Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lady Thatcher's Koan

Dirty Dancing
In almost any question, no matter how complex, there is an axis, hinge, fulcrum, upon and around which the entire question revolves. Discovering that point is often produced after concentrated immersion in the problem in all its facets, but the discovery itself is experienced as an intuitive flash.... what Zen Buddhists call "satori". In their discipline they make use of riddles called "Koans" to trigger such insights.
Koan:  a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment. Merriam-Webster
Here is a sample koan:
A monk asked Zhàozhōu, "Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?" Zhaozhou said, "Wú".
Margaret Thatcher, of all people, once delivered herself of a koan, which, in my opinion,  if meditated upon sufficiently, explains much of what we are living through today with the triumphant "Conservative Revolution" that she and Reagan led and also gives valuable insights in how to resist and perhaps even reverse that revolution.

Here is Maggie's koan
"Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families." Margaret Thatcher - 1987
In my view, this "koan" encloses all the contradictions and even the agenda of the Thatcher/Reagan,  Conservative Revolution, the political, social and economic wasteland that we inhabit today.

Let's get into our lotus position and have a closer look at this thing, let us in the words of the immortal Spike Milligan, "scrutinize it with an intense scrute".

First question, "who is society"? 
a. The totality of social relationships among humans.
b. A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture.
c. The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group. The Free Dictionary
In other words: anyone who actively participates in the affairs of a community within the larger community, be it a church, mosque or temple, or someone who canvases for a political party or a charity... or simply anyone who takes the trouble to pick up a piece of litter, that he/she didn't drop on the sidewalk and walks over to a public wastebasket and throws it away. That is society... Maggie said it doesn't exist... If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Who are the "individual men and women" that Lady Thatcher mentions?

Knowing her a little, I would think that she was referring to what I would now call "Piketty individuals", one-percenters like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or the Koch brothers, people whose activities are constrained by little more than the laws of physics... I think Lady Thatcher would prefer that other, lesser, "individuals" be of  the "Bowling Alone" variety; sitting by themselves on their soft sofas in a dark living room watching endless TV series, while eating popcorn and guzzling super-size, sugary drinks.

And the families?

Again, knowing her, I imagine that she was thinking of "Piketty" families:
The book argues that the world today is returning towards "patrimonial capitalism", in which much of the economy is dominated by inherited wealth: Their power is increasing, creating an oligarchy. Piketty cites novels by Honoré de Balzac, Jane Austen and Henry James to describe the rigid class structure based on accumulated capital that existed in England and France in the early 1800s. Wikipedia
I certainly don't imagine she was thinking about couples with a high school education both working 60 hour weeks, weekends included, at minimum wages, whose children are being raised by a TV set, going to sub-standard, tax-starved public schools and without medical care.

And strangely enough, this is where the sado-libertarian ideology that Thatcher-Reagan represent has exposed a vulnerable flank in its defenses... religious conservatives... yes the, "every sperm is sacred", crowd. The new Pope has said that our economic system is "inhuman", more anti-Thatcher than that is hard to imagine. 
Respect for the person means not only guaranteeing their political and civil rights, the pope said, but also "offering each person the possibility of having effective access to the essential means of sustenance: food, water, shelter, health care, education and the possibility of forming and supporting a family."(...) "There cannot be true peace and harmony if we do not work for a society that is more just and marked by solidarity, if we don't overcome selfishness, individualism and special interests at every level," he said. Catholic News Service
Maggie would turn in her grave reading the above.

With that in mind, the Christian pro-life movement should be pressed to define what sort of society would be "human" enough to allow families to bring endless children into it and more importantly, how such a society could be achieved. 

Progressives should hold Christian's feet to the fire on this question. "OK, agreed, so no more abortion, so no more contraceptives, then where is the tax money coming from to pay for the nurseries, the schools, the universities, the hospitals, etc for all these humans?" "Can a system organized like ours do all this and if not, how could it be organized to be 'human' or are you OK with a system that the Pope defines as inhuman?" The Ayn Rand crowd couldn't care less about this, but certainly any person raised in the Abrahamic traditions would be discomfited by these questions.

In my opinion this is the "sound of one hand clapping" moment for progressives. DS


Anonymous said...

So, for Raygun and Des Thatcher, there was no Great Society; they were society and we got the grate? And exactly when can we expect the Pope's "$HOE$ of the FI$HERMAN" Moment? Also TOO, when our hand claps, can we really expect their fundament followers to turn US the other ¢he¢k?

stunted said...

I have put this to my Christian friends repeatedly, asking if, for them, having protected the sanctity of life via doing away with abortion, does life end at childbirth or is the sanctity of life worth defending after the child is born. The responses are not coherent; their sole focus is an end to abortion and the restoration of their religious freedom which they feel has been compromised by using tax dollars to subsidize government programs that make contraception available to poor women. After the child is born, Thatcher's koan kicks in.

What the pope says carries little weight beyond the Church in the US amongst conservative Christians as Catholics have not been "born again" but born into their faith, much as Piketty's families have been born into their money. Catholics are a bit suspect among the truly righteous, which is ironic given how the Catholics on the Supreme Court are currently doing the heavy lifting for the evangelicals. Beyond agreeing about contraception and abortion, it is easy for evangelicals to tune out the Vatican in regards to an inhuman system because what the pope describes as inhuman is the system they defend. They don't want tax dollars spent on the food, water, health care, education or families of others--that is socialism and Americans pay their own way. Their reaching out to help others is done through their church and so they feel they are following the Christian concept of helping others. They very strongly feel that the caring for others is not the job of the government which, for them, will only make things worse anyway--the private sector is more efficient at running social programs. The government's job is security; keeping us safe from terrorists who hate us for our freedoms and from undocumented immigrants who want a free ride. Evangelicals are profoundly Randian. The church is their family and they are very charitable within that framework.

Perhaps in Spain people are closer to the problems Piketty has raised; can see them reflected in their own lives and the Vatican still has resonance, even if begrudged a bit. Taxes are really an anathema here--raising them is out of the question, even on the wealthiest, so there really is no money for funding programs beyond the Pentagon's even if there were the volition. I just don't know what to think--this is a strange land.

Thanks for keeping the wheel turning. Always a pleasure. Sorry for the windiness.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Great comment Stunts!

I think the Randian quality of Evangelicals comes from their history of trying to square the institution of slavery and in general "keeping the n*ggers down", with the teachings of Jesus Christ, the resulting cognitive dissonance has created their curious ideology. You can see it at work in their callous attitude toward all the little, brown children streaming across the border.