Thursday, June 23, 2016

Questioning our certainties

It's odd feeling when all around you are so certain they know the truth and what is going on and all those claims of certainty fall flat to ones ears -all of them, and all these certainties contradict each other.

The political theater taking place in the House of Representatives right now, with Democrats playing the part of noble activist and the Republicans playing the part of the status quo and establishment, .  It's a good show.  And of course this theatrical show down is over a piece of legislation no one really wants, that even if passed would be largely symbolic.  That symbolic act wouldn't be without significance or meaning. Artifice and theater have meaning and significance. I'm an artist and a rhetorician (I paint and preach), I believe firmly in the meaning of the artificial.  But I do wonder at the weight and attention we are giving this show down between Democrats and Republicans in the house. I believe it deserves less cheering and more reflection.

But that isn't what I wish to focus on.  In reflecting on this I see that what we think about the actions of the two ruling parties in this piece of political theatrics is already predetermined by what we presuppose is the best course of action, and the degree to which we are solidly Democrat or Republican.  So, citizens who are partisans of the Democratic party are predisposed to approve of the Democratic theatrics and predisposed to view negatively the Republican theatrics.  And the same goes for partisans of the Republican party.  We know the good guys and the bad guys in this melodrama it's just that the audience can't agree on which is which.

So we have our certainties, our bedrock beliefs, and we aren't convincing each other to change or compromise on those.  As someone who isn't convinced by either side of the political solutions offered to the tragedies of mass shootings and gun violence in our society, I'd rather we stop for a moment and question our certainties about the meaning of gun violence and our genuinely held beliefs about what we should do and what would keep us safe.  Maybe question even the dominant narratives about safety itself.

And we perhaps shouldn't stop there.  It is clear we are in a moment of deep crisis.  One understanding of crisis is that it is a moment of  possibility: A moment calling us to pause, to turn aside, to questioning and to rethink what we've believed to be true.  Rather, than a moment for retreating into certainties or of overt and brash action.  Of course any questioning presupposes a place from which to question.  A moment of crisis is perhaps also a moment to be honest with ourselves and each other about the indefensible presuppositions, prejudices and convictions that we won't and can't question while questioning other things.

Posts that follow this will probably be in this line of examination. Not an offering of solutions, but questioning in the hopes of creating an opening, in myself and other, a clearing for alternatives to what we in our certainties believe to be reality.  A clearing in which we can be silent in order to  listening to voices yet unheard and not anticipated.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

How Sanders Rejects Neoliberalism as a "Reality" We must simply Accept

(Ideologies of effectiveness and possibility in the language of qualifications for the POTUS)

In the  contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, questions have been raised about what qualifies one to be president and who has those qualifications.  Sanders made the mistake of using the term “qualified” in answering Clinton and Clinton’s campaign suggesting that Sanders didn’t have the mettle to be POTUS, in this tit for tat political jabbing.  Although, when Sanders remarks are taken in context and in full, it is clear he wasn’t meaning that Hillary Clinton didn’t have the expertise or ability to be president but that in his and the opinion of his supporters her positions and actions disqualified her.  In the uproar Sanders backed down. Though, Hillary Clinton using the Sander’s interview by the New York Daily News (NY Daily News), has continued to suggest that Bernie Sanders isn’t prepared and qualified to take the office of the Presidency of the U.S.
This debate over being qualified for being president isn’t based on neutral criteria but is based on differing interpretations of the role and meaning of the office of POTUS, and in beliefs about what is real or possible. The interview with the New York Daily News reveals their own dogma and ideology of what the presidency is, what a president is, and what is politically possible (according to this Guardian opinion piece by Geroge Manbiot, this ideology is neoliberalism)  The dogma and ideology is subtle because it is embedded in a larger world view of what is real or realistic.  A conflict arises between the New York Daily News and Sanders because Sanders apparently doesn’t share these dogmas and ideologies presented as simply the way things are.

