terrorist offensive that justifies the “Global War on Terrorism.” Well, if it’s a fight against al-Qaeda, we might reason, I guess I have to be for it.

I too felt drawn to just throwing up my hands and participating in the dummy syndrome of simply surrendering to government de-contextualized muddle and propaganda. But then I remembered what I’ve been reading in Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States. I recalled what I studied in Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, and in Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. I drew on my recollections of Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America.

All of those taught me that the real justifications for invading the former colonial world rarely coincide with the stated rationale. It’s virtually never about democracy or protecting national sovereignty (though it might be about “maintaining regional stability” in lands where the median income is less than $2.00 per day!) Instead developed-world intervention is invariably connected with continuing the process of transferring wealth and commodities from the resource-rich south to the “developed” north. It’s about keeping the rich south subservient and impoverished.

In fact, as pointed out by J.W. Smith of the Institute for Economic Democracy, there’s a pattern to all interventions like the one we’re witnessing in Mali. In its starkest form, the pattern runs like this:

1. Any country (or group within a country) attempting to break for economic freedom
2. By establishing government representing the interests of its own people rather than those of the former Mother Country
3. Will be accused of communism or terrorism
4. And will be overthrown by military intervention
5. Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements from within the local population
6. To keep that country within the ex-mother country’s sphere of influence
7. So that the former colonists might continue to use the country’s resources for the invaders own enrichment,
8. And that of the local elite.

To put a finer point on all of that, the sources I have mentioned have taught me that the West is not interested in democracy or in the freedom of its former colonies. That’s proven by examining a short list of dictators the West (particularly the United States) has supported. The list includes Bonzer (Bolivia), Mobutu (Zaire), the Duvaliers (Haiti), Rios Montt (Guatemala), the Somozas (Nicaragua), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Suharto (Indonesia), Pinochet (Chile), Fujimori (Peru), Diem (Vietnam), Marcos (Philippines), Noriega (Panama), Al Saud family (Saudi Arabia), Batista (Cuba).

All of these are robbers and thugs. In fact, colonialism is little more than a system of robbery intended to transfer raw materials and agricultural produce from the resource-rich colonies to the “Mother Countries.”

European and American colonists initially achieved control of the colonies by military power. The power was used indiscriminately, viciously and “necessarily” since the colonies were overwhelmingly inhabited by tribal peoples who typically did not share western values. You just couldn’t do business with most of them. After all, they usually believed that their land belonged to their God and cannot be treated simply as another commodity. So at least since 1492 the West has engaged in a world-wide genocidal process of eliminating and neutralizing tribal peoples. We’re witnessing the latest chapter of that process today in Mali.

Because of the business-averse tendencies of most tribal people, the colonial process also involved identification of individuals or groups within tribes who were willing to sell out their brothers and sisters. Alternatively it consisted in identifying and exploiting rivalries between tribes. In either case the point was to employ cooperative local elites (frequently, it turns out, Christian and lighter skinned) who were richly rewarded for controlling and using violence to oppress their own people or rival peoples on behalf of the colonists. In other words, the favored locals ended up being mercenary puppets of the colonists during the colonial era.

Following the end of formal colonialism (1950s and ‘60s), the departing colonists typically tried to keep their puppets in control by rigging “free” elections to elect “the willing” who would continue doing business with their former masters on favorable terms. Colonial powers also arbitrarily drew up gerrymandered borders delineating colonist-created “countries” that separated tribal peoples from fellow tribe members. This was done in order to segregate natural allies from one another and to set them against each other in competing states. The result was the creation of artificial “countries” like Mali and Niger whose boundaries have little meaning for the tribal families they separate, while the primary loyalties of those families remain to their tribes.

The processes and consequences of all this are being demonstrated in Mali today as the French, attempt to reassert control of rebels in their former resource-rich colony.

(On Wednesday we’ll review the particulars.)