Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pope Francis and the "holy cunning"

Francis has repeatedly praised the Jesuit trait of “holy cunning” — that Christians should be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves,” as Jesus put it. - Huffington Post
While the great cathedrals of Europe are still largely empty of worshipers, Francis has prompted many a lapsed Catholic to take a second look. A church that was identified with concealing sexual abuse, a very stratified version of organized crime, and scorning of those living nontraditional lives, is presenting a far different face in the forgiving smile of Pope Francis. Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for. Timothy Egan - New York Times
The Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples met with Pope Francis last Thursday during his U.S. visit(...) "He held out his hands and he asked Kim to pray. He thanked her for her courage. He said these words, 'Stay strong,' and they embraced and hugged." The pontiff also gave Davis two rosaries that he personally blessed. USA Today
Before beginning to analyze the strategies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, AKA Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, it might be useful to give a clear operational illustration of that order's version of "holy cunning".

In my opinion the example most relevant to what Francis is doing now in the arena of progressive politics would be the order's nearly successful attempt to convert the imperial court of China, and all China with it, to Catholicism led by the legendary Father Matteo Ricci S.J. 

Imagine Mao Tse Tung as an alter boy.

Absurd? Well, you may remember that Fidel Castro was educated by the Jesuits.

Here is how Wikipedia tells the story of Matteo Ricci's chameleonic effort to convert China:
Matteo Ricci SJ in Chinese Dress
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
During his research (Ricci) discovered that, in contrast to the cultures of South Asia, Chinese culture was strongly intertwined with Confucian values and therefore decided to use existing Chinese concepts to explain Christianity. He did not explain the Catholic faith as entirely foreign or new; instead, he said that the Chinese culture and people always believed in God, and that Christianity is simply the completion of their faith. He borrowed an unusual Chinese term, Lord of Heaven (Chinese: 天主; pinyin: Tiānzhǔ) which is based on the theistic Zhou term "Heaven", to use as the Catholic name for God. (Though he also cited many synonyms from the Confucian Classics.) He supported Chinese traditions by agreeing with the veneration of the dead. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries felt he went too far in accommodation and convinced the Vatican to outlaw Ricci's approach. Wikipedia

Things are not going all that well for the church these days.

In Spain, where I live, arguably history's most fanatical "defender of the faith", the churches now are mostly empty except at Christmas and Easter, divorce and abortion are legal; there are more civil marriages than religious ones and not only is gay marriage legal, Spain's conservative prime minister, who officially opposes gay weddings, recently even attended one... And unthinkable as it might seem to many Irish-Americans, ultra-Catholic Ireland recently held a referendum that legalized gay marriage on the Emerald Isle.
Since his election, the modest Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has earned praise for his warnings about climate change and criticism of unbridled capitalism that causes the enrichment of the few and the impoverishment of many.(...) In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, an old-school leftist, has been elected to head the opposition Labour Party.(...) In the United States, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist and one of only two Independents in the Senate, has been filling stadiums with young, enthusiastic supporters.(...) we may be seeing not only a retreat from the right-wing ideology and free-market dogmas that have dominated political discourse in the West over the past three decades, but the makings of a left-of-center counterrevolution. Alexei Bayer: "Get Ready for a Leftist Revolution" - The Globalist
As many analysts such as the one above have observed, there is a growing populist movement that is mobilizing masses of idealistic young people, who march, volunteer and vote.

Even as recently as the 1950s, idealistic young people from Catholic families in developed nations, the sort of young people that today march against global warming or occupy Wall Street, would often become priests or nuns.

Nowadays, convents, monasteries and seminaries are nearly empty. The sort of young men and women who once were drawn to the religious life have drifted away or have turned their back on the Church.

I believe that Pope Francis is trying to keep this estrangement and indifference from hardening  permanently and that these young people don't grow into maturity considering the Church their natural enemy... in the hope of someday bringing them back into the fold. The very survival of the Church is at stake.

He certainly has his work cut out for him.
As Maureen Dowd recently pointed out in her New York Time's column:
His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church, so stained by the vile sex abuse scandal, more attractive to people — even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste. Pope Francis would be the perfect pontiff — if he lived in the 19th century. But how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?
The fact is that with Pope Francis there have been no changes in the Church's moral teachings on birth control, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, women priests etc. But, by taking a strong, progressive stand on such issues as global warming, refugees, inequality, poverty and even unregulated capitalism itself, Pope Francis has turned the Catholic Church from being viewed a retrograde and reactionary knee-jerk enemy of the left into a valuable and powerful ally of all progressives... someone you are happy to have fighting alongside you and not against you.

"Wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove" and unlike Matteo Ricci, who nearly converted China to Catholicism, these days Jorge Borgoglo, Francis the First, is the Pope himself, and  nobody in the Vatican can tell him to stop. DS

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Utopias: one down, one to go... going, going...