This clash of ideology and dogma hidden behind the veil of supposed “reality” is shown from  the first in their  questions about corporate America. The NY Daily news legitimately asks Sanders to clarify and be nuanced about some of his rhetoric that conflates Wall Street and corporate America. Sanders won’t get specific and doesn’t see the distinction the interviewer is making. So, they ask directly about Apple.  In bringing up Apple the interviewer describes Apple as a corporation that now employs 115,000 people, suggesting such a large employer is doing good by U.S. economy.  Sanders doesn’t attack Apple but does get specific, Apple should do some manufacturing in the U.S..  However, Sanders’ target are corporations that benefited from workers and consumers in the U.S. and then chose to close down the manufacturing plants in the U.S. opening them in places where the workers are paid almost nothing.  

At  this  moment the interviewer reveals the dogma as reality, as Sanders is asked if he can understand that corporations may feel the need to manufacture outside the United States to stay competitive.  The ideological divide between interviewer and Sanders becomes apparent: Sanders rejects the narrative that these things just happen by some force of nature that no one could control.  Sanders says “They created the rules” that made it competitively disadvantageous for corporations to keep manufacturing in the U.S.  A means of doing this was through trade agreements and actively seeking to destroy trade unions.  Sanders  gives the example of Scott Walker’s Wisconsin as an example of the deliberate endgame and effort to destroy unions. For the New York Daily News, nobody is to blame for the fact that corporations take manufacturing overseas to countries where they can manufacture products for far less than in the U.S..  Corporations make decisions for their competitive survival.  Sanders sees it differently. Through various policies, especially trade agreements, corporate America (through influencing policy and the trade agreements) made it necessary to move manufacturing out of the U.S.  For Sanders the reality was created by will and policy, as such that reality can be unmade and a new reality can emerge.
Then the interviewer hones into the banking and Wall Street, and Sanders insistence that “too big to fail” is “too big to exist” and that he as president would break up the banks.  The interviewer wants to know how that would happen.  Sanders appears to be puzzled by the question, the breaking up of larger corporations for the public well-being clearly is something the U.S. Government has the authority and ability to do and it has been doing so since Teddy Roosevelt, whom Sanders invokes at this point in the interview, but the interviewer fails to see that as an answer to their question.  New York Daily News wants Sanders to tell us how he’s going to do it, as if his plan to break up the big banks is something  unprecedented, Sanders rather asserts that the power is there and the precedent of the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt is offered as an historical example. He also believes Dodd-Frank gives said authority to the U.S. Government.  The interviewer questions this, but doesn’t give a reason why Dodd-Frank wouldn’t be enough.  

Here, as Sanders sees it, he doesn’t need policy specifics because he’s simply going to use tools that a law and historical precedent have already shown that the Presidency has the power and authority to break up large corporations for the public good. In this instance the interviewer is viewing banks and Wall Street as a sui genres for which there’s no precedent of the U.S. Government intervening in this radical way, for Sanders everything is in place and the tools are at hand: they just need a President and Congress and Government willing to use them. Sanders doesn’t think that the U.S. Government needs to dictate to the corporations how they fulfill the restructuring from the breakup of the large corporation, he’s willing to entrust that to the corporations themselves.  So, that the New York Daily News insists that he should have some plan and idea for how the big banks will actually do the restructuring is nonsensical to Sanders.  

For the Interviewer, breaking up the banks is to work against the world as it is.  Corporations just get big, so Sanders suggestion must have some plan some alternate ontic reality.  Some catastrophe seems to be in view if the U.S. Government would just start breaking up large corporations.  Sanders gently reminds the interviewer by a subtle reference to Teddy Roosevelt that he’s not inventing anything with his call to break up the large banks. For Sanders there is no “reality” he is working against, except the reality of a government unwilling to act in ways it is already empowered to do.
Similarly, when the New York Daily News asks about Israel; they take Sanders assertion, that Israel should stop with all settlements and pull out all settlements as not a good enough answer or policy: Sanders must have a plan for Israel to implement said course of action that Sanders says he’d insist on with the Israeli government.  Sanders insist that the how is for the Israeli government to figure out not for the president of the United States.   Though it is clear to me that Sanders isn’t following the standard script and so the Daily News is asking for another one.  Sanders refuses.  Sanders has a straightforward approach the Palestinian/Israeli conflict which assumes an aspect of the status quo, that of a two state solution.  Sanders straight forward (to some possibly simplistic) approach is to name the ways in which each side has engaged in belligerent and illegal behavior and  to insist on the end of that, and from there then negotiate.  Sanders doesn’t see himself or the presidency as in the role of dictating outcomes in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel.  Rather he will point out in negotiations the actions that violate International law and that of warfare and seek to hold the belligerents to the law, insist on the cessation of those activities for there to be negotiations.  As such, according to Sanders POTUS doesn’t dictate to but influences other sovereign powers.
At a key point Bernie Sanders seeks to poke a hole in the NY Daily News’ sense of what is possible and real and realistic by bring up the achievement of a State legislature and Governor raising minimum wage to $15.00.  Bernie Sanders points out that just 2 years or so ago, they would have considered such a proposal impossible.  Daily News refuses to concede that point, yet I know few if any media outlets who considered $15 minimum wage as realistic. Even I, who participated in the early organizing around $15 minimum wage, didn’t think a $15 an-hour minimum wage was going to happen, but thought it would at least get the minimum wage higher.  And I know that the movement was presented and seen as quixotic.  Sanders point that organizing works even beyond the very local scale, to the scale of the state, and that this therefore can also work at the Federal level which the Daily News finds unbelievable.

