Category Archives: Religion

The Bible: Recipe for Genocide or Junk Sculpture?

What exactly is the religious rationale for Israel as a Jewish state? Who better to ask than an America Jewish secular journalist. We can assume that makes our investigative journalist a zionist (90% of Jews support Israel — DV Ed note: This is not a definition of a Zionist), but, as a journalist, and secular, our protagonist assures the reader he is interested in giving us as objective a version as can be expected.

David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (2009) puts the Old Testament (OT) under his microscope, knowing virtually zip about the religion, not practicing, nor forced to go to Saturday Hebrew school. Locke’s ‘blank slate’, sort of.

Plotz loves the ironies and contradictions of his journey and the Bible itself. He starts out believing vaguely in the existence of God, but not observing the rituals. During his 365 days of plodding through the book, he comes to admire the rituals, and starts observing Shabat Friday dinners, complete with prayers, celebrating Passover, New Year, Sukkoth.

But he’s not at all happy with the God the OT reveals. “I leave the bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God. God made me rational so I must use the tools to think about him. Submit him to rational and moral inquiry. And he fails that examination. The history of Judaism is an effort to grapple with the bible’s horror.”

Wow. But I’m sure Netanyahu is nonetheless delighted with Plotz. The zionists from the start wanted to dump the religion. Ben Gurion et al were atheists and saw Judaism as harmful, the negative legacy of ‘the Jews’. Think of zionism as extreme liberalism.

Succeeding minority governments give token power to the ornery Orthodox parties, but hold their noses. They need them for legitimacy as a religious state. No country except Israel recognizes being Jewish as an ethnicity in the census, not even the US. And neither the US nor Canada ‘do’ religion in the census anymore. What is a poor atheist to do?

Suddenly, the old archetype of the ‘wandering Jew’ becomes important as a way to establish this slippery ethnic label. But no! Jews no longer need to wander. They can make aliyah and go to Israel, the Jewish state.

Bible as land deed?

So agnostic Plotz is forced to turn to the Bible. What about the ‘proof’ that God gave ‘ the Jews’ Jerusalem etc.? Plotz finds that in Genesis, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, there are promises of land to Abraham at least four times, each time with different boundaries. The only mention of an ‘Arab’ is in Nehemiah, when Geshen is told “you have no share or claim or historic right in  Jerusalem.”

So how to get it? In their conquests, in Deuteronomy, the tactics are laid out: a city about to be invaded is offered the chance to surrender and be enslaved, or annihilated and women/ children taken as booty. That’s what Joshua told the Canaanites when the Jews decided to invade and take their ‘promised land’.

To quote the famous Judophobe Henry Ford: you can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black. A special deal for any non-Jewish city in the promised land: annihilation only. I.e., very black. But not to worry, fruit trees should be spared.

Plotz analyzes the biblical heroes. Abraham, Rebekah, Jacob get what they want because they finagle, cajole, argue, deceive, play mind games, misuse God to advance their lies. Isaac is almost sacrificed, tricked by Jacob and Rebekah twice. He is the accidental patriarch. A bit of a putz, like Moses’s brother Aaron, a very lax (cowardly?) priest, who shrugs off the golden-calf feasting, and was let off the hook.

But Plotz likes these wily trickster heroes. They start poor, bargain with God and get what they want. Great models for the Jews over the millennia.

Jeremiah is a favourite. Though all gloom and doom, he is the template for the Jewish character traits that have made the tribe the longest surviving and wildly successful star of world society today. He was the priest under the Babylonians, and ordered his flock to submit. This is the key to the success of Jews in diaspora (adaptable, cultured, flexible), but in its incarnation as Judenrat,1 a bit of a problem.

As they were getting ready for the gloom and doom exile, Jeremiah promised his flock they would someday return, that old contracts and land arrangements would apply “when Jews return to Zion.” This is the clearest land deal (no lavish boundaries from Iraq to Egypt). The most ‘historical’ one, unlike the legendary Noahide covenant, with Abraham as stand-in for the human race, or the conquest of promised land after the exodus, that whole episode at best a jolly good yarn.

But, of course, this is all ‘angels on the head of a pin’ stuff. The entire OT is a long, complicated pseudo-history, jam-packed with one genocide after another. Junk sculpture, according to Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Bar Ilan University and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard James Kugel (the Professor of Disbelief). Bits and pieces cobbled together in a postmodern pastiche. A bit like the state of Israel.

Universal God vs blood and guts

Plotz looks for hints of the universal God and finds them. Isaiah is the first. When not telling Isaiah of massacres, God explicitly values good deeds over professions of faith. There are brief moments of eloquent words of a new saviour, who sounds an awful lot like Jesus”

  1. The lion lies down with the calf (not the lamb). The leopard with the kid.
  2. The saviour resurrects the dead, offers eternal salvation.
  3. It is the will of God to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin … through him the will of the lord shall prosper.
  4. The servant of God is despised and rejected by others.

Plotz doesn’t have much use for Leviticus. It is full of rules for animal sacrifice and lots and lots of ‘Off with her head!’. There is no ‘Brokeback Mount Sinai’. But when bible-thumpers quote it to kill gays, Plotz suggests taking the offensive. There are death sentences for dozens of reasons (cursing parents, violating the Sabbath, sex with a menstruating woman). Unlike the New Testament and the Quran, the OT is littered with this craziness, plus torture and full scale genocide. Wahhab surely used it as a template for his extreme Islam. There is none of this in the Quran.

Plotz quotes the colourful “Let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you.” [Leviticus 18:28] But wait a minute. Who is the nation that came before the Jews when Israel was created? If the zionists have defiled Palestine, then they can expect the same treatment. Watch what you wish for, you might get it.

Time after time, reading Good Book, I was, like Plotz, appalled by the violence, the cruel vengeful, jealous God of the OT, grateful that I was not forced to have the God of Judaism as my standard. But Plotz is a proud Jew, and while rejecting the God (or at least defying him, like Plotz’s plucky patriarchal heroes), he brushes off the rituals and dives right in.

70AD the new ‘covenant’

If Plotz is a good example of today’s Jew, the zionists have won. Who cares what the world thinks? ‘We’ know we’re an ethnicity, the top dog chosen people. Who needs God? (But keep the OT just in case.)

Another Jewish look at Israel with the Torah in mind, Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (2003), has no truck with using the Bible for a land grab. Rushkoff emphasizes the universalism of Judaism. God is no longer just for ‘the tribe’, not associated with piece of land. God uses the Israelites to teach others, and uses other people (and war) to teach Israelites lessons, but God does not directly intervene after Moses. God is internalized, like the Hindu atman (the eternal sustaining essence within every individual).

Rushkoff downplays the genocides, instead, arguing that the Jewish obsession with conquering Palestine is childish, that Jews have to grow up.  They will “lose the zionist claim over a patch of sacred soil, but get to claim the entire planet as a kind of Jerusalem.” The destruction of the temple in 70AD is really a leap forward in the holy covenant. Forget the temple. God is distant, but that’s ok for grown-ups. Humans must take responsibility to enact the holy teachings.

Rushkoff sees Judaism after 70AD as methodology, epistemology, holography. A Jewish ‘kingdom’, like any kingdom, will inevitably decline. The diaspora meant the spread of Jewish laws and values throughout the Roman empire and beyond. Isn’t that better than a corrupt, violent ‘kingdom’? Rushkoff warns that anti-Jewish prejudice is increasing. The Holocaust is wearing thin, the Jewish people risk losing their noble role in history with the reversion to tribal thinking, flouting, as it does, world opinion.

While Plotz relishes the ironies and contradictions undermining the OT (Leviticus’s “one standard for stranger and citizen”, and slavery/ tribal chosenness; visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments), Rushkoff points to the main irony: Israel is obsessed with territory, but the religion was founded and refounded on disengagement from the land. Everywhere is ‘holy land’. This take on the Bible is very different than that of Plotz, but Plotz’s vengeful, jealous God is the one at work at the moment.

There are still genuine True Torah Jews who go even farther than Rushkoff, and insist Israel is an abomination, that peace means (probably) Muslim rule, but that’s okay. Muslims have a great track record ruling Jews (unlike Christians). And there is a new wave of antizionist Jews in the diaspora who reject Israel in its present form, and work with Arabs and all, in a universal way. Where is today’s Daniel to translate this writing on the wall.

  • Related Read: “Hating the Bible
    1. A WWII Jewish-German self-enforcing intermediary that served the German administration for controlling Jewish communities in occupied areas.

    The Lost Morality of Economics

    One of the most powerful and effective tools in the hands of capitalist economists is the suggestion that economics in general and capitalism in particular is some sort of science. This illusion – and illusion it is – is strongly assisted by the fact that modern economics is taught with the aid of impressive-looking mathematical equations and “proofs”. Economic textbooks are cluttered with tables, statistics, and graphs which make the books look like physics textbooks, or maths books even. Therefore economics must also be a science, right?

    Well, no, actually. For the very simple reason that real sciences, such as physics and chemistry, demand a standard of proof and intellectual rigour that not only doesn’t exist in modern economics, it has never existed at all since the earliest days when some sort of economic theory could be perceived. Early economic principles were conceived in religion, and religion strongly influenced economic practices for at least two thousand years. Capitalism, the dominant economic belief of today, is still more of a religion than a science, because it demands from its adherents a level of blind faith which is little different from any other religious fanatic.

    In the beginning

    As an atheist I’m not much impressed by the bible, or any other religious work. I accept that there’s some limited utilitarian value in such books, for the slight contribution they make to studying the essential subject of history, but the main purpose they have always served – tools of psychological oppression for the rich to control the thoughts and actions of the poor – is reprehensible, and devalues any use they may have as lessons of history. The bible’s usefulness as a collection of historical documents is helpful for this discussion not because of any particular value to economic thought in the stories themselves, but in the almost undeniable fact that those stories were told, and presumably believed, a very long time ago.

    RH Tawney was an economic historian whose work was well known in the first half of the last century, and was strongly influential on the embryonic ethical values of Britain’s Labour Party. He was a devout Christian and lifelong friend of William Temple, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unsurprisingly he clearly felt no conflict of interest between his Christian faith and his staunch support of socialism, and if Tawney’s work is now largely unknown it’s probably due more to the latter fact than the former. However, much of what he had to say is as relevant today as it was in Tawney’s day – if not even more so.

    One of his once quite well-known books, Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, written in the 1930s, is a seriously important piece of work. It’s not an easy read, especially at the beginning where some of the old references he uses appear in the original Latin, Greek, German or French – without translations. And although he wrote with a beautiful elegance which is quite rare today I found I often needed to read some sections two or three times over to properly understand him.

    The message of Tawney’s book is, essentially, this: although ruthless exploitation of the poor by the rich is probably as old as human history itself, there appears to have been a significant change in the wider social acceptance of the “rightness” of it starting somewhere around the time of the European Reformation in the sixteenth century.

    The early morality of moneylending

    I happened to be reading Tawney’s book at the same time as I was reading Ellen Brown’s excellent The Public Banking Solution, which coincidentally has a brief reference to a related point: that over two thousand years ago lending money at interest (which today we’re all conditioned to accept as the only way to do it) was not necessarily recognised as a good thing, and acceptable only in certain circumstances.

    The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 23 : 19 says:

    Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury.

    It’s not clear what was meant by “brother”, but it’s assumed it had a wider meaning than just one’s male sibling, and possibly meant any Jewish person (given that the book is mainly about the Jewish people). Because the very next verse goes on to say:

    Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

    These biblical references are interesting because they indicate the morality practised by the ancient Jews with respect to the business of lending. Furthermore, the second part of that last verse is intriguing, as it suggests that usury is a good way to help possess new lands. This theme is echoed earlier in Deuteronomy; for Chapter 15 : 6 reads:

    For the Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee.

    So lending at interest was clearly recognised thousands of years ago as a tool to control other lands, and presumably for that reason it was forbidden for Jews to borrow from others.

    This biblical chapter has other interesting comments on the morality of lending. It opens, for example, with this:

    “1. At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release.

    1. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought to his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release.”

    This is obviously a clear statement that all debts should be wiped out every seven years.

    There are further verses in Chapter 15 which clearly describe a high standard for the morality of money lending:

    “7. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:

    1. But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.
    2. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it shall be sin unto thee.
    3. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
    4. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

    Some of this morality was clearly adopted by the early Christian church, because lending at interest (usury) was regarded as a serious sin, and charity towards the poor was routinely practised by most Christian churches and monasteries, and taught as a Christian virtue. This situation lasted for the best part of fifteen hundred years – until the Protestant Reformation.

