This is chapter 14 in my audio novel: The Pope, His Chamberlain, the Jinetera, and Fidel: a novel about Cuba, prostitution and the Catholic Church. For previous chapters, please scroll down.
In this chapter, note the connection between property and the defense of the revolution. “Liberation of Cuba” would mean that rich Miamians would return to “reclaim” the homes and businesses now belonging to previously propertyless ordinary Cubans. Defending those homes and businesses against Miamians (and other U.S. “entrepreneurs”) represents a major reason why the clear majority of Cubans defend the revolution. They don’t want to be turned out of the homes they now own.
Over Christmas, my daughter and son-in-law took us all on a ski vacation in the French Alps followed by a full week in Paris. Since at my stage of life, skiing is no longer advisable, I decided to focus instead on looking into the country’s Gilet Jaune (GJ) protest movement that’s shaken France to the core.
So, for several months before leaving the U.S., I studied French each day trying to recover the little I retained from 7 years (!) of extended formal French study 3 in high school and 4 in college.
And then, once in France, while my sons, son-in-law, and 4 grandchildren were on the slopes, I studied up on the Gilet Jaunes themselves . I read about them in French newspapers, watched TV coverage of their demonstrations,and tried to join them in Albertville my first Saturday in the country, in the Champs Elysee on New Year’s Eve, and in front of the Hotel de Ville my final day in Paris.
As an activist and student of the left, my point was to become a kind of accidental reporter covering a phenomenon that has seen hundreds of thousands of political protestors in the streets across a country whose history since 1789 has given it quasi-ownership rights to the word “revolution.”
Dressed in the yellow safety vests that French drivers are required to wear in case of highway emergencies, the GJs are stopping traffic on busy roadways. They’re occupying toll booths to allow travelers escape from burdensome fees. Some see them as suggesting a “Frexit” that may mirror the UK’s recent Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
Interviewing those protestors, some U.S. ex-patriots, teachers, and small businesspeople, as well as reading those newspapers and attending GJ protests have all made it clear to me that the Yellow Vests have valuable lessons to teach Americans about overcoming our current political fragmentation. The GJs suggest that it’s possible for both left and right extremes of our own political spectrum to cooperate for mutual benefit regardless of positions even on divisive issues like abortion, gun control, immigration, violence and terrorism.
The Yellow Vest Phenomenon
In the U.S. the GJ movement is typically reported by the Fox News right and even by “progressives” in terms of identity politics. It’s a rebellion, we’re told, against an “eco-tax” on diesel fuel. According to this view, the Yellow Vest rebels are part of a culture war pitting climate skeptics against a government whose vision has been captured by environmental extremists.
Such identification of the GJs with right-wing politics is adopted with good reason. French President Emmanuel Macron lent it credence in his annual New Year’s Eve address. There, he identified the Yellow Vests as “hateful” enemies of the state, of Jews, the media, homosexuals, and of law and order itself.
A more comprehensive view however, was inadvertently suggested by an American ex-pat living in Paris. At first, she described the Yellow Vests as “exactly the same as the U.S. Occupy Movement.” By the end of the interview, however, she portrayed it as mimicking the Republican Tea Party.
In my assessment, both evaluations are accurate. That is, far from being either predominantly conservative, liberal or radical, the Yellow Vest Movement is an all-sides rebellion against neo-liberal globalism itself. It has brought together forces on both the left and right extremes of the French political spectrum. Le Monde describes them as “retirees, the unemployed, poor workers, small businesspeople, and the self-employed within the gig economy.” It’s as if the Occupy Movement had united with Tea Partiers.
In terms understandable to Americans, yellow in France has become the new purple with each shade contributing from its corresponding degree of political consciousness. Right wingers like Marine Le Pen see the Yellow Vests as a protest against open borders that allow foreigners to corrupt French culture. Left wingers see it more broadly as a rejection of a globalism that accords free mobility to capital, while forbidding such movement to labor from France’s former colonies.
All sides see GJs as repudiating the status quo. And they’re working together to overthrow it. Therein lies the lesson for Americans. The lesson is that recognizing broad class interests as opposed to narrow and exclusionary identity-politics can unite normally fragmented citizens against a tyrannous plutocracy that is crushing us all.