The trajectory of most of the interviewer’s questions assume that a President must come in ready to dictate explicit and detailed plans.  That running this nation depends upon wonkiness. To be qualified to be President one must have detailed plans and the power and force to implement those plans. But those plans must coincide with the current dogma about what is realistic and achievable.  Sanders sees the presidency differently.  The office has certain constraints and tools at its disposal.  The president’s power and authority comes from the nature of the office but also from the people, not from his ability to have plans, or the degree of his wonkiness.  The president and U.S. Government should encourage certain directions, but doesn’t need to dictate every aspect of how that direction will be implemented by other actors, and he certainly doesn’t think that the President of the U.S. should dictate the details for other sovereign powers to achieve certain desirable ends. For Sanders there are three reasons things are possible for a President, the will and the participation of the people in the political process at all levels of government and politics, the nature of the office of the President, and the willingness to try things to create reality.  For Sanders when it comes to government, economics and politics the only reality is the one we create and or accept, in either case what is real is what  we will, what we create, thus a great deal is possible and there is no “reality” we must simply accept.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Ponderings After Supper Tuesday,2016

As I watched Supper Tuesday results come in and followed reactions to the results in my social media feeds there was much chatter about Sanders and Clinton, and Black people and people of Color. Sanders did well in North East, and won in Oklahoma, states with small minority populations.

  1. There’s talk about what is good for Black people and whether Black people voting for Hilary Clinton (as they seem to be doing especially in the South) is against their interests. I agree with those who see this line of questioning as patronizing. It is clear that Bernie Sanders has not been able to convince large numbers of Black voters. Bernie Sanders appeals to certain white voters, though I’m not sure what exactly can be said or not said for white voters. 
  2. Among some of Bernie Sanders supporters there does seem to be subtle misogyny and racism and that for some  is enough to discredit Sanders as a candidate. For those who see Sanders discredited by the subtle misogyny and racism of some of his supporters, also see Sanders as primarily a candidate for White males.
  3.  I follow on social media a number of People of Color who are Sanders supporters so it doesn’t exactly seem accurate to me to say that Sanders only has appeal among whites. Though Sanders certainly failed to draw Black voters in the South.
  4. I don’t need to understand Clinton's appeal among Black voters. Yet There voices like Michelle Alexander"s who in her piece for the Nation said that she doesn’t believe that Hilary Clinton deserves that loyalty. This isn’t the same as saying that somehow Black voters are working against their own interests. However, Alexander also doesn’t give a ringing endorsement for Bernie Sanders either.
  5.  Thus far Sanders has been unable to make his case with those who suffer under the continuing effects of a racist white supremacist system. It matters little if I as a White male understand all the reasons why. But I have a sense of it: Sanders most generally ties race into class, and insists that his focus on class would remedy the issues of race. I do think Bernie Sanders is wrong in this assessment (at one time I would have agreed). My guess is that this is at least part of why he is floundering with people of color. It’s likely that Sanders plans to alleviate class inequality (aside from whether or not he could get them through congress), wouldn’t automatically eliminate and alleviate inequalities based upon race, nor would they address the way our system remains racist and white supremacist.
  6.  It would appear that Sanders has a blind spot for the degree to which racism persists because the system is still racist and white supremacist. Also, he has been clear he isn't going to seek to address this directly but believes racial inequality can be addressed by not addressing it, that is by addressing issues of economy and class. He clearly racism as an important issue but one that can be addressed by focusing on other things. 
  7.  With Hilary Clinton we will not get change, but, in limited ways, race will be addressed. If Michelle Alexander is correct it won’t bring about racial justice, but it probably will keep us aware that issues of race won’t be addressed simply by addressing issue of class. Clinton admits that she and the Democratic Party needs the black voter. It is likely then that issues important to Black folks and people of color will at least get some attention. 
  8. Of course Republicans at the moment want to pretend there are no issues of class or race, while White separatists are gaining a foothold again and a fascist who has spouted various bigoted rants is well on his way to win the nomination. 
  9. A possible positive outcome of all this is that the curtain is being pulled back and we are able to see how, in differing degrees and differing ways, the global power structures that were created to facilitate the slave trade for the benefit of Whites still is the system under which we function. Our government and our politics also perpetuate that system. 
  10.  What is happening right now is that we are arguing over what aspect of this system we want remodeled or kept the same or accentuated.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Limits of Popular Sovereignty