     The age of Calvin

    Arguably the single most powerful driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, the one thing which, probably more than any other that drove Martin Luther to hammer his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church on Halloween in 1517, was the cesspool of corruption that had overtaken the Christian Church. The many problems that Luther publicly exposed to the glaring light of day, like the little boy who cried out that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes, gradually galvanised like-minded thinkers into action all across Europe.

    Although Martin Luther is widely credited with initiating the Protestant Reformation, his interests appear to have been largely focused on reformation of the Church, to try to end the rampant corruption that was decaying the institution which meant so much to Luther for its spiritual values rather than its income-generating qualities. However, there were others, such as Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin, who interpreted Luther’s lead as an opportunity to liberate the business world from the traditional grip of the Church. Of these, Calvin arguably had the most influence on the economic changes that were soon to come about, and which would provide much of the moral justification for what is today widely recognised as capitalism.

    Tawney captured the essence of the significant societal change that took place in the new dawn of the European Reformation:

    To countless generations of religious thinkers, the fundamental maxim of Christian social ethics had seemed to be expressed in the words of St Paul to Timothy: ‘Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content. For the love of money is the root of all evil.’ Now, while, as always, the world battered at the gate, a new standard was raised within the citadel by its own defenders… Not sufficiency to the needs of daily life, but limitless increase and expansion, became the goal of the Christian’s efforts. Not consumption, on which the eyes of earlier sages had been turned, but production, became the pivot of his argument… The shrewd, calculating commercialism which tries all human relations by pecuniary standards, the acquisitiveness which cannot rest while there are competitors to be conquered or profits to be won, the love of social power, and hunger for economic gain – these irrepressible appetites had evoked from time immemorial the warnings and denunciations of saints and sages. Plunged in the cleansing waters of later Puritanism, the qualities which less enlightened ages had denounced as social vices emerged as economic virtues. [My emphasis].1

    Although it’s highly unlikely that Calvin ever intended his writing to have the savage effect that modern capitalism has produced on humanity, our planet, and all living creatures, it’s clear to see a watershed moment coinciding with his work. Before Calvin the generally practised morality of everyday economic affairs was largely influenced by the same values the Church had been promoting for over a thousand years, significantly based on Old Testament teaching. But with Luther’s bold attack on the Church’s lucrative and highly corrupt protection racket, the door was flung open to confront any and all inconvenient Church restraints – such as money-lending and profit-making businesses, subjects about which Luther’s famous protest showed no particular interest:

    What reason is there [asked Calvin] why the income from business should not be larger than that from landowning? Whence do the merchant’s profits come, except from his own diligence and industry?2

    Today these seem innocuous questions, but in Calvin’s day they were almost sacrilegious. However, given the seismic rumblings that Luther had triggered they would have passed almost unnoticed – except by those who could see their potential for economic liberalism.

    Tawney provides profound evidence for the effect this new thinking produced:

    A practical example of that change in emphasis is given by the treatment of Enclosure and of Pauperism. For a century and a half the progress of enclosing had been a burning issue, flaring up, from time to time, into acute agitation. During the greater part of that period, from Latimer in the thirties of the sixteenth century to Laud in the thirties of the seventeenth, the attitude of religious teachers had been one of condemnation…

    [but] When Major-General Whalley in 1656 introduced a measure to regulate and restrict the enclosure of commons… there was an instant outcry from members that it would ‘destroy property’ and the bill was refused a second reading.3

    Enclosures in England, like the Highland Clearances in Scotland, were the massive thefts of land from the millions of poor who depended on it for their very survival. It’s easy, and not entirely incorrect, to see the plump hands of the well-nourished aristocracy behind this, but Tawney also draws our attention to the actions of another group who, if anything, are even more despicable than over-pampered patricians, a group who, two hundred years later, would be contemptuously identified as the “bourgeoisie”:

    It was not the lords of great estates, but eager and prosperous peasants, who in England first nibbled at commons and undermined the manorial custom, behind which, as behind a dyke, their small savings had been accumulated. It was not great capitalists, but enterprising gildsmen (soc), who began to make the control of the fraternity the basis of a system of plutocratic exploitation.4

    Many of those born into lives of luxury and over-pampered indolence, then and now, have no idea of the price paid in human misery and environmental destruction for their grotesque over-consumption. Whereas most of those who emerged from humble backgrounds and ruthlessly clawed and gouged their way to riches are only too well aware of the suffering they left far behind, and their own vital roles in perpetuating it.

    Capitalism in its teenage years

    There was still a significant ethical component in the teaching of economics two hundred years after Calvin. The subject was still not widely known as economics, merely part of the much wider subject of moral philosophy. Adam Smith, often called the father of capitalism, was not an economist, but occupied the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow University for a number of years.

    Smith’s best-known work “Wealth of Nations” is most well-known for one of its least important (and least accurate) phrases – the suggestion that everyone is driven by their own self-interest, and that an “invisible hand” guides their selfish actions toward the overall best interests of society.

    Although much of Smith’s book sings the praises of profit-seeking, showing how far times have moved on from pre-Reformation days, the moral philosopher inside him is still cautious about the limitless power of corporations which, in Smith’s day, were just beginning to exercise their full nation-making (or breaking) strength:

    The government of an exclusive company of merchants is perhaps the worst of all governments for any country whatever. 5

    And he was concerned about the corruptive influence of big business upon the nation’s rulers:

    In the mercantile regulations the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it.6

    Although Smith was much mistaken, in my view, about the easy availability and sufficiency of work, it has to be remembered that when Wealth of Nations was written the worst effects of enclosures in England, and the clearances in Scotland were yet to be felt. Most people could still sustain themselves to some extent on the land if they had to, and at least provide basic shelter and prevent starvation for themselves and their families. The worst horrors of the so-called “Industrial Revolution” were still almost a hundred years away. Nevertheless Smith still had a high regard for the importance of human labour, rather than money, as the real source of a nation’s wealth:

    Labour was the first price, the original purchase money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and its value, to those who possess it and who want to exchange it for some new productions, is precisely equal to the quantity of labour which it can enable them to purchase or command…

    Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price, money is their nominal price only.7

    It’s possible that Smith conceived this thought all by himself, but it’s also possible he obtained it somewhere else. Ben Franklin, for example, wrote the following well before Smith’s book came out:

    The riches of a country are to be valued by the quantity of labor its inhabitants are able to purchase and not by the quantity of gold and silver it possesses.8

    So it’s reasonable to assume that in Adam Smith’s day the slowly-evolving theory of capitalist economics still retained some of the teachings of the early Christian Church, not least of which was its recognition of the importance of human labour. Consider, for example, the harsh but generally not unreasonable words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10:

    [I]f any would not work, neither should he eat.

    However, not only was the brutality of the “Industrial Revolution” yet to reveal its advantages to the fledgling capitalists of Smith and Franklin’s day, so too was the steadily growing transatlantic slave trade.

    Capitalism reaches full maturity

    By the middle of the nineteenth century Capitalism had possibly achieved its zenith. The most powerful empire of the day, based in London, was ruthlessly exploiting the people and resources of so much of the Earth’s surface that the sun never set over it. The United States had seized control over the central landmass of North America by massive acts of genocide of its native people, and waging war with Spanish colonizers. As British colonizers wallowed in the wealth generated by millions of oppressed natives, British workers were literally starving to death in depopulated common land and the industrialised ghettoes of the new manufacturing hell-holes of England. As new US multi-millionaires wallowed in their wealth, the African slave population that was worked to death producing it reached its greatest number, about ten per cent of the total population of the US. Capitalism must have surveyed its work around the globe and smiled in satisfaction.

    But to every action there is reaction.

    There have always been small groups of oppressed people who have bravely resisted their oppression. For most of human history their small victories have usually been short-lived affairs ending not so much in ideological failure but by the same vicious brutality against which they fought. Even the more successful rebellions, such as the English and French Revolutions, were eventually crushed by the same reactionary forces that were initially overwhelmed. However, these more successful popular uprisings sent out ripples of change, which astute governments were quick to notice. Many of the political and social reforms that were slowly achieved in Britain in the nineteenth century were won not so much because of the ruling aristocracy seeing the wisdom of the reformers’ campaigns, but because of the salutary lesson taught to their French counterparts in the 1790s when they failed to heed the wrath of the masses.

    Emerging from early seventeenth and nineteenth century reformers such as the Levellers, Diggers, Luddites and Chartists appeared an even more radical and coherent ideology: communism. Argued and explained in the writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, for example, communism inspired rebels all around the world, and with the victorious Russian Revolution in 1917 reason for real hope inspired reformers in almost every country.

    Like the English and French Revolutions before it, the ripples spread out from Moscow across the world, and capitalist governments sat up and took notice. Obviously the new Russian upstart must be crushed, and it would indeed be ruthlessly opposed and attacked at every opportunity throughout its life, but in the meantime the rabble-rousers at home had to be carefully handled. Using the tried and tested method of divide and rule, together with liberal use of the more dark and sinister devices that have always been at the fingertips of powerful governments, communism was kept at bay in most of the western world. It was eventually defeated in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev served up his communist country on a platter to the treacherous western powers who would immediately sell his capitulation as a victory of the ideology of capitalism over communism.

    Of course, it was nothing of the sort. Given that Russian communism, and later Chinese communism, were savagely and relentlessly attacked throughout their lives by the most powerful nations on the planet, it was not communist ideology that failed, it was western military and economic warfare that won.

    But the key point to note, and indeed the point of this essay, is that at the heart of this ancient struggle lies a very simple economic question: whose benefit should the wealth of a nation serve? The capitalist believes that all wealth should be concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of powerful people, utterly ruthless people driven only by their own greed and ambition and who will stop at nothing to achieve it. They do not openly say this, but it is without question how they behave. The communist believes that wealth should be evenly distributed between all people. Unlike the capitalist, who keeps his ambitions secret, the communist is perfectly open about his aims.

    So it all comes down to morality. Who is right, from an ethical perspective, the capitalist or the communist? The communist is perfectly happy to argue his point on ideological grounds, but the capitalist has tried to turn his ideology into a bogus science, not only utterly devoid of any morality whatsoever, but also devoid of any intellectual rigour – and with its real purpose kept permanently hidden from view.

    That modern capitalism is wholly conspiratorial in nature was once openly confessed by one of its leading champions, the American economist James Buchanan. Describing the exclusive gatherings of disciples that Buchanan hosted, historian Nancy MacLean explained:

    Buchanan made one more important point to his invited guests. The key thing moving forward, he stressed, was that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.”9

    But apart from being an ethical vacuum, modern economics as it’s widely taught, which is almost exclusively capitalist economics, is also not a science. It’s a construction composed entirely of fabricated nonsense, unproven and unprovable theories, and perfectly ridiculous claims, all dressed up in mathematical symbols to create the illusion that it’s somehow deep and meaningful. Even professional economists admit to the deceitful gobbledegook that is the subject of economics.

    Thomas Balogh, for example, economic adviser in Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, here quoting the economist and Nobel Laureate Wassily Leontief, partly explained how this trickery has succeeded:

    The increasingly technical formulations [of mathematics in economics] and the debate over their validity and precision provided employment for many of the thousands of economists now needed for economics instruction in universities and colleges around the world…

    Mathematical economics also gave to economics a professionally rewarding aspect of scientific certainty and precision, adding usefully to the prestige of academic economists in their university association with the other social sciences and the so-called hard sciences. One of the costs of these several services was, however, the removal of the subject several steps further from reality. Not all but a very large number of the mathematical exercises began (as they still do) with the words “We assume perfect competition.” In the real world perfect competition was by now leading an increasingly esoteric existence, if, indeed any existence at all, and mathematical theory was, in no slight measure, the highly sophisticated cover under which it managed to survive.10

    Australian economist Steve Keen is more direct:

    There is one striking fact about this whole literature [of economics], and that is that there is not one single empirical fact in it.11

    Even one of the best-known economists of all time, JM Keynes, is positively scathing about the pseudo-science in economics:

    Too large a proportion of recent ‘mathematical’ economics are merely concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, and which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.12

    Under the careful management of capitalist economists, such as James Buchanan, the philosophy of economics has been entirely sacrificed to the lies and myths and pseudo-science of capitalist theory, a theory which serves no one except the super-rich. Keynes was unequivocal in his condemnation:

    Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.13

    And that was before modern capitalism properly hit its stride. Andy Grove, co-founder and CEO of Intel, provided a more recent, and accurate definition of capitalism:

    The purpose of the new capitalism,” he said, “is to shoot the wounded.14

    Well, it’s high time the wounded started shooting back. Economics is first and foremost about morality, not money.