The Real Yellow Vest Issues
Yes, a fuel tax purporting to address climate change was the precipitating “last straw.” But the tax was galling not because the French are climate-change deniers, but because it regressively impacted low-income workers living outside of the country’s big cities and dependent on auto commutes to get to work. It’s those people from the French countryside who constitute the majority within the Yellow Vest movement.
That’s because the government had persuaded commuters in France to switch to diesel cars as cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than gas guzzlers. Then, as diesel fuel became more expensive, the government reversed course on diesel cars. Suddenly, the vehicles were a major part of the climate problem.
Additionally, the revenue gathered by the fuel tax was never intended to advance the cause of alternative energy sources. Instead, it would revert to the general fund and end up in bank coffers as loan repayment. In other words, the bankers and their rich cronies who have recently been awarded huge tax reductions, would actually benefit from the fuel tax. Meanwhile, its pain would be felt by those already suffering from austerity measures imposed by the European Union following capitalism’s world-wide recession in 2008.
There’s also concern here about immigration. Open borders across the E.U. are changing the nation’s identity. Additionally, the creation of immigrants and refugees by climate chaos, poverty, and the post-2008 economic depression in France’s former colonies are all contributing to the identity-crisis syndrome decried by the French right-wing.
Nonetheless, ever class-conscious, and with their traditionally strong socialist and communist historical ties, the French (with 80% public approval) have apparently drawn conclusions about root systemic causes. And they’ve taken to the streets. To repeat, this is class struggle that transcends identity politics. Across the political spectrum, those on the left and those on the right are upset about:
· The emerging perception that the E.U. (like free-trade agreements everywhere) is geared towards disempowering the working class while enriching transnational corporations
· The rich not paying their fair share
· Resulting wealth inequality
· Wages that have not kept up with living-costs
· Austerity measures that threaten social programs like universal health care, public education, government-sponsored child care, and month-long worker vacations
· An educational system that devalues teachers, overloads their classrooms, and pays them poorly
Yellow Vest Lessons for Americans
As I said, all of this contains lessons for Americans fragmented into political siloes where the working class (those whose income is dependent on wages) are schooled to identify other workers as our enemies rather than our wealthy bosses, corporatists and financiers. Rightists tell us that our enemies are immigrants and people of color. Leftists say they are patriarchs, gun-rights advocates, and pro-lifers. Gilet Jaunes disagree. They say that the real enemy is what the Occupy Movement identified as the richest 1%; they are the corporate elite, our employers. The GJs would instruct us to get out into the streets and embrace what unifies the working class rather than what divides us on issues such as:
· Abortion: It’s time for grass-roots pro-choice and anti-abortion activists to join forces on the shared terrain of respect for human life. On that score, we are not each other’s enemies. Accordingly, the Gilets Jaunes implicitly invite us all to provisionally bracket the contentious issue on which we’ve been led to disagree so strongly. It’s time, they imply, to join forces to oppose the military-industrial concerns that spend billions to destroy human life for vaguely-defined and questionably-achievable purposes. Their bombings and drone attacks liquidate human life in the wombs of bombing victims as well as in homes, schools, churches, mosques, temples, hospitals, restaurants, and on farms where other wage-earners like the rest of us gather for peaceful domestic purposes. All of us share those purposes. In that sense, we are all pro-life.
· Gun Control: On New Year’s Eve, I attended what I thought would be a GJ protest in the Champs Elysees. The police were out in force on behalf of a government seen as coddling the rich at the expense of the working class. The heavily-armed gendarmes frisked us all before entering the Parisian equivalent of Times Square. In another demonstration (the day I left the country) the police tear gassed everyone as more than 5000 of us rallied outside the French President’s offices in the Hotel de Ville. The Robocop’s menacing presence made me wonder (along with Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts) why we working-people and pensioners allow such service “dogs” (as the rich characterize their own police) to routinely beat and otherwise abuse us without response-in-kind. I found myself ruminating about the historical wisdom of gun-rights advocates. They embrace the history lesson that nothing usually changes until the battered have risen up and retaliated against police goons and strung politicians from the lampposts. Without advocating such violence, the over-the-top response of police in the Champs Elysees and before the Hotel de Ville represented for me another GJ invitation. It was to recognize common ground with those previously seen by leftists as enemies and nothing more. It may be time, the Yellow Vests imply, for gun-control advocates to enter serious and respectful dialog with those they’ve previously seen only as deplorable enemies. Perhaps there’s more wisdom than pacifists have been willing to recognize in Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that the tree of liberty must periodically watered with the blood of tyrants.