While rereading "Cannibals and Kings", one of my old favorite books from way back in the 1970s, I stumbled upon the following prophetic text:

At this very moment we are again passing by slow degrees through a series of "natural, beneficial, and only slightly... extra-legal" changes which will transform social life in ways that few alive today would consciously wish to inflict upon future generations.(...) No one who detests the practice of kowtowing and groveling, who values the pursuit of scientific knowledge of society and culture, who values the right to study, discuss, debate and criticize, or who believes that society is greater than the state can afford to mistake the rise of European and American democracies as the normal product of a march toward freedom. It is equally dangerous to suppose that capitalism represents the end point of cultural evolution. And one cannot ignore the threat which the intensification of the capitalist mode of production now presents to the preservation of those precious rights and freedoms that have hitherto, if briefly, flourished under its auspices. Marvin Harris - "Cannibals and Kings", 1977 
And then, just the other day, I read this, which carried an interesting echo:
The West is suddenly suffused with self-doubt. Centuries of superiority and global influence appeared to reach a new summit with the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the countries, values and civilization of the West appeared to have won the dark, difficult battle with Communism.(...) The history of the last decade is a bracing antidote to such easy thinking. The rise of authoritarian capitalism has been a blow to assumptions, made popular by Francis Fukuyama, that liberal democracy has proved to be the most reliable and lasting political system.(...) It seemed to many in Asia and Africa to be the end of Western ideological supremacy, given that liberalism and Communism are both Western creations with universal ambitions. After all, (...) “both liberalism and Communism were dominated and shaped by the West — but who is the legitimate son of the Enlightenment and who is the bastard one?” Steven Erlanger - New York Times, 2015
The massive European refugee crisis, along with the indescribable suffering of the victims and the clumsy, hypocritical response of the "West" and the "International Community", to a problem that we (especially the USA) have caused, also encloses a meaty metaphor of the strange moment in history that Marvin Harris predicted and in which we (everyone/everywhere) are all now living.

What is truly impressive, especially in the American case, is that despite being the richest, most powerful country in history, with the most massive military the world has ever seen, with a huge educational establishment boasting the world's most prestigious universities... a country literally overrun with "think tanks", despite all of this, the "indispensable nation" continuously gives the impression of being the Global Village idiot. How to explain this?

Here is how a real insider explains it:
Unfortunately, the decline of US democracy has degraded its capacity for clear collective thinking, led to a series of remarkably poor policy decisions on crucially significant issues, and left the global community rudderless. Al Gore - The Future 
It would appear that something like a critical mass of citizens have come individually and then collectively to share Gore's  analysis... something is moving in the grass, there is a drumbeat, the natives are restless. This is happening simultaneously and spontaneously in much of the developed world: the rise of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Podemos are noteworthy examples.

I think that many observers may be underestimating the change that is coming over much of the middle class in much of the developed world, especially those who live in the great financial centers such as the USA and the UK where the evident  causes of the Great Recession are nearer and so more visible.

The cause of this awakening is, of course, the yawning divide between the suffering of the immense majority of people who didn't cause the crisis, and the tiny, conspicuously well off minority of people who actually did cause the crisis, and have had their debts paid with taxpayer's money, while, to top it off, they themselves pay little or no taxes and  whose wealth continues to grow and grow.... Yes, the now famous "1%" and their ability to corrupt and dominate democratic politics.

This awakening is creating a new left, a left that transverses classic class divisions and searches for a common denominator shared by many groups, both economic and cultural that heretofore often opposed each other.  

With the USSR long dead and buried, this new left has been liberated from any taint of belonging to some sinister, "godless", international conspiracy and is thus free to fire at will at all the sacred cows of Reagan/Thatcher, supply-sideNeoliberalism.

But this runs both ways.

During the course of the Cold War, facing the "godless communism" of totalitarian Soviet power, a fallacious propaganda linkage was constructed between capitalism, democracy, religion and human rights. Without the Soviet threat it would appear that capitalism has no innate relationship to any of these things.

As to the connection of capitalism to religion, here is a juicy quote from a recognized authority:
“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.” Pope Francis- Fortune
Certainly the Chinese one-percent are able to operate a successful capitalist system without democracy, religion or human rights.

This "capitalism with Chinese characteristics" may be giving other one-percenters around the world food for thought.

The question that arises in my mind is that if capitalism has no real need of democracy and if the one-percent can no longer control democracy, how long will they continue to put up with it?

As Al Gore has observed, America's one-percent has tried to square the circle by corrupting/emasculating democracy, but, I would imagine that, if the natives are restless enough and bent on re-regulating this extractive oligarchy and raising their taxes so that our present system no longer works for them, how long are they prepared to put up with it? How far would they be prepared to go? What sort of crisis would they be prepared to unleash? What sort of situation could justify or enable a suspension or limitation of democracy, of interrupting the present dynamic of growing grassroots demands to bring the one-precenters under democratic control?

War, or a massive terrorist or hacker attack would be the simplest answer to that question.

You are going a bit too far, I said to myself.

And then, I ran into this:
The most dangerous point in the arc of a nation’s power is when the apogee of its greatness is passed but it is not yet resigned to decline. That’s where Trump’s America is. Richard Cohen - New York Times
Without taking Trump himself too seriously, his very popular proposal to locate, detain, hold and expel an estimated eleven million illegal immigrants from the USA, would be a workmanlike template for a nascent police state, because  to succeed, any organization capable of putting this program into effect would de facto resemble certain 20th century regimes that were so famously expert at efficiently rounding up, holding and shipping off millions of people.

Such a huge task would entail a massive bureaucratic organization that would need an enormous network of anonymous, paid informers and a complex, militarized infrastructure for the mass-detentions of millions of elusive immigrants and the holding, processing and transporting of the resulting masses of detainees.  Habeas Corpus and  Due Process for eleven million detainees?

Such an apparatus and its attendant apparatchiks, once it existed, would also be most useful tool to have at hand in any future "national emergency", real or cooked up.

Impossible in the USA, you say?

Using  a supposed emergency to justify suspending democracy has happened countless times in many other countries, American "exceptionalism" can only take you so far.

Alarm bells should be going off at the very mention of this immigration "final solution" and they aren't. That, to me, is the truly most frightening sign of the times.  DS