    1. Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism, R.H. Tawney, p. 246.
    2. Ibid, p. 246.
    3. Ibid, p. 253 and 256.
    4. Ibid, p. 78.
    5. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, p. 722.
    6. Ibid, p. 841.
    7. Ibid, p. 44 and 47.
    8. The Public Banking Solution, Ellen Brown, p. 123.
    9. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, p. 117.
    10. The Irrelevance of Conventional Economics”, Thomas Balogh, p. 8.
    11. Debunking Economics, Steve Keen, p. 67.
    12. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, JM Keynes, p. 298.
    13. Extreme Money, Satyajit Das, p. 128.
    14. The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Greg Palast, p. 146.

    Jesus is the way, but we are there to collect the toll…

    Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

    In the wake of the Brazilian presidential election where reserve army captain Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated in January to lead the largest country in South America back to the far right, returning it to the narrower US imperial orbit while strengthening ties to the global bullies in Washington and Tel Aviv.

    Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) served for a short period as an advisor to the PT government. He resigned his office because he could not accept responsibility for some of the decisions taken where he was engaged.1 It is often said in Brazil that the PT lost the elections by their own actions—grossly disappointing their supporters—and turning the election this year into a protest vote, which the party governing since 2002 was bound to lose. Of course, elections themselves do not change the power structures of a state. And the manipulation of elections even to the point of usurping the lawfully elected candidates (e.g. Honduras) has a long tradition in the “backyard” of the United States. Nevertheless the demand for integrity and fairness in government is not restricted to those “white glove” regimes of the North.

    Frei Betto discussed the issues made central to the election hysteria: corruption and religion.

    Dr T.P. Wilkinson: One explanation given for corruption is the presence of dishonest people in the institution. The other explanation is that there is incoherence between the institution’s structures and procedures and the needs of those working with the institution.

    The Reformation that began nearly 500 years ago was partly motivated by the corruption of the Church. Some argued that it was sufficient to purge the dishonest clergy while others argued that the rule of the Church itself was corrupt. They wanted another church or to completely reorganise the existing one.

    The last elections have focused attention on corruption. The most publicised response was to put former president Lula in jail. What kind of corruption does Brazil have and what options are there for remedying it? Does Church history offer any lessons?

    Frei Betto: Corruption has always existed in human history, including in the group of Jesus (Judas). To combat it, good intentions do not suffice nor the encouragement of the practice of virtues. It is necessary to create a political institution that inhibits and severely punishes corruption. This is the case in Cuba. The construction company Odebrecht2, responsible for corruption in almost all the Latin American countries in which it maintained works, confessed to corruption in of all of them, except Cuba. Does that mean there are no corrupt people in Cuba? Is there no corruption? There is, and I was invited to give a lecture at an important event of the General Comptroller of Cuba in May 2018. However, Cuban officials have to think long before accepting corruption. And in the work of the Port of Mariel, Odebrecht could not corrupt anyone.

    Without this institutional mechanism that inhibits and punishes corruption, it tends to spread.

    TPW: Fidel and religion:

    Not only did Castro give you the opportunity to explain the relationship between him, the Cuban revolution and religion (especially Catholicism). The book also shows your own relationship. At least this is what I saw after reading your prison memoir.

    The presidents of the largest countries in the Western hemisphere, the US and Brazil, both claim their policies have a religious foundation. Does that make the present conflict in Brazil (and the US) a religious conflict too? If yes, what are the religious issues? And how might they be resolved? If no, what does the religious rhetoric mean—for those who are religious and those who are not?

    FB: Religion, like politics, serves to liberate or to oppress. That of Jesus was liberating; that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, oppressing. In the medieval period religion was used to expand the power of the Church. Dictators like Franco, in Spain; Salazar, in Portugal; and Pinochet, in Chile, used religion to justify the atrocities they practiced.3

    Today, oligarchic governments, such as those of Trump, and neo-fascists, such as Bolsonaro’s, use religion to manipulate the conscience of the people.4 This is the “opium of the people” religion denounced by Marx. The religion of the gospel, liberating, is that of Pope Francisco, that of Saint Oscar Romero5, that of Dom Pedro Casaldáliga.

    However, the state must be secular. Confessional politics is to yield to religious fundamentalism. As most people in the West are religious, many opportunists take advantage of this to distort the purpose of religion and make money. They announce that “Jesus is the Way” but they are there to collect the toll…

    TPW: The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was probably the great “mass media” of that epoch. Today the Mass Media- mainly owned by private corporations—plays an important role in shaping the perceptions of reality and at the same time creating reality when people act according to their perceptions.

    An outside observer, following Brazilian history, cannot avoid seeing that there has always been a complaint about corruption in Brazil, in political and economic life. Yet for the past several years now the PT has been portrayed as the “most corrupt” political party in all Brazilian history. Much of the PT support seems to have been lost because people believe the PT was completely corrupt.

    Is this a “perception” of corruption or a “reality”? Can you place the accusations of corruption in Brazil in historical context? The statements of many supporters of military government are based on the idea that the military is not corrupt. However, the regime that the current president supported was also accused of corruption before 1986. Is it possible that the corruption that lost the PT the election is a corruption in the Mass Media, too?

    FB: Corruption has always existed in Brazilian politics. The failure of the PT was not to react vigorously when some of its leaders got into corruption. And I must stress that there is no proof that Lula has been corrupted. He is an unjustly imprisoned political prisoner.6 But other PT leaders have become corrupt. A minority that greatly damaged the Party’s image in general. And this was well exploited by PT opponents in the election campaign.

    The new Brazilian government, headed by Bolsonaro, has ministers accused of corruption and under investigation.7 The president’s own son, currently Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, will have to explain how one of his assistants, named Queiroz, handled so much money when Flávio served as a state deputy in Rio de Janeiro.

    Operation Lava Jato,8 which investigates corruption in Brazil, is a very important initiative, but assumed a partisan character. It sends to jail the PT politicians accused of corruption and leaves in freedom politicians of other parties evidently involved in the corruption.

    TPW: When the CEBs began to proliferate in Brazil, one explanation given was that they filled the gaps left because the Catholic Church never had enough priests for the Brazilian masses.

    The CEBs were both potentially democratic and potentially competition for the growing Protestant churches. For this reason even conservative clergy were willing to work with these new forms of church.

    An analogy could be drawn in secular life. The size of Brazil has always been a problem for those who want to govern it. The country’s administration was concentrated in the coastal cities and the interior was left to the control of the private sector (latifundistas). This has also meant that even though Brazil is a rich country—with much natural and human potential—there has been great difficulty creating and implementing national policies that balance the great differences between the peoples and regions of Brazil.

    In the 1950s and 1960s there were movements to develop the Brazil as a whole. In Europe there was a “redevelopment” after the destruction of WWII, which culminated in the European Union. Yet the difference between Germany and Portugal show that even the rich European countries are not able to balance the distribution of wealth between rich and poor regions. And now there are movements to break-up the EU. Do you think it is even realistic to make, let alone expect, successful and sustained socio-economic policies for the entirety of a country as big as Brazil—at a time when, at least in the rich parts of the West, large highly differentiated political entities appear incapable of such policies? Does this mean that all social-economic policy will be surrendered to the private sector?

    FB: The economic policy of a country always derives from an ethical option. And in Brazil, except the two terms of President Lula and the first of President Dilma, economic policy was never aimed at reducing social inequality. The goal now, under the Bolsonaro administration, is to make the rich richer and preserve this huge inequality.

    By 2018, Brazil was the 9th most unequal country in the world and the most unequal in Latin America. The richest 1% of the population appropriated more than 25% of the national income. And the sum of the wealth of the richest 5% was equal to the sum of the wealth of the remaining 95% of the population. 80% of the Brazilian population – 165 million people – survived with an income of less than two minimum wages per month (R $1,908). And 0.1% of the richest portion concentrates in its hands 48% of all the national wealth. And the richest 10% get 74% of the national wealth. And 50% of the population –104 million Brazilians– share 3% of the country’s wealth.

    • Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.

    • Read Part One here

    1. Frei Betto published his reflections on this period in A Mosca Azul: Reflexão sobre o poder, São Paulo 2006.
    2. Organização Odebrecht, is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the Americas. It was founded in Salvador, Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht in 1944. In 2016, the group admitted to illegal payments to politicians in such countries as the US, Switzerland and Brazil, settling in one of the largest consent decrees in the world.
    3. For a discussion of this topic see Karlheinz Deschner, God and the Fascists, 2013.
    4. For a detailed history of Rockefeller overt and covert promotion of right-wing “Pentecostal” religious groups throughout Latin America, especially in Brazil, see Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done, 1995.
    5. Roman Catholic Monsignor Oscar Romero was murdered by a US-funded death squad, while saying mass in San Salvador on 24 March 1980. He was canonised in October 2018 under Pope Francis. Romero was probably the most notorious victim of the US “Phoenix” political warfare operations throughout Central America. His elevation to sainthood has been seen as at least partial vindication of liberation theology in Latin America—persecuted both politically and ecclesiastically during the previous papacies.
    6. Lula was committed to prison prior to the presidential elections (thus disqualifying him) by a judge who flagrantly disregarded the law whereby an accused is entitled to exhaust the course of appeal before a sentence is enforced.
    7. The Folha de S. Paulo reported in the third week January that the investigation of Flavio Bolsonaro was suspended last week due to his immunity as a deputy and his election to the Brazilian senate. However, new accusations have been made.
    8. “Operação Lava Jato”. This is a kind of designation for police investigations into suspicions of large-scale criminal activity, especially corruption, common to Brazil and Portugal (e.g. Operação Marquês, ongoing). Lavo Jato is a combination of investigations conducted by Brazil’s federal police into corruption, obstruction of justice, etc. that began in 2014.

    Jordan Peterson on Religion, Science, and Revolution

    When one reads Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life,1 the rules in isolation come across as eminently sensible; however, many of the digressions in Peterson’s book strike one as bombastic. It does not require special consideration to recognize the bombast.

    Religion vs Science

    Take, for instance, what Peterson states about religion and science: “Religion concerns itself with domain of value, ultimate value. That is not the scientific domain.” (loc 2046)

    What is meant by value? There are many definitions, of which two seem particularly apropos to what Peterson writes:

    10. values, Sociology. the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy.

    11. Ethics. any object or quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself.

    Sociology is a social science, and sociologists investigate using the scientific method. Ergo, science is not logically or lexicographically excluded from the values expressed in definition 10. Definition 11 is quite nebulous for a dictionary entry, but the investigation into what best explains human’s understanding of natural phenomenon would seem to be captured by science as well. Karl Popper wrote, “The fact that science cannot make any pronouncement about ethical principles has been misinterpreted as indicating that there are no such principles; while in fact the search for truth presupposes ethics.”2

    So how does Peterson arrive at the determination that values are not in the scientific domain? A dictionary definition of “science” reads,

    1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

    2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

    Therefore, insofar as values are subject to facts, truths, observation, and experimentation, then values fall, by definition, within the purview of science. Furthermore, although science depends on exact data, the fact is value is a crucial tool in the hands of scientists to ascertain validity of an event. Value, therefore, while latent in the declaration of a scientific fact, is a motor that moves the scientist to understand her objective. Consequently, value while perhaps not in the forefront is a palpable vector in a given analysis.

    The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, proposed a system, a modus tolens, of what constitutes scientific theorizing. Popper considered the debate over “simplicity and its value for science.”3 Popper saw simplicity as best conceived in relation to the testability of a theory.4 For Popper, a theory must produce testable hypotheses whose results can not verify a theory; a theory can only be rejected.

    Religions, on the other hand, are by and large, faith-based, so facts and truths need not be based on observations, experimentation, and evidence. All that is required is to believe that the words attributed to prophets, scribes, god(s), angels, demons, spirits, or extraterrestrial entities are of unquestionable verisimilitude. This brings up the question as to which values position doctrine beyond testable hypotheses and evidence and beyond epistemological skepticism?

    Peterson writes, “Religion is instead about proper behavior.” (loc 2049)

    Peterson treats religion, in some sense, as a monolithic entity; hence, he refers to it in the singular. Here Peterson seemingly refines “value” as being about “proper behavior.” However, was the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban “proper behavior”? Was the destruction of Babri Masjid by Hindu fanatics in Ayodhya, India “proper behavior”? Are the outrages against Rohingya by the predominantly Buddhist Myanmarese “proper behavior”? How about the Catholic Church’s sympathy to “fascism as an idea”? “Not only did the church regard communism as a lethal foe, but it also saw its old Jewish enemy in the most senior ranks of Lenin’s party.”5 The Inquisition? The church-run Indian Residential Schools on Turtle Island? The Jewish State’s sniping of unarmed Palestinians on their side of the border?