The title for Michelle Alexander's (author of Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow) recent piece for the Nation is a little misleading, though it is ostensibly the focus of the piece (Why Hilary Clinton doesn't deserve the Black vote, spoiler no one deserves the Black vote according to Alexander), she doesn't endorse Bernie Sanders, nor is she too pleased with the Democratic party  (Republican isn't an option).  She indicts the system and the establishment of the two Party's that run our country, and Bernie only fares relatively better in her mind to Hilary and the rest of the Democratic party.  Alexander call's for Black citizens and all U.S citizens to reject the claim of only two possibilities and truly take up our popular sovereignty.

 The AP  recently reported that President Obama, spoke about how voters do strange things when they are afraid, at fundraisers for the Democratic Party.  These remarks I think unmask what is and always has been the case, that what popular sovereignty in the U.S. means is that we elect our rulers from the class of rulers.  Now, from time to time this class admits to its ranks those who were once excluded, Obama is a case in point, Kennedy is another case in point.  This give us the illusion of having a say and of progress, and that anyone can become president, as I remember being told repeatedly in California public schools..

Now this ruling class consists of both Republicans and Democrats (As Michelle Alexander points out), in fact the two party system is part and parcel of that which maintains a ruling class and simultaneously limits popular sovereignty..

Coming to terms with the above, means that we also need to recognize that all the political candidates for president are part of the establishment.   We also need to see that populism and progressivism are part and parcel of the ruling class' means to keep its power and keep citizens (always only seen as voters) voting for whom the establishment admits as political candidates.

Bernie Sanders is trying to revive a particular interpretation of this system where the ruling class seeks to lessen the effects on the citizenry of the system they oversee. This establishment populism and progressivism is  perhaps best represented by the Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin D.

Even so I do believe we are currently seeing a shake up in the establishment. We are in a point of turmoil within the ruling class itself.  Cracks are appearing, and have been appearing. We citizens are noticing, and we are grasping at differing forms of populism ( vaguely socialist or fascist), and grasping at differing reiterations of established vision of the U.S. (secular and religious).

Not sure where this is going.  Though , as I read the A.P. report and Alexander's piece I saw that the curtain is being pulled back. Yet we still are going along as if nothing has been exposed.  Perhaps because collectively we need the curtain. We're mainly looking to find that presidential candidate that will reassure us that all is well: Is it Clinton who says she will just keep on keeping on, building on the legacy of Bill Clinton and continuing the policies of  the Obama administration, or is it the "socialist" populist progressivism of Sanders hearkening back to the Roosevelt presidencies, or is it the varieties of fascism offered us by the Republican candidates.

Our current presidential election cycle is showing us that our ruling class isn't monolithic.  I see much evidence that the ruling class has been in disagreement for sometime about the nature of our governance, where the force of the State will be directed, and the nature of our civil religion and the degree to which it should remain vaguely Christian.

We have trouble seeing that the ruling class includes Trump and Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama and the Clinton's, and Bernie Sanders, and yet it does.