· Violence: Relatedly, I found it interesting how opponents of the Yellow Vests routinely attempt to discredit them by characterizing GJ demonstrators as “violent.” Ignored in the accusation is the critical point that any violent attacks by demonstrators on property or on the police is only one form of violence. More accurately, the GJ acts in question are often likely the work of agents provocateurs. But even if not, they certainly represent a reaction to a first act of violence in the form of the structural arrangements that precipitated the Yellow Vest movement in the first place. As described to me by a Paris university professor, those structures underpay workers and make it impossible for their children to attain the classic “French Dream” of liberty, equality, and fraternity. They impose austerity measures that deprive pensioners of a decent living and give rise to the widespread homelessness I witnessed on Paris streets and under the city’s bridges. All such inherently violent arrangements dwarf the broken store windows that the GJs are blamed for. And then there’s the third level of violence that critics routinely fail to recognize the outrageous police response to the Gilet Jaunes mentioned above. (I can still smell the tear gas.) The bottom line here is that the state, not the protestors, represents the most prominent purveyor of violence in this French context. Insisting on recognizing this habitually overlooked fact can go a long way towards defusing disagreements between leftists and their right-wing counterparts sparked by a one-dimensional approach to the divisive issue of “violence.”
· Immigration: What the left characterizes as xenophobia is really an implied, mostly unconscious, but highly accurate perception by the right that corporate globalization is totally impractical. It is founded on a fundamental contradiction. That inconsistency claims to champion “free market capitalism.” Yet such economic arrangement accords unrestricted freedom of movement across borders to only one element of the capitalist equation, viz. to capital itself. Meanwhile, labor, the other equally important factor in the system is forbidden such mobility (in the United States) and is restricted to other members of the E.U. on the continent. When the world’s labor force (in the former colonies) intuits the injustice of such double-standard when it votes with its feet to appropriate for itself the privileges routinely accorded capitalists all of us are made to recognize the unworkability of current forms of corporate globalization. The same is true of refugees caused by climate change and resource wars. Like free trade agreements, both are intimately connected with current forms of globalization. Such recognition in turn reveals a common struggle shared by both the political right and left. Following GJ partisans, our focus should correspondingly shift from villainizing fellow workers who happen to be immigrants to the corporatists who exploit both them and us by their destructive trade alliances. Invariably, those pacts benefit the 1% rather than those they (dis)employ. In other words, massive immigration should drive all of us to oppose reigning models of free trade and their destructive impact on workers everywhere as well as on human habitat.
· Terrorism: Something similar can be said of the war on terror. Those whom our leaders would have us fear as “terrorists” are arguably patriots desiring to “Make the Caliphate Great Again (MCGA). Often, they are partisans claiming ownership of their homelands. They’re Pan Arabs who envision an “Arabia for Arabs,” rather than for oil-thirsty westerners whose culture contradicts the values and monumental historical achievements of Islam in science and culture. At the very least, the so-called “terrorists” represent blowback against western aggression epitomized in the invasion of Iraq, the greatest war crime of the twenty-first century. Donald Trump’s MAGA supporters should be able to recognize such common ground both with MCGA enthusiasts and with anti-war activists in the United States. Once joined there, both the U.S. left and right could further cooperate in advocating reinvestment of what used to be called “the peace dividend” in a Green New Deal and its benefits for wage earners of every political stripe.
My accidental research project in France has given me hope. It’s helped me see as unnecessary the counter-productive divisions between descendants of Tea Party Activists and of their counterparts in the Occupy Movement. Actually, we have more in common than we might think. It’s the powers-that-be who want us fragmented and at each other’s throats!
If we could but recognize our points of unity, rather than the ideological fissures we’ve been schooled to cherish, we might well be as successful as today’s French Revolutionaries in making politicians more receptive to the real issues that unite wage earners across the country and throughout the world.
After all, polls across the political spectrum indicate we all want similar outcomes. We all want profound change that disempowers the world’s 1% and spreads around the wealth we’ve all produced, but that has instead been funneled upwards to the plutocrats.