    One could construct a enormous list of evils under the influence, or in the name of, religion.

    Confining oneself just to literal interpretations of the Bible (a book filled with rules), behavioral stipulations from Yahweh call for death by stoning for blaspheming god, cursing one’s parents, committing adultery, or being a non-virgin bride on one’s wedding day. Slavery, genocide, misogyny, and racism are condoned, but the seven deadly sins, masturbation, and homosexuality are condemned. What is particularly remarkable is that many of these so-called sins can be confined to oneself and not impinge upon another human. Hence even though the Golden Rule would be unviolated, in the realm of the Old Testament that person would be harshly judged.

    Therefor, given the foregoing discussion, one wonders what proper behavior in the scope of religion actually is. Love your neighbor, love your enemy are fine bromides — great actually. But such appealing biblical rules for self-conduct are undermined by the heinous acts also carried out in the name of a religion.

    Wikipedia as Accepted Wisdom?

    Peterson writes, “I cite Wikipedia because it is collectively written and edited and, therefore, the perfect place to find accepted wisdom.” (loc 2224)

    ON CONTACT: Wikipedia – A Tool Of The Ruling Elite

    Perfect? Accepted wisdom? Since when does something collectively written become accepted wisdom? What would happen if 10 Zionists worked on a piece on Palestine?

    I demur greatly from Peterson regarding Wikipedia. While Wikipedia may be fine for general knowledge, on subjects where various narratives compete, it can be highly problematic, and it should be regarded with skepticism. Current events, history, and geo-politics require utmost skepticism and scrutiny. The editing at Wikipedia is susceptible to great bias.6 The complaints against Wikipedia and its editing are many.7

    If one is interested in information, it is widely accepted that one tries to get as close to the source of information as possible. Thus primary and secondary sources are prioritized over tertiary sources. Wikipedia is not a primary source. It bills itself as an online encyclopedia, but its partiality is deeply in question.

    Revolutions as Causes of Suffering

    Peterson warns of “altering our ways of social being carelessly in the name of some ideological shibboleth (diversity springs to mind) is likely to produce far more trouble than good, given the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” (loc 2229)

    First, one notes that Peterson is hedging his admonition by using the word “carelessly.” Carelessness is, after all, something best avoided in all circumstances. Second, the term “ideological shibboleth” strikes this reader as a pleonasm. Third, religion is a specific form of ideology. Fourth, diversity is not a shibboleth. How is it that the state of being different is considered a shibboleth? Fifth, Peterson is patronizing in how resolutions should be conceived. He lives in a place and time (Canada, 21st century) where revolutions in the classical sense are unlikely to happen because the conditions for them (excepting First Nations) are currently held in check by socialism: employment insurance, welfare, schooling for all, universal health insurance. But had Peterson lived in Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, he might change his mind. Regarding his comments, Peterson seems ready to condemn the French Revolution (yes it was messy, but it ended a system that was corrupt from its roots).

    Peterson seems to have a problem with diversity. Diversity is an expression of entropy, which, even in a social sense, signals a natural drift toward increasing randomness. It is hypothesized that evolution which has shaped our current cerebral wiring favoring entropy also gave rise to our consciousness as an after effect.8 Physicsworld explains, “Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an ’emergent property’ of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain’s bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.”

    Peterson’s reasoning seemingly points to a static state. This militates against evolution and social thermodynamics. This is emphasized by his argument against “the suffering that even small revolutions generally produce.” Peterson hedges by using the word “generally,” and such hedging is reasonable given that absolutes are rare.

    Mark Twain — who Peterson quotes once in 12 Rules (loc 649) but without adequate sourcing — stated that he was “a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute…”9 In other words, revolutions arise from a natural resistance to oppression – and the suffering caused by oppression. Peterson has it backwards, as he points to the revolutions as the source of suffering.

    Revoluting against the injustices of a power structure requires courage because centers-of-power are usually loath to relinquish power and the privileges that accompany power, and those people in centers-of-power will use lethal violence to deter any challenges to their grip on power. Centers-of-power control the mechanisms for protecting and projecting their power, thus challenges to power, however justified and morally based, will be defied with violence by the power structure. Those who revolute will have suffering inflicted on them. Revolutionaries understand this. They do not expect to be gifted — what most morally centered people would consider to be a human right — an equitable input into society, its decision-making, and its wealth. Revolutionaries expect the power structure, represented by the State, to try and crush them. Witness the Canadian authorities’ recent heavy-handed police actions against the Wet’suwet’en on their unceded territory and the French state’s draconian measures against the Gilets Jaunes movements in France. The scenario, that seems to elude Peterson, is that revolutionaries make a decision to resist the current state of suffering and indignities to overthrow those who oppress them and establish a fair(er) society knowing fully well that violence against will follow.

    • Read Part 1 and Part 2.
    • Part 4 looks at Peterson’s shallow rejection of communism.
    1. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: The Antidote for Chaos (Penguin Random House UK, 2018).
    2. Karl Popper, “Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind,” Delivered at Darwin College, Cambridge, November 8, 1977. Popper’s Darwin Lecture is cited by Peterson in his 12 Rules for Life.
    3. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2005): 131.
    4. Karl Popper, 132.
    5. Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Boston: Twelve, 2007): 235.
    6. See, e.g., “Caught in the Cross Hairs: Media Lens and the Mystery of the Wikipedia Editor
    7. For example, “Wikipedia Is Shockingly Biased: 5 Lessons From An Admin,” “The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay,” “Wikipedia’s dark side: Censorship, revenge editing & bribes a significant issue,” “What Wikipedia’s Daily Mail ‘Ban’ Tells Us About The Future Of Online Censorship,” and “Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia.”
    8. R. Guevara Erra, D. M. Mateos, R. Wennberg, and J.L. Perez Velazquez, “Towards a statistical mechanics of consciousness: maximization of number of connections is associated with conscious awareness.”
    9. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 3 (2015) Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith: 451.

    Alcohol, Atheism, Anarchy: The Triple A Threat to the Pro-Capitalist Salvation Army

    The preachers and lecturers deal with men of straw, as they are men of straw themselves. Why, a free-spoken man, of sound lungs, cannot draw a long breath without causing your rotten institutions to come toppling down by the vacuum he makes. Your church is a baby-house made of blocks, and so of the state.

    …The church, the state, the school, the magazine, think they are liberal and free! It is the freedom of a prison-yard.

    ― Henry David Thoreau, I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau

    First, I am thinking about the systems of oppression designed by bureaucracies, by the middlings who are both gatekeeper and controller. They have a “get out of jail” card for anyone showing just the right compliant behavior and level of genuflection to authority. They want their pound of flesh in the form of restitution and restorative justice. They are the 12-step people, in various iterations of that broken system, who feel that one is flawed if they drink or have mental illness or get arrested or find themselves on the streets or in piles of debt. This is the puritanical nature of America, and the bible is replaced by pseudo crap, big long classes on harm reduction and trauma informed care, when, in fact, for many social services practitioners, they are not informed at all about the various pathways to ending up in the poor house in this country.

    See the source image

    To truly work on the brokenness of America or England or Australia, outfits like the Salvation Army have to keep people hungry and in check to remind these godless miscreants that they are one bad move from being back on the streets or back in the poor house.

    The poor house includes two or three bad jobs at a time, slipped disc, high rents, forced eviction, no public services, the wrong medicine at the wrong hospital, addiction, the wrong school, the wrong zip code, the wrong census track from which to live. The first bad cards one is dealt is right when the papa sperm hits the fallopian tube. Then, the environmental factors of mama’s ingestions, her own mental duress during gestation, and then, bam, the moment of gravity and air, the delivery systems of western quackery industrial medicine, and then the vaccinations, and on and on, until the first moment when papa and mama are at home, whatever that may be, and the interactions of papa with mama, mama with baby, baby with papa.

    By the time the child hits three of four, these holders of the “get out of jail/trouble/counseling/services” card are looking down their noses hard at the little youngster. They might give them a green light for another few years, but by the time the “juvenile injustice” bones in those Josef Mengele’s and Nurse Ratched’s start creaking, these controllers turn up the judgement dial on their machines of bureaucratic bile.

    See the source image

    This is not to say all social services people/workers are bad, and many start off great and end up upended by their own brokenness and fears, and disillusioned by the supervisors and administrators who are folks Dante reserves for the inferno of the lawyers. Not all bad social services workers are women, for sure.

    I have run into a big hulk of a guy director of the entire agency in one County in Oregon who tells his case workers that he will not provide the services of Planned Parenthood or any contraception funding for those young female charges (foster girls) because, one, he is Irish Catholic through and through and is against such terrible ungodly interventions, and, two, he feels providing contraception or even decent counseling around sexuality just encourages the foster girls to go south, or even more south, since this Catholic white guy thinks there is a lot of “bunk” to the foster youth’s continual complaints about mean, coercive, corrosive, abusive foster parents, who are paid a pretty penny for taking in one, three or even ten foster youth.

    Men and women in the foster care system reminding their charges they could be out in the cold, reminding them of their bad bio parents, reminding them they could end up in jail and to just enjoy the PB&J sandwiches and two-week old milk.

    Always reminding people they are failures and that the key to undoing that abject rejection by society is a set of arbitrary and many times counter methods and programs to undo the fatal flaw of being flawed. It’s as if the unsuccessful Alcoholics Anonymous motto is tattooed on half these social workers’ asses —God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

    These are not always easy pieces for me to write, since I write them from the deep well of narrative reality, mine, in a struggling world myself struggling with the fact that all organizations, all non-profits, all for-profits, all government (county, city, state, federal) agencies are corrupt at the top and infected in the middle and ruined at the bottom with this society of broken thinkers who judge-judge-judge a book by the proverbial cover. The injustices of the systems I become a part of end up being injustices to all, including me. One written warning away from termination for me seems to be the common theme of my work life, and certainly in a world I live in, run by overpaid administrators, middling broken men and women and co-workers who are mostly women and never going to stay long at these places I work at, I have major issues just sitting by witnessing injustice.

    See the source image

    Too many times I am counseled by supervisors for speaking up, speaking out of turn and for being too passionate. Too many times my unfortunate clients-patients-students tell me that I am gifted, doing god’s work, or have a calling and special life pathway that has brought me to them. As I say, that Almighty Force-Power-God just isn’t there to pay my rent, shoulder my gasoline bills and put food on my table.

    This is my current last past experience working with veterans and their families at the Salvation Army’s Veterans and Family Center in Beaverton (Portland, OR). For a millennial’s look at the “Army,” go here: “Why You Shouldn’t Donate to the Salvation Army Ever” !

    I am also thinking about the proverbial lack of logic of the rules these bureaucrats play by, those that are with the Veterans Administration who never speak up and for which I just did a stint with as a social worker working for that religious cult bureaucracy, this one religion behemoth with the bell ringers and women in caps — the Salvation Army.

    I left December 21, after witnessing so many ails of a broken religious organization utilizing the stiff paddle board of an executive director who in a nutshell treats combat soldiers, non-combat soldiers, spouses and their kids like criminals. I was fighting uphill battles with every aspect of the veterans homeless center, from the lack of clean air in each of the veteran’s room because of black mold invested window air conditioners, to the penalties thrown upon them (sometimes 7-day eviction notices) for not showing up to inane community meetings where the director goes on and on about herself, the higher power of her AA god, and then she’d attack anyone at this community for daring to make some suggestions on how the shelter and rules might best fit the population’s needs.

    Bad food, wasted food, internet WiFi taken away by the dragon lady for one guy’s downloading of illegal music, veterans on edge ready to be evicted on a moment’s notice. This woman director (I emphasize woman because all the other staff are female and the majority of the residents are men) looks at all the shelter residents as former addicts and Jonesing boozers when, in fact, most do not have addictions issues.

    Soldiers daily were telling me how much they hated her, how they wanted her censured and bad ways stopped, how they wanted respect, and how some felt there was no other resolution other than suicide, or offing her. Then, my cohorts, damaged social services workers all who back-stabbed the director, ending up kowtowing to her until I was the lone outlier making the complaints and formal grievance.

    Read about the shooting and the context to this piece here and here in part one of this three part series.