We don't popularly elect a President of the United States.  We should remember that United States Senators originally were to be appointed by the each state legislature.  Neither the Senate nor the Presidency is supposed to be the result of popular sovereignty, or popular election. Thus, it is a very real likelihood that due to supper delegates that in the case of New Hampshire that Bernie could win the primary in terms of popular vote and loose the state in terms of delegates.  This is equally true for the Republican Party.  The system is rigged and has always been rigged (though it is now less so) to limit popular sovereignty not to encourage it.  Alexander's point is, in part I think, aiming in this direction and calling us to take up our citizenship and our sovereignty and stop acquiescing to the demands and scare mongering of the establishment and ruling class.

It's not so much that there is no choice , just that our system of "popular sovereignty" also has a deep suspicion of the will of the people, and has always sought and continues to seek to curtail and limit the exercise of that will.  And so there will be remarks from our leaders and politicians like that of President Obama, that simultaneously shows a distrust (and a distance) from common citizens qua voters, and seeking to placate and cajole them into voting the "right" way.

Michelle Alexander's piece for the Nation is also a call for Black people to rebel against this curtailment of popular sovereignty, and looks to a time where we the citizens of the United States (following this Black refusal of the limits on popular sovereignty) will tire of always picking the lesser of two evils the ruling class (Democrat and Republican) of the United States gives us, and throw off the limit to our sovereignty.

Yet, it is possible that we actually find the limits to popular sovereignty comforting, safer to stick with what we know and have known.  Better to pretend our presidential candidates are either our saviors or comforting parental figures that will keep things stable and take care of us.

Few I think will embrace (at this time) Alexander's call for U.S. citizens to take up their popular sovereignty and reject our two ruling parties, not even the editors of the Nation have had the guts to make such a call but consistently advocate for the lesser of two evils, which always means Democrat.

Guess what, no one deserves any ones vote.  And Obama is in part correct we are often motivated out of fear.  We  are told all hell will break loose if we look to anyone other than our two ruling parties This fear of opening up our electoral system to a range of parties and political options means that we will continue to accept the limits of popular sovereignty imposed upon us by the ruling parties and the ruling class.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Systems and Structures: Seeking police criminal justice reforms in Chicago

I see a contradiction in responses to the murder of Laquan McDonald by Police:  On the one hand we speak of this as an example of racist structure and system in place on the other we say it is the problem of certain individuals: officer West as a bad apple, States Attorney Alverez misconduct in the execution of her office, the Chief of Police and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.  When we want to explain how this effects people of color and is an example of how law enforcement treats Blacks and people of color we speak systemic racism, and the racist structures and policing as part of that system.  Yet, when we speak of reform at least in the case of Laquan McDonald we focus on the individuals in the system, and removing from office those who we believe should have responded differently.
However, if the system in which these individuals work is racist, if the structure of policing is bound up in the history of racism (racism being structural and not bound to the attitudes of an individual human beings, which is what it means to speak of the system of racism and racist structures) then in singling out these public officials we are at just removing those who acted most overtly within the system doing what the system encourages and even demands.  We are also, then rewarding those who adept in perpetuating the ends of the system in underhanded and covert ways and able to perpetuate the system while adapting it to certain demands for reform.
I understand the contradiction: We want to put a name to things we find shocking and which peak our conscience, and in putting a name to it we also want the named problem solved. The removal and resignation of public officials feels like something has been done to solve the systemic problem.  But, none of those officials could have done what they did if the system didn’t support their actions.  The cover up was an act of the system not merely the individuals.
After all this is what it means to talk about systems and structures: there are mechanisms and policies in place that sanction and empower a certain set of affairs without the needing the overt or active assent of individual actors.
What we have in the case of Laquan McDonald is certain officials acting out overtly and obviously what the system wishes to keep low key and sublimated.  But those officials we wish to remove from office were simply enacting the systemic and structural realities they just that in the case of Laquan McDonald’s murder and the handling of the investigation we simply have the extreme manifestation of the system.
But we don’t change the system simply by removing those actors.
This shouldn’t mean that we don’t call for them to resign and work towards removing them, but in doing so we shouldn’t think that another individual will make the difference, and we have thus solved the problem. We then need to go and look at the root of the problem in policing itself and in the state and city structures themselves.