Above all, adopting the cooperative spirit of the Gilet Jaunes means finding an alternative to the neo-liberal form of capitalism with its dreadful austerity measures. It’s destroying the planet and making paupers of us all.
Recent events have shown that our government has no legitimacy at all. None.
As a result, we should all be out in the streets every day. We should be joining a revolution in response to the incendiary words of the Declaration of Independence identifying the right and duty of citizens to dethrone abusive governments:
“. . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce (the People to) absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
With this posting, I’m inviting us to think about rebellion in the light of the most egregious of the “abuses and usurpations” we have been made to endure.
And here I’m not just referring to the outrageous Trump administration whose “tax reform” ignores the country’s majority and which is in the process of looting our national treasury on behalf of the already filthy rich. Just watch: they’ll soon be coming for our Social Security and IRAs.
[By the way, do you know what that tax plan represents? It’s not just a refusal to tax the rich to pay for schools, hospitals, roads and bridges – and those ridiculous wars. Rather, it’s a plan to borrow from the rich to pay for those senseless conflicts. In other words, instead of having the 1% pay for their oil wars; we’re paying them! Taxpayers borrow from the banksters to meet those “unfunded mandates,” and then PAY THEM INTEREST rather than COLLECT THEIR TAXES!! The result will be an additional $1 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. What a scam on the part of those liars who up until the Trump election were deficit hawks!]
But that’s not what I’m addressing here.
Neither am I referring to Trump’s completely arbitrary, unlawful, and severe provocation of Muslims across the world by his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Everyone knows that Zionist repression of Palestinians is the root cause of Islamic terrorism. Yet (to avoid Rex Tillerson’s more explicit designation) this effing moron is in effect inviting further 9/11s. (Remember that when the inevitable attack comes and everyone’s asking again, “Why do they hate us?”)
I’m not even referencing climate change and the ignorant decision on the part of “the most dangerous political organization in the history of the world” to unilaterally deprive our grandchildren of nature’s abundance. (Those are the words of Noam Chomsky. Regarding such despotism, he has famously said, “The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”)
No one has the right to commit such outrage.
All of those acts (and many others) should be enough to persuade us that any trace of democracy we may have once enjoyed is gone. The man in the White House and these criminals in Washington don’t represent any of us – just their club of plutocrats that includes Democrats as well as Republicans.
But even their latest acts of gross ignorance and unprecedented kleptomania are insignificant compared to their greatest outrage.
And here I get to my main point.
It involves not just the Trump administration, but all of the criminals who have run our national horror show since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). They’ve all been terrorists and mass murderers. ALL of them: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, and now Trump.
According to Daniel Ellsberg’s new book, The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner, every one of them stood ready to use nuclear weapons to incinerate 98% of the world’s population in one fell swoop. Ninety-eight percent! (Ellsberg, of course, is the most famous whistle-blower in history – the one who released The Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now his new book reveals what he learned during his stint as an insider formulating U.S. nuclear war policy.)
That policy was not just about deterrence or response to a first strike by the Soviets. It involved a policy of FIRST STRIKE now so dear to Mr. Trump’s heart. Eisenhower, for instance, was firm in his insistence that in time of crisis there could be no waiting for a Russian attack. For him (and subsequent occupants of the White House) our country had to strike first. In Eisenhower’s mind and in those of his successors, “first strike” was best and “second strike” was a distant second best. “No strike” when provoked was unthinkable.
Guided by such policy, from the early ‘50s onward, plans targeted every city of over 25,000 inhabitants in Russia and its satellites, and in China too.
The planned destruction is mind boggling.
How many people would be killed? How about 100 Holocausts – 600 million? That was the Pentagon estimate when the world’s population was 3 billion.
And it didn’t even count deaths resulting from Russian and Chinese retaliation!
Neither did it take into account the smoke and debris that would be swept up into the atmosphere blocking out the sun and causing nuclear winter. That climate change would make food production impossible and have any survivors starve to death (except perhaps about 2% of the world’s population near sea coasts that could provide mollusks and other ocean foods).
Pentagon estimates are that about 2/3 of the planet’s population would perish. Actually, (counting deaths from Russian and Chinese responses) the figure would be far closer to 3/3.