    What I am now embroiled in are residents and former clients texting me hourly, emailing me, calling me by phone with every sort of anxiety and PTSD triggered realities of their lives, steamrolled into their lives by a civilian former Betty Ford clinic supervisor with zero military experience, now running roughshod over them at a VA (taxpayer) supported outfit where there is religion beaten over the heads of former soldier.

    She told me and several others that Muslims would not be coming to the shelter. She continues to make fun of transgender residents.

    She told me and two residents that their simple electric Menorah could not be displayed among the thousands of insipid Christmas stuff plastered throughout the facility. The Anti-Defamation League of Seattle got involved, and basically some Major higher up defended the director’s action and told the ADL that the couple could have their electric light Menorah in their room, with the door shut and not in their window for anyone else to see.

    Cops have been called to facility for the paranoia of this new director, and the fear she has infected these supposedly trained social services workers with has turned them into sycophants. She has not gotten good food or decent toilets or new mini-fridges for the place, the place is a dirt-bag that is never thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, airborne diseases run rampant there, but she has instead installed more security cameras, new listening devices and a coat of paint in a public area where outside guests are sometimes hosted. The place is a harbinger of PTSD triggers, and the VA has been notified and elected officials have been emailed as have the high brass of this religious cult.

    No positive changes have occurred, except threats of eviction by the female director if any of the veterans or family members talk to former residents . . . or me!

    There will be a killing there, mark my words. I’ve told the VA and others. I have encouraged several donors to look for other non-profits for which to support with their thousands of dollars. There will be more cops called, and that will induce residents to react, naturally, to the strong jackboot presence of the law in this three-story facility. This new director herself is living in fear but has gained a new sense of power with the religious cult leaders giving her carte blanche decision making power. Her husband is now wandering the facility as her bodyguard.

    Everything happening there is contrary to informed consent, safe space philosophy, trauma informed care, harm reduction and the tenants of giving all people the right to self-agency, the right of free association, free speech and freedom of movement.

    Women (wives of soldiers) are being patted down by staff if a staff member has an unfounded suspicion that a resident might have made a 7-11 run and stashed a bottle of beer in a purse or under a skirt.

    The VA knows about this, and the blood and fire Salvation Army ethos is running rampant, and with the added trauma she is creating, more and more vets are straddled with suicidal ideations.

    We’ll delve into the 12 reasons to reject the Salvation/ Starvation Army soon, in a post by a New Zealander. Ironically, I got the job because the social services arena, including a cult like the Salvation Army, is a field where the worker like me can get hired on without a loyalty oath or bullshit mumbo-jumbo praying or believing the smoke and mirrors of these oppressors.

    To add to the irony, both my Irish and Scottish grandparents (on my mother’s side) were sent to Canada as part of the Salvation Army’s colonization program they carried out for England/UK.

    Little did I know the true history of the Starvation Army now, as a billion dollar a year industry of thieves, or pawn brokers of people’s lives in the name of fleecing them of their free will and free minds. The founder of the cult was pro-capitalism, anti-socialism, and a believer in all souls the products of original sin that never goes away until blood is let and fire destroys the body.

    See the source image

    Here’s the father of the Starvation Army:

    Salvation Army founder William Booth spent years evangelising before he realised that he would never achieve his goal of banishing the ‘three As’ of “Alcohol, Atheism and Anarchy” from England’s underclass if he did not first keep them from starving. The Salvation Army’s social work efforts can be directly linked to Booth’s failure to convert the poor through more conventional means.

    A former pawnbroker, Booth was aware that poverty largely stemmed from the structure of society that he was in. However the social system that created conditions of poverty and inequality was not to be improved or replaced via social revolution. Instead Booth hoped to promote a “kinder, gentler” form of industrial capitalism, one with the “Christian values” of hard work, abstinence and charity. Booth characterised the revolutionary Christianity of the Diggers and Levellers as “utopian” and believed that Salvation Army members could earn a large profit from businesses and still keep a good conscience. In his view (and contrary to many others) the Bible was detached from social and economic change. For him the work of a good Christian was to piously tend to the poor rather than work with them in the hope of transforming a society based on poverty for some people and profit for others.

    Regardless of their attitude towards social structures the primary aim of the Salvation Army was not to provide charity, but to win souls from the devil. Booth stated that what was important was not “whether a man died in the poorhouse but if his soul was saved”. Dispensing the absolute basics of food and temporary housing to the needy was motivated by the need to recruit rather than by anything in the Bible. Any of the poor who were unfortunate enough to go against the Army’s morals were quick to discover themselves out on the street, hungry or not.

    Ahh, look at that last sentence – “quick to discover themselves out on the street, hungry or not.” So, as taxpayers, you and I pay the Starvation Army here in Oregon $60 a day per veteran to be in this Religious Cult Prison, and, these veterans, all with PTSD and co-occurring ailments to include a plethora of mental and physical and intellectual maladies, are being threatened daily with being kicked to the curb.

    Imagine the terror of a fellow or gal with military sexual trauma or two legs amputated being threatened with forced illegal eviction if they say a word against Nurse Ratched or come to the facility with a fifth of vodka. Imagine the nightmares on the cold streets in the wet nights of Portland after being kicked to the curb for not abiding by warped rules from a former addict who is a paper tiger. . . the bum’s rush from a supposedly trained (sic) social services leader.

    The streets of Portland are not kind, Dickensian, and the cops here in all three counties are sadomasochists who enjoy prodding and poking and pushing veterans (all homeless) to the hilt so they can put another notch on their Jack Boots of more warm bodies in the private prison industrial complex.

    So many veterans have sent in complaints to the VA advocate, grievances to others, but to no avail – the starvation minded effete men and women of the Army, with their circus barker uniforms and epaulets and carny hats, want the blood and fire (their motto) to spread to our veterans.

    I went up against the Salvation Army when the cops came into our facility, locked it down, brought in SWAT and armored vehicles, guns drawn, closed down schools and major thoroughfares, and then shot a veteran seven times while he was in mental health overload and crisis in his vehicle.

    I was there, witnessed the shooting, worked with clients with their own trauma and triggers, and then dealt with the male director who left the next day, and then no Marching Band or Canteen Dragging captains and majors in rear guard to come out to give nutritional and spiritual and psychological solace to the veterans who witnessed the thug cops doing their shooting and targeting.

    This Religious Cult and their married officers all talked about, a week after the targeting shooting by cops called in by the Salvation Army, how the Salvation Army’s brand was still intact.

    This putz of a small-minded man, Major Zielinski, yammered on and joked while one of our own — my own (being ex-military) — was in a hospital, handcuffed and facing attempting murder of police charges. Read about him in our Portland weekly!

    Ahh, the Starvation Army, and George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. Barbara is the daughter of Undershaft, a millionaire arms merchant who believes what he believed in then in the Victorian era (1905 when the play was first performed) which is the exact same as what is believed by today’s miscreant felons in the billionaire and millionaire class – In the Guardian:

    In a speech that resonates with today’s concerns about global corporate power, he [Andrew Undershaft] tells his son Stephen, who wants to go into politics: “I am the government of your country … When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman.” (Guardian)

    Socialist Shaw does some fine tuning of the vast (supposedly) gulf between the rich and the poor. He himself stated the obvious for 20th Century England and Ireland:

    The poor, Shaw wrote in his preface, “do not want the simple life, nor the aesthetic life; on the contrary they want very much to wallow in all the costly vulgarities from which the elect souls among the rich turn away with loathing. What they desire, Shaw wrote, is precisely what, by definition, they don’t have: money. “The crying need of the nation is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.” (O’Toole)

    The Salvation Army is all about recrimination, from the early roots of the Booths who started the for-profit charity. It’s a cult, intolerant, evil, and we the taxpayer foot the bill for these shelters where some of those like myself want to help and use the training in trauma informed care, motivational interviewing, self-determination/ self-advocacy, harm reduction and radical social work to assist veterans in crisis in finding alternatives out of the years of failing in a punishment society. Instead, the Salvation Army hires on the abused and abusers, and when you read the article by the New Zealander Reddebrek, you should come away chilled, and devoted to never ever putting a dime or shekel into one of those red metal buckets (kettles) or giving up your used furnishings or clothing to one of the SA’s stores.

    So from the very beginning the Salvation Army was in favour of a world made up of bosses and bossed. Its own organisational setup reflected this love of authority, with a military structure complete with uniforms and an army band. Control of the Army passed from Booth to his oldest son and stayed there, until high-ranking officers pulled a coup. The organisation’s basic dictatorship stayed untouched, with little power at the grassroots and almost total control at the top.

    The moral code that was enforced was extreme, even by the standards of society when it started. There was no drinking, swearing, smoking, premarital sex or gambling allowed. The only permissible pleasure was praying and playing in the Army band. This was justified by saying that the Bible had described drinking etc. as sinful. This is highly debatable, as the Army itself has been forced to admit. The basis for these teachings is more likely to be found in Booth’s hang-ups than in the Bible.

    This moral code had a dark side, in that it allowed the Salvation Army to blame the victims of poverty for their own situation. They could argue that the symptoms of poverty – alcohol abuse, prostitution etc. – were really its cause. This let their rich backers off the hook. It also meant that any of the poor who broke their moral code were denied access to food and clothing, a practice which reportedly continues today.

    As Britain’s social problems increased, it was recommended that the poor be sent off to colonise other countries (regardless of the feelings of the people who already lived there, of course). As a solution to poverty this ignored the fact that Britain already had more than enough resources to clothe, feed and house all of its population. Its real aim of colonisation was building a bigger British Empire. Booth was one of the first to draw up detailed plans for how agricultural colonies be designed to soak up Britain’s mass of unemployed and it’s arguable that his plans had some influence on the people who ran the Empire. Big businessmen and politicians like Cecil Rhodes and American president Theodore Roosevelt lent their support. (Reddebrek)

    So, a living testament to the Salvation Army’s starvation tactic, I had to lobby and prod the despicable leadership, including one director who touts himself as a combat veteran, to not hold food as a weapon for veterans who utilized the save-a-meal program but failed to pick up their slop from a fridge because any number of reasons. Imagine, telling veterans if they have a job, or appointment, and don’t make it back to the shelter for a 12 to 1 and 5 to 6 lunch and dinner chow call, they would have to find fast food or any food outside the facility to eat. Again, no kitchens in the facility for residents. Holding back food as a weapon. Social Work 101 in Proverbial Chapter One states this is a no-no.

    I’m also thinking about Prison Nation, USA, as my former clients are daily being treated more and more like inmates, but this publicly-funded Veterans and Family Center is also a tax-free shelter for this cult. I am thinking also about the Catholic Community Services, and an interview I had just today (1/18) to work for a measly $18.13 an hour to be a personal agent and case manager for adults with developmental disabilities. Three women in a room judging me, using their aplomb to bias me with my age and my gender and maybe my advanced degrees. Note that the job would be doing the things I know how to do, but alas, this punishment and somewhat broken society shines through as this outfit, through the giant Catholic Community Services, manages almost 600 clients/customers who go through the for-profit brokerage for eight Oregon counties. Two hours after a trip to Salem for this face-to-face interview, the three stern, crass and unanimated women said no to me to be part of their team. We are talking a lot of money from various sources adults with developmental disabilities get to help them manage their lives, from cradle to grave, from work to daily activities of living.

    Catholic Community Services, Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, the Arc, all the same cults of punishment and exploitation, fitting well in their tax shelter status.

    Again, as I stated in the previous article, this social services scam is rife with broken women, and my younger sister is a long-in-the-trenches social worker and now a director in Arizona and validates this perspective. She time and time again talks about how underrepresented men are in the social services, largely due to the bizarre and openly misandry-riddled women nurses, clinical workers and social workers. She is attempting to recruit more men in this very large agency she works for, because, in her words, men have their own valid and perfectly compatible perspective that make social services a truly inclusive profession.

    So, another three or five or eight women in a room (just in the past month!), interviewing me, for some $18 an hour job, college degree required, caseloads out the roof, and, bam, I never get the call back for a second look or for the job offer. It is exasperating to my sister and to my female friends and significant other who is in the profession of staffing.

    It doesn’t do me much good to hear time and time again from women I respect that “women can be the most conniving and ridiculously hard to work with coworkers . . . I hate working with them.” Really, the professions I have chosen – journalism, creative writing, English teacher, teaching adults, social work, and even environmental activism – are all front-loaded with women or those who identify as women.

    You think they would see the efficacy and prudence in having experienced, worldly, capable and effective male colleagues. Nope.