It’s much tidier to believe this is an issue of a group of bad apples, but if it is systemic and structural then those aren’t bad apples they are simply the fruit of the system that we see exposed today in how policing in this country treats blacks and people of color.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Mythology of "America" as Blindfold

I confess that this Thanksgiving I wasn’t feeling very thankful.  I personally have good things to be thankful for.   But because our national fable and mythology of America was hollow. I struggled to give thanks because our mythology of the U.S.A. causes us to view any contradiction of that mythology and fable as an aberration.  Mostly, these aberrations are individual actors or un-American groups who are labeled throw backs and regressive.

Symbols of our mythology and fable (like the Statue of Liberty) are trotted out as proof, in the face of fear of immigrants and refugees, that we’ve always welcomed immigrants and refugees.  When even a cursory glance at our history shows that there’s always been hatred and animosity towards any group of immigrants or refugees.  Not to mention that immigration was never random and open, but always regulated by quota’s and the makeup of the U.S. was not accidental.   Our mythology and Fable makes us look at the internment of Japanese Americans as an aberration even though it is consistent with White American xenophobia throughout its history.

This mythology causes us to believe that there was a pure non-xenophobic, non-White, non-racist idea of America a beacon of justice and hope for humankind.  We tell ourselves that we very quickly (almost immediately) fell from this ideal reality and have been working towards fulfilling.  Yet if such an ideal existed and was held by true Americans at a certain time, why has it so rarely been achieved?

We are unable to look at our system as fundamentally flawed and in contradiction to the mythology that system needs us to believe about it.  Yet, we also need to believe it.  The reality is too stark.  Easier and more comforting to believe the mythology and fables we tell ourselves, and create scapegoats of those who in perusing the ends of the system do so in ways that to readily and easily puncture the fa├žade of our fables and mythology of the city set on a hill and the manifest destiny of America, the great democracy that will save the world.
However, if we really want justice and true change we will have to face that the America of our ideal doesn’t exist has never existed and in fact was never meant to exist except as a fable and mythology of national unity.    The U.S. is a nation state that both accepts and reject immigrants and refugees.  The U.S. is a Nation State that has committed war crimes and genocide.  The land that makes up the U.S.A was stolen; it’s wealth is founded upon slave labor.  Its system was created by Whites for Whites.  People who continue in this vein aren’t being un-American, they may be the most honestly American, using the mythology as a cloak to hide behind.  The rest of us just use it as a blindfold to keep us from seeing who we really are.

We want to believe the enslavement of Africans is behind us that our conquering and displacement and removal of the Native Americans is just a phase of our history that we can leave in the past.  Yet, there are still reservations, yet the wealth of this country and its position in the world is in part due to the exploitation of Africans as slaves.  In the middle of the 20th century and by a “progressive” administration and President, Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps, their property confiscated.  These things weren’t done by an illiberal and America hating people, but by the U.S. Government in the name of advancing and protecting American ideals.

This isn’t to deny the good that is mixed with this evil. Rather it is to say that we aren’t special but just like any other nation state and all other human beings, mixed with propensity to good things and propensity to do evil.  But they don’t cancel each other out, both have ongoing and continuing consequences.    Both carry on in time.  All our efforts to change, as long as we won’t admit as American those things that contradict our mythology and fable of America, will be constantly be bound up with that which we wish to deny.

This is deeply difficult to accept, probably most especially for progressive Whites, that our system and ideals are corrupt at the root.  The bad fruit is produced by the plant of our system not some external infestation.  America isn’t the solution it is the problem. 

This shouldn’t lead to inaction but a clear eyed action that is willing to look at what needs to be done and do so without an appeal to the authority of America and the founding fathers of this Nation State.  They were just human beings, with mixed motives who did both good and horrendous things. FDR did a great amount of Good and he dropped two nuclear bombs on civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and put the Japanese in concentration camps.  He wasn’t a good man; he wasn’t an evil man.  Just a flawed human being mixture of good and evil as we all are.  So too is the U.S.A. which is only a group of human beings flawed and with a distorted desire for some semblance of the good.