No one should have decision-making power like that. In Jefferson’s words, its arrogation by morons amounts to “abuses and usurpations” designed to reduce us all to circumstances equalling “absolute Despotism.”
But it gets worse. According to Ellsberg, no single person had the power to initiate a nuclear war. Many people did (and do) — down to the rank of Major in the field or Pacific Fleet commanders in the navy. If communication were cut off, and if those morons judge they are under nuclear attack, they have the power to respond in kind.
Is that terrifying enough for you? “Abuses and usurpations” anyone?
The fact is we are all effing morons for allowing this non-government to survive without rebellion.
So what should we do in response to such outrages? At this point, I’m not sure about particular steps. But at the very least we should
Throw the bums out. In 2018 truly drain the swamp. Get rid of ALL Republicans and their Democrat enablers.
Replace them with Bernie Progressives – with a goal of reviving the New Deal that provably raised living standards for all Americans, not just the rich.
Institute a special war tax to fund the on-going war on terrorism – to be increased with each new conflict.
Before imposing such taxes, hold nation-wide binding referenda on their advisability.
Stop dead our country’s nuclear weapons modernization program.
Begin serious world-wide negotiations for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Force Israel to honor U.N. Resolution 242, thus removing the major cause of international terrorism.
And if none of that works, make discussion of rebellion and revolution respectable again – in the name of Jefferson’s brave words. It’s our patriotic duty!
Since last weekend and F.B.I. director, James Comey’s decision to intervene in the presidential election, I’ve been depressed. It struck me as yet another coup by the powerful to nullify democracy. It’s like the Supreme Court’s selection of George W. Bush back in 2000. This time the F.B.I. is the intervening agency. Its maneuver, like what happened 16 years ago, embodies the corruption of a system that needs to come down.
After all, American Imperialism is responsible for most of the world’s problems: unending wars, oppression of poor people everywhere, planetary destruction by way of human-induced global warming, and reversion to pre-Magna Carta torture and imprisonment without charge or trial. The U.S. system has the world controlled by a relative handful of the obscenely rich capitalists whose economic theories and practice provide no hope of alleviating the poverty afflicting most of the planet.
All of that demands that in the name of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth, the system just described must be destroyed.
But how would such destruction occur? It all seems so entrenched and is controlled by overwhelming military and law enforcement powers – not to mention a network of propaganda and miseducation that keeps citizens asleep and rebellion at bay.
It’s like the Soviet Union before 1989. Ours is a weary, completely dysfunctional Old Order supported by politicians such as Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and yes, by Hillary Clinton and her husband. All of them (and especially the Clintons in today’s electoral context) represent the very embodiment of the ancien regime. They all endorse unending war, restrictions on human rights at home and abroad, constant surveillance of our communications and persons, low wages and cut-backs on the government services previously funded by taxing the rich. None of our politicians is willing to address criminal wealth disparities, climate change, the threat of nuclear war, falling living standards prohibitive health care costs or student debt.
In such dire straits, and as Michael Moore has suggested, most of us intuitively see that the system just described needs to be blown up. It needs someone to throw a Molotov Cocktail at the whole thing. But who?
Enter Donald Trump! Enter the U.S. electorate!
Voting for Trump represents the bomb the desperate subconsciously require to destroy arrangements that no longer serve. It’s like the Brits and Brexit. There ordinary people refused to be led by the “experts.” They knew the system had to be destroyed. So they gave the middle finger to their “betters.”
Yes, Trump’s an absolute lout, and a know-nothing. He’s a climate-change denying sexist and racist xenophobe. But as such he makes clear to the entire world what “America” has become – what it in fact is – a country controlled by the greedy, uneducated, anti-scientific, religiously fundamentalist, racist, sexist, domineering, undemocratic, and xenophobic. With his election, it will no longer be possible to pretend otherwise.
In other words, Donald Trump represents what’s needed to spark and catalyze the revolution against everything he and our country have come to embody. His election may be what’s required to destroy the system as we know it and to catalyze the revolution roiling just below the surface of contemporary American life.
So following his election just watch the agents of revolution come together. I’m talking about:
The civilized world
Women tired of being objectified and harassed and underpaid
Of course, that system is the patriarchal sausage party called capitalism. And that’s exactly what’s satirized in the film by the same name. The computer-generated animated comedy is raunchy, sophomoric, scatological, irreverent, suggestive and filled with non-stop double entendre. At the same time, it is artistic in its imagery and creative in terms of its star-studded voice cast. Above all, “Sausage Party” is trenchantly critical of capitalism’s ideology and practice.