    This all now gets me thinking about the roller coaster of bad policy, bad services and bad judgment we as a society lay at the feet of students, the infirm, those living with disabilities (over 150 million Americans have one or more chronic illnesses), those who are house-less/home-less, those that are working the most insanely brutal jobs to keep a pittance of bad health insurance and fifty percent of their shekels spent for shitty housing; i.e., rent. I am thinking about how this society has everyone – except the elite, the managerial class, the One Percent, the legal class, and the compliant ones with two-income earners pushing them upwards at $400 K a year combined income – over a barrel, at the end of the barrel of a gun and under the screws of Capitalism’s Inquisition.

    I’m thinking about my precarity, my shitty position in society because I have done the shitty jobs, gotten the shitty degrees (English, Journalism, Urban Planning), decided not to be a shitty human being whose goal in life is money-land-things-power-control.

    I am living on the edge, in Otis, Oregon, in Lincoln County. Here we are, my significant other, looking at an incredibly beautiful Oregon coastline with dramatic sheer cliffs and migrating whales and swell after swell with sea lions, birds and crab boats on the horizon. Climate change’s front seat as the crabs are not doing well with acidification, as the sea stars are dying of limb rot, and as the tidal wetlands will be inundated by rising sea levels. But still, paradise of sorts . . . .

    And, the big houses and fancy B & B’s and the RV’s a big as World War Two bombers. Food, booze, fun. One B & B is $600 a night with a Spago’s level restaurant overlooking grey whale coves while the largess of the locals work their fingers to the bloody bone shucking oysters and packing salmon and cleaning toilets for the rich.

    Ahh, yet the contrast of Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford’s America: There are homeless, those squatting lone wolves, entire families without electricity, people wandering the roads at night for a quick break-in to feed their broken selves. Drug abuse. Methamphetamine insanity. Epigentics that have pushed young people to have no skills for life, who have lived under parental tyranny since Pampers, who have had role models that are burglars, car thieves, pimps, prostitutes, users, abusers, and retrograde thinkers.

    Yet there are forty-foot brand new RVs, second homes on cliff-sides, endless nights boozing and dining. Could be Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Albuquerque.

    Lincoln County is rural, so there is a public health service here. There are so many young and old with developmental-psychological-intellectual-physical disabilities. Bad teeth, bad diets, bad habits, bad everything.

    Kids that are never given the chance to be honored, cared for, regaled, complimented, supported. Never shown the way, that is, how you end up early in life as a product of the old adage – you are/become what you eat, see, believe, say, read, do, think, hope for, drink, entertain yourself with. You are the sum total of that bad shit in your gut, lungs, head, heart, brain.

    So it goes, now that the Starvation Army and I have parted, and my daily writing and handyman work and introspection take me to the same old radical places I was fuguing at when I was 16, a communist heart and soul in Tucson, Arizona. And daily, too, now, my former clients report to me the more draconian and penal-like conditions of the place that is supposed to be a transition center for house-less or home-less. Most of my veterans got there because of disease and/or bad debts, evictions, and lost jobs. They are there, after a few years in the military, mostly as an LZ (landing zone) for their lack of choices in small-town America. The so-deemed economic draft.

    This place is not a dry out center or one where everyone is facing substance abuse.

    The Salvation Army has had thousands of employees and many more clients or people who received their services complain. We are talking about major investigations, going nowhere, because it is a cult, like Scientology, and the backing of the feds and the tax-free status and the stiff arm salute to Booth and this pennyante marching band shit make the kettle ringing outfit one of America’s big basket of charity donations.

    Before we look at the connection to the rash of national shootings and pipe bombing conspiracies tied to military vets, and more deeply connected to the military adventurism of this country since time immemorial and the blind patriotism of F-18 flyovers and Golden Knights parachutists at football games, (even at PK12 events, through to college stadiums all the way to the pros), we have to consider the deeper implications of how a punishment state makes money off of the pain and suffering of others shackled to unpaid levies, fines, taxes, surcharges, rents, bills, tolls, arrears all racked up in neoliberalism’s chamber of horrors.

    I write about this ALL the time, making the connection to this “underperforming economy” in the USA, as Manfred Max-Neef writes, and the abhorrent fear that has shackled Americans (not including leftists, IWW, communists, anarchists) since “the beginning.”

    And I am working, several decades. Many studies have been done. I’m the author of a famous hypothesis, the threshold hypothesis, which says that in every society there is a period in which economic growth, conventionally understood or no, brings about an improvement of the quality of life. But only up to a point, the threshold point, beyond which, if there is more growth, quality of life begins to decline. And that is the situation in which we are now. I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find. I have gone as far as saying – and this is a chapter of a book of mine that is published next month in England, the title of which is Economics Unmasked. There is a chapter called “The United States, an Underdeveloping Nation,” which is a new category. We have developed, underdeveloped and developing. Now you have underdeveloping. And your country is an example, in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house – thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem.

    We have to drill even deeper into the implications of how one’s formative upbringing and one’s current census track and zip code can determine all sorts of roulette factors that will either produce an Oprah or Precious, a Gary Gilmore or Mikal Gilmore.

    The people I work with – the professionals and staff, that is — have a shallow or zero understanding of how the implications of birthhood and early life will taint and most assuredly guide consciously and subconsciously the human being into adulthood. Once most of these Nurse Ratched’s see an adult male like Gary Gilmore with his armed robberies and two murders under his belt, all compassion, understanding, empathy and deep wisdom around all the extenuating factors that turn people like Gary against themselves, their families, society at large and against all the institutions of oppression, authority and bureaucracy. All social services logic and compassion for one’s circumstance, in the case of a Gary Gilmore, go out the proverbial window.

    Stealing, getting into fights, drinking, petty crimes, that’s the Gary Gilmore pedigree coming from a violent family, a father who daily beat the shit out of him, from the turmoil of a father and stepmother verbally abusing him and themselves, daily. His story and his younger brother Mikal’s life are compelling and illustrative of the hardwiring of epigenetics linked closely to formative years struggling with a violent father.

    I bring up Gilmore for several reasons: I have had dozens of Gary (or Genna) Gilmore’s in my life as clients. I have seen people come out of the military, hit the streets, do gunning and running in the big city, and end up on Measure Eleven or Three Strikes You Are Out prison sentences that kept some in for more than 29 years.

    Just what formative years’ event or events can turn a child’s wiring into something completely antithetical to childhood dreams and innocence? Just how many drops of alcohol or draws on the methamphetamine pipe turn a pregnant mother’s womb into a festering cauldron where significant cognitive and behavioral changes are passed onto the child? How many strikes with the shaving strop by daddy or hours of exposure to pornography can turn a child into an abuser or victim, or both?

    Gary Gilmore was born in Waco, Texas, and then he moved with his family to Portland, Oregon. Gary’s brother said their father was a “cruel and unreasonable man.” Frank, their father, believed he was the illegitimate son of Harry Houdini, a myth passed down by Bessie Gilmore, their mother. Mikal said he doesn’t believe the story.

    Gary was gifted, with high scholastic and academic scores, an IQ of 133 and defined artistic skills. He dropped out of high school at age 14, ran away from home to go back to Texas, and returned to Portland running a small car theft ring which got him his first arrest. Another car heist got the 14-year-old admitted to Oregon’s notoriously sadistic MacLaren Reform School for boys, and after that release, he ended up in the Oregon State Correctional Institution on another car theft charge.

    Fast-forward to my life – I remember this 37-year-old life’s cut down in January 1977, when I was a newspaper reporter in Arizona. The newsroom was all full of debates, with anti- and pro-death penalty sides arguing our merits; then the sadistic Utah and Mormon blood-letting demand for eye-for-an-eye justice, as the executioners were at an abandoned cannery, with loaded rifles, all five (one was supposed to be a blank but it wasn’t this time) with live rounds. Then there was Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (1979 Pulitzer Prize), adapted for TV with Tommy Lee Jones who landed the Emmy portraying Gilmore. Gary Gilmore’s brother, Mikal, wrote a memoir, Shot in the Heart, which was made into an HBO movie with Sam Shepard as the father.

    It was clear to me then decades before I even got into social services that Gary Gilmore was a product of a really bad upbringing and a broken education system and a broken society of machoism as a rite of passage, in Gilmore’s case, armed robbery and killing.

    Running and gunning and drugging and womanizing and scamming and assaulting and stealing and, well, sometimes second-degree manslaughter; i.e., all pumped up on drugs and emotions, and the wrong (or right) cross punches and uppercuts can pummel a grown man (bad guy just like the offender) down a flight of stairs. Snapped neck, bleeding out, and a murder charge.

    I’ve made friends with clients who spent decades in solitary confinement, after two tours in Vietnam, after breaking the law, breaking themselves and breaking the systems of oppression on the outside until they were locked up by the prosecutors and judges that deemed them sociopaths.

    My job was to find some semblance of sanity in their releases from dungeons of hell, some sense in their shitty probationary limits, to the continual and repeated punishment. I had to get them into moral reconation therapy (MRT), enroll them into domestic violence classes, pester them to take drug rehab classes and attend group therapy sessions. then my job was to prep them for job training, help them learn computer software, and convince them that a round hole was perfect for their square peg selves.

    Grown and old men, bodies broken from years of torture in prison, and they come out and face a phalanx of men and mostly women probation officers, counselors, employment navigators, skills trainers, financial advisers, judges.

    This all makes for a bizarre out-of-whack system of soft and hard repression and recrimination. They have to go pay the ferryman many times over, yet, there is no soft landing in a harsh society of high rents, bad work, shitty transportation, expensive living demands, and an abandoned society and family ties.

    I’ll end this part two with a short interview with a friend, former marine, whom I met while we both worked with foster youth as case managers in an independent living program, run by another non-profit riddled with petty and in some cases dangerously out- of-touch and uncaring women leaders and workers. We’ve been to meetings in Salem, where we were two lone men out of 60 women in the conference, and any piping in or participation by one of us equaled white male patriarchy privilege. Amazing.

    Meet former case manager, Brian Hanson:

    Paul Haeder: Why did you get into social services? When?

    Brian Hanson: After completing my BS is psychology. What(why?): Helping and service have been cornerstones of my identity since I was little. The more people beat me down the more I gave them a big “fuck you” by helping others I knew needed me.

    PH: Highlight working in social services?

    BH: The kids, always the kids. The youth of this world are the only ones still with any natural wisdom left.

    PH: Why did you get out of social services?

    BH: The bureaucracy. Most workers were pretty good, some were really bad. The good ones got shit on by their supervisors and the rotten apples. The entire structure at DHS (the entire State honestly) is a culture of secrecy, lies, and hubris. I’ve actually heard a supervisor tell a worker not to support a youth in crisis, because he was rude to the supervisor who got into a power struggle with the youth.

    PH: Example of a low point in the profession.

    BH: The worst point was watching a lawyer lie about a client in court (the lawyer was unconnected to the case. Representing a former foster parent that had abused the client) during a regular review process (oh and this lawyer was at every single review throughout this kids life, literally allowing an abusive foster parent to continue to exert fear and control) The lawyer only said a few things, but repeated it every chance he got. “The case against my client was only unfounded”. The problem here is that the lawyer was specifically and intentionally confusing unfounded with unsubstantiated. Neither the case worker, case workers supervisor, nor the judge seemed to even notice the language change or its meaning to the case. This young lady was seized by uncontrollable fear and crying. She couldn’t represent herself. And the supervisor didn’t care, because she was difficult, her life amounted to an annoyance to him.

    PH: What needs to be done with veterans in need of trauma and substance abuse care?

    BH: Firstly, clinical anything in this country is a flawed premise. This is due to the artificial separation imposed by any clinical practice. Further the vast majority of clinical practice focuses on isolated issues, rather than systems. This is dehumanizing. Period. A good analogy is taking your car in for an oil change and being told that you need new brakes, new drive boots, and oops we cracked the drive shaft while under there, so that needs to go too. Most practitioners are trained to only address the main issue for the session. They are trained to keep the client on a positive progression track designed to accelerate healing and get them back to functioning (out of the therapist office). Instead they stretch out their sessions over months or even years. Sometimes because they like working with the client. Sometimes literally to fill empty work hours. Veterans especially don’t need this BS. They need dignity and to feel useful. And above all they need connections over pills. If we spent more time giving value and worth to Veterans, we would have a massive reduction in harm. Period.

    PH: What’ s your background in military?

    BH: Four years in the Corps. Field wireman. Went in a punk, came out a devil-dog.

    PH: Do you have trauma? Yes, what? No, why?