“A happy-go-lucky sausage (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his supermarket buddies including a hot dog bun (Kristen Wiig), a bagel (Edward Norton), a sausage (Michael Cera) and a taco (Salma Hayek) learn about the horror that awaits them when humans bring them home to chow down. Despite the hostility they get from other supermarket items . . . they embark on an existential adventure to escape from their edible fate. This raunchy animated comedy . . . holds the distinction of being the first R-rated computer animated feature.”
That’s the apparent tale. However, as it unfolds, the comedy reveals itself as an elaborate send up of capitalist theory that crumbles upon its entry into the real world.
Literally (and revealingly) set in a “Market,” “Sausage Party” cleverly presents products as people – or is it people as products? Like characters reminiscent of Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” hot dogs, buns, honey mustard, a damaged douche container, and every other super market product you can think of, have all been seduced by a theologized theory that promises a marvelous utopia awaiting them in the “real world” outside the realm where market’s theory is constantly celebrated as a gift from God.
However, like enthusiastic commodified workers hired by employers, the “chosen” soon realize a reality harshly at odds with the theory they’ve learned so well. What was supposed to fulfill actually devours them along with people from all over the world. Meanwhile the commodities’ all-white directors are stupid, dirty, unconscious, and unthinking materialists with no clue about the havoc they’re actually wreaking across the globe.
With all of this in mind, “Sausage Party” becomes a rich satire redolent not only of Plato’s Cave, but of other classic themes including The Journey, The Quest for Truth and Meaning, the Power of Popular Revolution, and the Supremacy of Love and Hope over Blame and Guilt.
It becomes the story of how commodified people come to the realization that their rulers are restricting, exploiting, and destroying them. They become conscious that the entire market system is necrophilic, because it is based on death itself. It employs highly theologized propaganda to induce guilt about perfectly natural impulses (like love and sex) that might otherwise encourage fellow-feeling and awaken rebellious tendencies.
Despite overwhelming obstacles and odds, the conscientized overcome the divide-and-rule distinctions their keepers have imposed. Men join forces with women, blacks with whites, Hispanics with Anglos, Jews with Arabs, gays with straights, and atheists with believers. They take up arms against their oppressors, overthrow the establishment replacing its chaos with an order based on free love and joy. (Sausage Party’s concluding sexual orgy is remarkable.)
In short, “Sausage Party” is about the power of love and natural instincts to destroy an artificial capitalist system based on deception, repression, guilt and tribalism.
For those reasons, the film is worth seeing. But leave the kids at home for this one.
Recently articles in OpEdNews (my favorite on-line news source) have been full of revolutionary themes. For instance, Chris Hedges informed us of an invisible revolution simmering and about to erupt. It will be driven, he said, by widespread discontent with wages, wealth disparities, militarism, and climate change denial.
Then in his viral BBC interview, comedian Russell Brand called for revolution stimulated by everyone’s recognition of the futility of politics as we know it. No one should vote, he said; the system is too broken to be improved at the ballot box.
On the other hand, Senator Bernie Sanders’ revolution would be based wider participation in political processes, with everyone voting. That would overcome reactionary moves that disenfranchise voters and empower moneyed interests to determine electoral outcomes against the popular will.
At the time of its publication, that last remark seemed apt. No world leader capable of mobilizing millions had yet emerged.
However all of that changed two weeks ago. The compelling direction and revolutionary vision whose absence Mr. Becker correctly lamented indeed materialized in an ironically unlikely form – a pronouncement of the Roman Catholic papacy.
On Tuesday November 26th, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It represents the most articulate and detailed “vision” of a revolutionary future yet offered by anyone actually capable of producing results in the street and at the ballot box.
That is, as a member of the world’s super-elite, and virtually above reproach and easy dismissal by his fellow aristocrats, the pope’s pronouncement demands serious consideration. This is especially true on the parts of the bishops and clergy who weekly have before them captive audiences voluntarily come together to meditate upon, pray about, and attempt to internalize the gospel vision which the pope describes as focused on the poor, peace, social justice and on the structural causes of violence, war and terrorism. Moreover, these themes, the pope insists, should be driven home in homilies at Sunday Mass, since such leitmotifs represent the inescapable essence of the Judeo Christian tradition.