    BH: I have some traumas in my life. A near fatal and debilitating motorcycle crash over a decade ago. A moderately abusive childhood (I got too big before it got bad). Of course, there is my military service, wasn’t a real picnic. The worst was when my daughter was sexually abused. The piece of filth responsible was given leniency because he cried in court about his own abuse. He got three years, six years afterwards and my daughter still suffered from his abuse. She had to spend her entire elementary school in a self-contained classroom. Substandard education, behavior focused teachers, and very high behavior classmates. She was routinely traumatized on a near daily basis. I had to quit my job at Youth Villages because I had to constantly pick her up after just a half day. It has taken a near lifetime to undo the damage that piece of shit did to her. And it only cost her childhood, every friend she could have had, every relationship, and most of her learning.

    PH: Anything else to add after reading my first part of this series?

    BH: Social service has long been about warehousing those with needs. Vast sums of money and resources go into training and supporting staff. The services offered after all this graft typically are poor. Staff get burned out and service turns into a hassle. The client suffers because the worker won’t take a look at their own fucked up psychology, work place, or profession. I cannot tell you the number of so-called professionals that I wouldn’t lift a finger to help. But damn I bet I’d be happy to have a beer with just about everyone of their patients. That says something.

    Next – Part Three – Military veterans at the Salvation Army speak out and give solutions to the homelessness/ suicide issues tied to vets.

    Remembrance: The Dehumanised Human

    It is clear even from their titles that corporate newspapers are objective, balanced and impartial. Or so we are to believe. The Telegraph and Mail are disinterested systems of communication – the prejudices of telegraphists and postmen/women certainly do not influence the content of the messages they deliver. The Times and Financial Times simply reflect the key events of our time, as, of course, does the Mirror. The Sun impartially spreads illumination to the benefit of all life on earth. As does the Independent, with no shadows cast by the Russian oligarch by which it is owned or the adverts on which it depends. The Observer looks on and records, a mere Spectator. Only the Guardian hints at political engagement. A staunch defender of ‘free’ comment and ‘sacred facts’, the title is commonly understood to indicate the paper’s determination to act as a guardian of ordinary people against powerful interests.

    And, as the name suggests, the Express is an entirely neutral rapid information delivery service – we will have to look elsewhere for political bias. Last November, the editors of the tabloid opined:

    From the smallest village memorial services to the 10,000 who marched solemnly past the Cenotaph, the nation came together yesterday in an overwhelming display of respect for the fallen.

    With poppies and soldier silhouettes, with beach artwork and bell-ringing, or simply with quiet reflection, they honoured those who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear. Up and down the country, the two-minute silence was immaculately observed, though the message it conveyed was deafening: We will not forget. Leading it all, as ever, was the Queen. She has lived through most of the 100 years since the Armistice that ended the First World War and she remains as staunch and dependable as ever.

    There was no hint of bias in this idea that the ‘nation’ was united in this view of the Great War and its commemoration. The nation ‘came together’ in ceremonies led by royalty and religion, with the key focus – appropriately enough – on silence.

    Why this constant emphasis on silent remembering: ‘We will not forget’? What is it that we are supposed not to forget, and to what purpose? What exactly is the point of it?

    Of course, we are being asked to ‘remember’ the suffering and death of ‘the fallen’, of those who ‘served’ and ‘sacrificed’. But, in fact, they did not fall. They were pushed: by bullets, shells and bayonets. They were pushed by elite-run systems of propaganda that think nothing of exploiting the vulnerability of children to patriotic, religious and militaristic manipulation long before they are capable of intellectual self-defence. They were pushed by nationalistic sloganeering and shaming, by the threat of jail, by the threat of bullets from a firing squad. In 1895, Tolstoy observed:

    From infancy, by every possible means – class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments – the people are stupefied in one direction’ – unquestioning patriotism.1

    And as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explained on the basis of decades of research:

    The average individual does not permit himself to be aware of thoughts or feelings which are incompatible with the patterns of his culture, and hence he is forced to repress them.2

    The psychologist Stanley Milgram agreed, noting:

    The individual often views authority as an impersonal force, whose dictates transcend mere human wish or desire. Those in authority acquire, for some, a suprahuman character.3

    Milgram concluded of the modern individual:

    The culture has failed, almost entirely, in inculcating internal controls on actions that have their origin in authority.4

    This is the reality behind the claim that the ‘fallen’ had ‘sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’. They ‘sacrificed’ themselves to defend a system that attacks the freedom of the young to think for themselves in challenging the views of ‘authority’ on the crucial issues facing us as human beings.

    Consider religion as a further example. A child, of course, has not the remotest idea about the meaning of the word ‘God’ that features so prominently at times of ‘remembrance’. And yet innumerable societies throughout history have taken for granted that children should be exposed to education from the earliest age to ensure they become ‘good’ Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists. What strange, heretical parent would encourage the child to think, feel and decide for him or herself on these issues, to consider different ideas about how best to relate oneself to existence, how best to experience love, truth and delight?

    Proudly irreligious parents need not crow too hard. Their tiny children enjoying the inborn delight of non-competitive being are trained just as fanatically for ambition – to exult in coming first in class, to despair at coming last, to get to the best university, to get the best job with the best salary – before the child has any idea of what is at stake, of what he or she stands to lose. Which school explores the mystical philosophy of purposeless being, the sheer ecstasy of living in the moment, comparing it to the heart-rending stress of exam-oriented, ‘success’-oriented living that subordinates the present moment to some future moment deemed far more important? Anyone who understands that authentic religion is fundamentally concerned with identifying and dropping the ambitious ego, knows that this, too, is a form of religious indoctrination.

    In the Guardian, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote of the ‘remembrance’ ceremonies:

    The act of remembrance is significant because forgetting is what destroys us.

    But is it? We come closer to the truth when we amend Moore’s observation that: ‘Terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks can end.’ The reality, of course, is that terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks about at all; that no one thinks, writes or cares about.

    ‘Don’t you care about Yemen?’ Moore asked as an example of ‘petty political point-scoring’ at a time when we should all be united in ‘remembrance’. In fact, this was the sixth time since the war began in 2015 that Moore has mentioned the word ‘Yemen’ in her Guardian column5 – all have been the briefest possible mentions, all in passing. Moore has not offered a single substantive comment on the nature of the conflict – on the civilian death toll, on Britain’s role in waging a truly devastating war against an impoverished, famine-stricken country.

    And this gives the lie to the whole focus on ‘remembering’. It is not ‘forgetting’ that destroys ‘us’; it is a level of power-serving propaganda, mendacity and indifference that overwhelmingly destroys ‘them’ while ‘we’ know little or nothing of what’s happening. There is no risk of us forgetting because we don’t know. We don’t know because journalism has been transformed into one more corporate product where celebrity media workers sell their ‘brand’ as columnists without risking their privileged lifestyles by treading on important toes.

    A Country That Is Not Yours Needs You To Kill And Be Killed

    The ‘fallen’ were pushed by a fantastically distorted version of the world calculated to manufacture their consent. The implication is unavoidable: the choices they made were not free choices.

    In 1931, Winston Churchill noted ‘the reputation of the British empire as a valiant and benignant force in the history of mankind’.6 Churchill later described ‘what is called colonialism’ as ‘bringing forward backward races and opening up the jungles’.7 Like everyone else, he was ‘brought up to feel proud of what we had done’.

    Historian Mark Curtis takes a different view:

    As regards the promotion of the principles noted above – peace, democracy, human rights and Third World economic development – much of Britain’s history is embarrassing by virtually any standards.

    Britain ‘led the world in enslaving what is now known as the Third World by a series of human slaughters and military conquests before instituting an economic imperialism that enforced virtual (and real) slavery on tens of millions of people while using their resources for Britain’s enrichment’.8

    In November 1935, Major General Smedley D. Butler supplied a rare honest insight into the role of the West’s military:

    I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force – the Marine Corps… And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.

    Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City boys to collect revenues in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.9

    When groups of powerful, violent egotists clash in pursuit of empire, extreme violence is inevitable. This is essentially what happened with the Great War, in which 1 in 3 British men aged 19-22 in 1914 were killed.

    Of course, when exploitative elites clash, the public is told, ‘We are at war!’ What began as rape and pillage, as ‘opening up the jungles’, is magically transformed into a noble cause. Up to this point, there was no question of elites insisting ‘We are at business!’ or, ‘We are at self-enriching conquest!’ The spoils are not shared in the same way that killing and dying are shared. But when the violent thieves of state power meet resistance from other state thieves, ‘We are at war!’ ‘The nation is at war!’ and so: ‘Your country needs you!’

    Suddenly it’s ‘our’ country! The giant corporations, banks and the elite class that owns them are imaginatively turned over to us, and thus ‘our’ country needs us!

    In 1937, anarchist writer Rudolf Rocker commented:

    The love of his own nation has never yet prevented the entrepreneur from using foreign labour if it was cheaper and made more profit for him. Whether his own people are thereby injured does not concern him in the least; the personal profit is the deciding factor in such a case, and so-called national interests are only considered when not in conflict with personal ones.10

    Consider, for example, the behaviour of German capitalists after the Great War:

    It never occurred to them that in order to rescue the rest of the nation from helpless despair and misery after the war they might be content with smaller profits. They stole what they could lay their hands on, while the nation fed on dry bread and potatoes and thousands of German children died of under-nourishment. None of these parasites ever heeded that their uncontrolled greed delivered the whole nation to destruction. While the workers and the middle class of the great cities perished in misery, Stinnes became the owner of fabulous riches. Thyssen, who before the war had approximately two hundred million gold marks, is today the owner of a fortune of a billion gold marks, and the other representatives of German heavy industry enriched themselves in the same proportion.11

    As the modern climate change crisis reveals with even greater clarity, establishment self-seekers do not care much even for themselves, much less for ‘the nation’. Even as these interests have driven governments to invade Iraq and Libya to gain control of oil resources, fossil fuel interests, the most powerful industries in the world, have waged a no-holds-barred propaganda campaign against their own domestic populations to prevent them from understanding the true seriousness of the climate disaster.

    This week, the Guardian reported that Brad Lister, Professor of Biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the United States, had returned to a Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years. Lister found that 98 per cent of ground insects had vanished: ‘The most likely culprit by far is global warming’. Lister commented:

    It was just astonishing… It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest. We began to realise this is terrible, a very, very disturbing result.

    He added:

    We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on this planet, along with all the other life on the planet. It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.

    This follows research in 2017 which found that 75 per cent of flying insects in Germany’s nature reserves had vanished over the previous 25 years. Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University warned:

    We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.

    The response: last year, the world’s airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers, up 38 million compared to the year before. At a time when rapid and massive reductions are desperately needed, global carbon emissions reached an all-time high, up 2.7 per cent, after a 1.6 per cent increase in 2017. Unsurprisingly, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also reached an all-time high in 2018, 410 parts per million (ppm). Science writer Peter Gleick commented on Twitter:

    The last time humans experienced 410 ppm was… never. Never. Humans hadn’t evolved yet.

    Corporate media around the world have sometimes reported but always essentially shrugged off these terrifying developments – the focus on consumerism, entertainment and indifference continues as before. Even now, with scientists warning of a ‘climate emergency’, of imminent catastrophe, and even of human extinction, corporate interests are continuing their campaign of denial, even though their own lives and the lives of their children are at stake.

    These are essentially the same forces driven by the same goals that built empires on the suffering of weaker peoples and animals throughout the world for hundreds of years. Remarkably, it turns out that, in 1914-1918 and in 1939-1945, ordinary men and women killed and died to defend a status quo that, within a few short decades, would bring humanity to the brink of extinction.

    Who made fully aware of even a portion of this reality would have been willing to fight for the British Empire against the German Empire in the war of 1914-1918? Who would have been willing to experience the obscenity of killing another human being – of mutilating, burning alive, shredding; of being oneself mutilated, burned alive, shredded – for this cause?

    Unsurprisingly, we are told in no uncertain terms that ‘respectability’ requires that ‘remembrance’ of this mass deception, this mass capitulation to self-destructive illusions, requires, not rational, open discussion, but solemn silence. We are to quietly ‘remember’, to sadly reflect, to quietly thank the ‘fallen’ ‘who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’ but do not possess.

    The emphasis on silence serves a purpose; it is used to suggest that painful questioning is an insult to the ‘memory’ of the dead. As if a memory can be insulted. As if the dead can be insulted at all. As if responding with patriotic platitudes and deceptions would not be viewed as an insult by the people killed by them.