Today’s liturgy of the word provides a case in point. It articulates the revolutionary vision and compelling direction the pope finds throughout the Bible. It’s a utopian vision that courageously connects peace with social justice and environmental consciousness.
Consider the first selection from the prophet Isaiah. It directly links peace and social justice – for the poor and oppressed who in Isaiah’s day and our own are typically ignored. By way of contrast, Isaiah’s concept of justice consists precisely in judging the poor and oppressed fairly and not according to anti-poor prejudice – in Isaiah’s words, not by “appearance or hearsay.” (No room here for “Stop and Frisk,” or “Shop and Frisk!”)
Not only that, but according to the prophet, treating the poor justly is the key to peace between humans and with nature. It produces a utopian wonderland where all of us live in complete harmony with nature and with other human beings. In Isaiah’s poetic reality, lions, lambs, and calves play together. Leopards and goats, cows and bears, little babies and deadly snakes experience no threat from each other. Most surprising of all, even believers (Jews) and non-believers (gentiles) are at peace. (Today’s excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Romans seconds this point. He tells his correspondents to “welcome one another” – including gentiles – i.e. those the Jewish community normally considered incapable of pleasing God.)
Today’s responsorial psalm reinforces the idea of peace flowing from justice meted out to the “least.” As Psalm 72 was sung, we all responded, “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” And again, the justice in question has the poor as its object. The psalmist praises a God and a government (king) who “rescue the poor and afflicted when they cry out” – who “save the lives of the poor.”
In his own time, the lack of the justice celebrated in today’s first three readings infuriates Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Today’s gospel reading has him excoriating the religious leaders of his day as a “brood of vipers.” Unmistakably clothed as a prophet – in garments that absolutely repudiate fashion and the pretenses of his effete opponents John reminds us of the simple lifestyle adopted by Francis I. John lambasts the Scribal Establishment which had identified with the occupation forces of Rome. As opposition high priest, John promises a religious renewal that will lead to a new Exodus – this time from the power of Rome and its religious collaborators.
As part of today’s revolutionary theme, it’s important to emphasize the Exodus dimensions of Matthew’s description of John. The Baptist is presented as preaching and baptizing specifically outside the temple and sphere of the priests. In fact, John appears in the wilderness – in the desert. For Jews, this would not only have evoked overtones of their great myth of national origin. It would also have signaled a subversive significance in John’s work. After all, the “desert” or “wilderness” was the place where contemporary resistance movements were spawned. (I imagine that if the Romans had the power, they would have “droned” John and his followers in a “signature strike.”)
Do you see what I mean about harnessing the revolutionary power of the Bible’s myth, poetry, utopian visions, and preferential option for the poor? It’s all there in Isaiah, Psalm 72, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, and in Matthew’s portrait of John. And if we look with the eyes of Pope Francis, we can find those themes every Sunday. It’s powerful stuff, I’m sure you agree. And the pope not only sees that himself, he has called 1.2 billion inhabitants of this planet to recognize it along with him and act accordingly.
The action Francis recommends is particular. It consists in combatting a form of capitalism that he describes as systematized murder. He rejects “trickle-down” theory, and demands interference in the out-workings of markets in the name of the common good. The pope calls Catholics and others of good will to recognize access to food, education, and healthcare as human rights.
And the pope does all of this without demanding sophisticated comprehension of history, economic theories, or detailed social analysis.
Instead he relies on the power of myth, poetry, God-talk, and biblical focus on a divine preferential option for the poor and Jesus’ vision of God as universal parent.
All of that is there in today’s liturgy of the word. For any with eyes to see, it’s there every Sunday to assuage our hunger for “vision” and “direction.”
It’s time for progressives to follow the lead of Pope Francis. He’s calling us to set aside our pseudo-sophistication that has intellectuals rejecting the Bible’s power to mobilize huge masses of people. That is, we must reclaim the powerful mythology of the Bible and lay aside our practical disdain for story, myth and symbol. That’s where we’ll find our missing “vision and direction.”
I find that promising, invigorating . . . and somehow ironic.