    All too many of us have bowed low to ‘authority’s’ demand for silence. The result could hardly be more catastrophic. Erich Fromm saw it with astonishing clarity:

    This attitude of the dehumanised human – of the person who does not care, of the person who not only is not his brother’s keeper but is not even his own keeper – this attitude characterises modern man.12

    1. Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p. 95.
    2. Fromm, Beyond The Chains Of Illusion, Abacus, 1962, p. 120.
    3. Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p. 162.
    4. Ibid, p.164.
    5. ProQuest newspaper database search, January 15, 2019.
    6. Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 1.
    7. Ibid, p. 5
    8. Ibid, p. 5.
    9. Butler, quoted, Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, Pluto Press, 2003, pp. 270-271.
    10. Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p. 261.
    11. Ibid, p. 264.
    12. Fromm, ‘On Being Human’, Continuum, 1997, p. 29.

    The Persecuted

    I recently had the interesting experience of sitting in on a fundamentalist Christian sermon in a small church in southeast Louisiana. The text of the pastor’s sermon was drawn from 2nd Thessalonians, a Pauline epistle exhorting young believers of a fledgling congregation. The emphasis taken from the block of scripture this Sunday was Paul’s encouragement to his flock in the face of persecution. After setting the narrative in motion the preacher sought to establish an analogy between the persecuted 1st century church at Thessalonica and the 21st century church in America and Western Europe.

    It was at this point that my mild disinterest was replaced by enraptured attention. Here was a subject that had stymied me for some time now; I had listed for years as various spokespersons for the religious right sought to portray the western church as an institution under attack by various political and cultural forces of a secular society. My confusion came, time and again, from an inability to see examples in the real world that matched the rhetoric I continued to hear from the pulpit.

    Every local grocery store and chain department store I’ve shopped at here, in the American southeast, has some sort of selection of bibles and or books on Christian living. Every Walmart has these as well as at least one rack of Christian-themed T-shirts and Sweatshirts. For the DYI decorator Hobby Lobby offers a myriad of items to emphasis your faith in almost every holiday except, of course, if you’re Jewish in which case you’re given a couple feet of shelf space featuring Hanukah decorations at years end. Added to all this is the preponderance of satellite and cable channels available to the faithful every day of the week.

    I honestly could care less about the availability of Christian swag, obviously the capitalist system has proven that a profitable market exists for Jesus paraphernalia; the lack of a preponderance of Jewish and or Muslim commentaries and accessories could be as much a sign of population demographics and markets as it could be of prejudices and discrimination. What troubles me more is that, in spite of this economic and cultural reality, the ecclesiastical message continues to portray the church as a victim of secular persecution. Despite open congregational doors across the nation we are to believe that the Christian faith of western nations is under threat. With these factors in mind I quickly became engrossed by the promise of this sermon that at last I would learn how, exactly, Christianity was in danger from a godless world.

    “Did I understand” the pastor questioned “that today in western countries such as Canada or Netherlands a Christian can be put in jail for ten years because of their faith?” Unbelievable you say, such were my thoughts upon hearing this until I heard the  explanation that followed. According to the preacher the crime of faith Christians are getting charged with is hate speech. Herein is the crux of their argument, the rights of Christians to “profess” their doctrines has been hindered.

    As the homily continued I did as the talk show host Joe Madison recommended and listened with the “third ear.” What I came to understand is that the fundamentalist Christian belief that the Bible is the uncompromised word of god supersedes, in their view, any secular social or legal constraint. If their interpretation of the bible condemns, for example, homosexuality then they see it as their “right” to discriminate or condemn what they consider a “sinful” behavior in any way they see fit.

    Any attempt to deny the Christian faith a position of preeminence in culture and society is labeled by fundamentalist as persecution. It is this desire of dominionism over the politics and customs that drives the 21st century church of the west and frames the portrait of victimization. The principle of freedom of religion is proclaimed but the constitutional right to freedom from religion is ignored or repressed. While a large portion of the religious right supports Trump’s call for the erection of a wall to separate the United States from Mexico they actively strive to tear down the wall that is meant to separate church and state.

    Ironically, as they rail against the other, the fundamentalist elements of the Christian faith have much more in common with the fundamentalist elements of what they consider heretical ideologies than they do with the secular and humanist in their midst. Fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus, and Jews also seek to control the politics and cultures of their states just as our pastor desires here in America. Any attempt to limit religious belief from becoming public policy is seen as genuine persecution of Christianity and a harbinger of the end times which, interestingly, brings the fundamentalist joy because it foretells their apocalyptic vision of the future.

    This is a faith that does not encourage striving for a better world but rather it is a faith defined by what it opposes. Man, in their worldview, is born into a sin debt and the only path to a better world is through a door for which only the church has the key. In fundamentalist theology, of any faith, the keepers of the keys should be the regulators and rulers of society. While the rhetoric of the “war on Christmas” may sound ridiculous to worldly ears it belies a foundational struggle about the structure of world civilization.

    The Illusion of the Rich: an Island of Prosperity surrounded by Misery and Suffering

    Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

    Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) was born in 1944 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He began his political engagement as Catholic student and was imprisoned by the military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985. I interviewed him first in 1986 after the publication of his book of interviews Fidel and Religion. This is the first of two interviews given in December after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.1

    *****

    Dr. T.P. Wilkinson: When we met in 1986, the Brazilian military regime was considered at an end and elected government was to be restored. 32 years later a man has been elected who claims allegiance to the military regime. He is quoted saying the military should have tortured less and killed more. You were imprisoned under that regime. Could you briefly sketch the developments in Brazil since 1986 as you saw them? Has Brazil returned to military-style rule, if not actual dictatorship?

    Frei Betto: The Brazilian military dictatorship began in 1964 and ended in 1985. The civil society of our country has made important accomplishments since then: a new constitution approved in 1988, called the “Civilian Constitution”; social movements of national scale, like the CUT (Unique Workers Central), the MST (Landless Workers Movement), the CMP (Popular Movements Central) and the MTST (Homeless Movement Workers).

    We elect five and a half presidential terms, led by progressive politicians: Fernando Henrique Cardoso (two terms, 1995-1998 and 1999-2002), Lula (2003-2006 and 2007-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2014 and 2015-2016, when it was ended in a leadership coup by vice president Michel Temer). In this period, from 1995 until 2016, Brazil made significant advances in the social sphere, with a reduction of inequality and the inclusion of thousands of families that previously lived in misery and poverty. Only under the Lula government, 36 million people found social inclusion.

    TPW: In the 1980s there were several prominent people in the Church who were identified with democratic ideals, peace and justice, for example, Cardinal Arns in Sao Paulo — and as whom I met later Archbishop Dennis Hurley in Durban. There were also ecumenical movements pursuing justice in Brazil and South Africa. However, it seems that once the military dictatorship was ended and the apartheid government replaced by the ANC, the Church lost its profile and many of those people associated with the struggles left the stage. Is there still an active Church-based movement in Brazil and where is it now? What challenges does it face?

    FB:  It is necessary to understand that the end of the dictatorship in Brazil coincided with the election of John Paul II, followed by Benedict XVI. There were 34 years of conservative pontificates that did not support the line of the CEB (basic church communities) and the theology of liberation. This opened space for the evangelical churches with their conservative profile.

    There still exists at the base a church that is alive and combative, but without prominent figures like Cardinal Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. Fortunately with Pope Francis this progressive pastoral work resumes. The canonisation of Monsignor Oscar Romero was very important for the recognition of the Church of liberation and the poor. And it is very active in Brazil and Latin America with feminist theology, indigenous theology, black theology and eco-theology.

    TPW:  In 1986, there was still a Soviet Union, a GDR, and “competition” in Europe to demonstrate the “best” social-economic system for the majority of citizens. By 1990, all that was gone. Two years ago Fidel Castro died. It is putting it mildly to say the world has changed since 1986. It has been argued that the Soviet Union actually contributed little to social-economic justice in the rest of the world, despite claims to the contrary. However, since its demise there appears to be no limit to the expansion and aggressivity of the “Western” system. Unrestricted capitalism has “won”. It would appear that there is no longer a vision of what a just world could look like capable of providing orientation, especially on a global scale. You are certainly critical but not a pessimist. Where do you see the potential for social justice in future? What obstacles do you consider most important to overcome?

    FB: Socialism had the merit of forcing the rich world to concede more rights to workers. Without the communist “threat”, there would have been no welfare state in Western Europe. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism no longer needs rings because it does not lose its fingers… It has changed its productive phase for one of speculation and, as Piketty demonstrates, concentrates ever more profits into fewer hands.2

    This gaping inequality has a limit, which is the desperation of the poor, like the waves of refugees flooding into the world of the rich and the demonstrations in France, the yellow vests. It is an illusion of the rich to think that they can have an island of prosperity surrounded by misery and suffering.

    Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaíah already preached that peace can only exist with the fruits of justice. And we can add today: there will never be peace as a simple balance of weapons.

    TPW: Your interviews with Castro revealed a remarkable man quite different from the personality depicted or caricatured since the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959. Anyone who followed his writing and speeches, even after retirement, could see that your portrait was accurate and sincere. The survival of the Cuban Revolution after the fall of the Soviet Union could be seen as proof that it was not a “Soviet creation” but a genuinely Cuban phenomenon, like Castro himself. In fact, Cuba managed, despite US policy, to support social-economic change in Latin America, especially in cooperation with Chavez in Venezuela. How do you see Cuba today, especially in relation to its Latin American neighbours?

    FB: Cuba resists despite all pressure from the White House. Today, all Latin American countries support Cuban sovereignty and vote in the UN, with the support of more than 170 countries, for the suspension of the blockade. For Cuba’s economy, so damaged by the isolation the country has been condemned to, relations with the progressive governments of Latin America and the world are very important. However, Venezuela faces a serious economic crisis. And Brazil—starting in January—will be governed by a fascist party allied with the US policy of preserving the blockade. Fortunately Mexico now has a progressive government that can strengthen ties of solidarity with Cuba, especially by absorbing Cuban doctors who have been expelled from Brazil.3

    TPW: Venezuela has been under a kind of siege since Chavez became president that is at least as challenging as the US embargo of Cuba. Now Brazil has a president who has announced a very aggressive attitude toward the government in Caracas. Venezuela is not as radical as Cuba was. Chavez and Castro were sometimes presented as if they were a pair, both with very personalistic leadership styles. Have you formed a view of the situation in Venezuela, a direct neighbour of Brazil? Sometime around 1962 the US initiated activities that culminated in the 1964 military coup in Brazil under the pretext that Goulart would align Brazil with Cuba and the Soviet Union — something to prevent. Do you see an international context to the recent presidential election results — especially given the vitriolic statements made about Venezuela by the new president and the intense conflict between the US and both Russia and China — part of the so-called BRICS group?

    FB:  I think tensions between US and both China and Russia will worsen. The Cold War is back. And Latin America is the target of this conflict. The countries of the Continent know that they cannot go on without the import of their products by China. And they fear Trump’s protectionist measures. So my assessment is that this reheating of the Cold War will be favorable to the Latin American economy.

    TPW:  You are described among other places on the website of the Dominican Order in Germany as a “political activist“. One could say that the Dominican order, the OP, was founded as an “activist” order. Not everyone would agree that the order’s history of activism has been very positive — especially those familiar with the history of the Inquisition. Did your activism grow out of your vocation or do you believe your choice to become a Dominican was shaped by an at least latent desire to “preach”, to be an activist? How do you see your activism as a Dominican and the contradictions of the order’s role in history?

    FB:  The Dominican Order, like our families, has its side of light and its side of darkness. There is no chemically pure institution. In 800 years of history, the Order had the sad page of the Inquisition, but is also proud to have had among its friars Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, Fra Angelico, Master Eckhart, Vitoria, Tomaso de Campanella, Bartolomé de las Casas and Father Lebret.

    I entered the Dominicans because of my admiration for their presence in Brazil, along with the indigenous movement, the student movement and popular movements. I did not know that I am inscribed in the annals of the German Dominicans as a “political activist.” This honors me very much, because it puts me next to another political activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not die of hepatitis in bed, but like so many political prisoners in Latin America: he was arrested, tortured, tried by two political powers and sentenced to death on the cross. I thank God for being a disciple of this political prisoner who, within Caesar’s reign, announced another possible kingdom, that of God.

    1. Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.
    2. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).
    3. In the wake of his election, Jair Bolsonaro demanded that several thousand Cuban physicians employed in parts of the Brazil with little or no medical care would have to leave the country if the Cuban government did not comply with his demands that full wages be paid in Brazil and that families be permitted to move to Brazil with the seconded medical personnel. The Cuban government rejected this attempt by Brazil to extract Cuban medical professionals and deprive Cuba of the income agreed under the Dilmar (PT) government in return for Cuba’s medical mission. See “Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments”, The Guardian, 14 November 2018.