We achieve the good and truth at times, and perhaps at times our mythology and fables have lead us to achieve those good ends, yet at this time our ideal blinds us to the true mixed reality of the U.S.A. and that “America” has never existed and can never exist.  We must seek something else, something less elegant and more down to earth.  A recognition that our human achievements are always less than.  That is, there needs a bit of humility especially if we are White, and perhaps especially if we are White and progressive.

A theological account of this can be found here .

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The clash of ecclesial and national identities on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a day of conflicted emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  Personally, being a citizen of the United States has been beneficial, and deeply influences my approach and view of the world.  Also, the ideals of this day do move me and offer hope and do also offer hope to many. Yet, I know that to a large degree this is true for me because I'm white and male.  For people of color and certainly African Americans access to the freedom and ideals of personal development and independence at best offered and allowed intermittently.  Also, I know from stories handed down in my family about the experience of immigration that even for Swedes and Germans, access to the benefits of these ideas comes at the price of submission and conformity.

There is a totalitarianism to our offer of freedom.  Only certain types of diversity are allowed.  A free people must be a uniform people who all share the same values.  Our culture wars are over what sets of values we all must conform to in order to be a truly free people, where we may have our individual expressions as long as they are morally acceptable to the majority.

Yet, I have the freedom to speak this dissenting and questioning voice.  This is the contradiction.  There are intense pressures especially on this day to only speak of our imaginary best self as the United States.  As if some how the declaration of independence and certain limited (limited in the sense that all human endeavor is incomplete unsatisfactory and flawed, by virtue of our inability to truly encompass existence) achievements in democracy and freedom (of which I'm a beneficiary, and one slated due to gender and race to benefit the most.), can cover the multitude of terrorism, atrocities and expansion that has stolen wealth and land from those deemed unsuited to possess what we wanted and felt we need to expand our interpretation of freedom.

But also part of the conformity is that I'm only supposed to love this nation and this culture, or at least supposed to love and think the U.S. is the best. the problem is that the truth is I don't think this, nor do I feel it in the depth of my soul.  The reality is that the French flag and images of the French landscape and cities and culture evoke the same feelings of patriotism and love of a people and land as the American flag and images of our cities and landscapes.  It is odd that two years as a child living in a country can have such an enduring and deep effect upon on one. Yet, this is the emotional truth.  But it also shows me that the emotion has little do with whether it is true that France or the U.S. are in fact great nations, or worthy of my pride and joy.  We confuse our love of country with its deserving of that love.  As if it's values are the best or the most universal or the truest.  Those are all mistakes, or my equal love and patriotism for France and the U.S. is wrong. Yet, no matter how much I know about the flaws of both countries, their imperialist and terrorizing activities in the past and present, makes one difference to the emotions associated with the symbols of these two Nation States. Patriotic feeling has little or nothing to do with actuality and has more to do with being identified with something larger than oneself to which you give your love.
This is even more disturbing for one who takes seriously that the affirmation Jesus is Lord means that I have accepted that all earthly political and national loyalties are made relative by the God who is the source of all existence, who oddly enough is joined to that existence through one historical biological human being Jesus of Nazareth.  This Oppressed and Crucified One is the God of the universe.  All the good any nation believes in or wishes to be is a mere shadow of the goodness to which I'm called as one devoted to Jesus Christ.  And  this One renders all achievements of Powers and Governments and Nations States wanting and at base violent and bound to the Power of Death. My love for these powers only binds me to death and a sense that the limits of biology and arbitrary human boundaries are the final truth.  In Christ I'm offered freedom from death and the petty human boundaries and values that pretend to be universal, and yet bind me to death.

What ever good there is in being French or American, it is at best merely poor copy and reflection of the truly good.  It is an imperfect, relative, and limited good.  The U.S. is neither a Christian nation nor any sort of light to the nations, or example of freedom and democracy for all.  In fact as one who affirms God to be the light of nations, and Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, to be the light of the world, any suggestion that a particular nation or people, is such a light, is a heresy.  To affirm it is to betray my faith.

So my joy today is within limits.  A thankfulness for relative values and relative freedom. But in Christ I must renounce it, turn aside and say my true home and citizenship is in a realm that cares little for the boundaries and the mythologies of the Powers, and Governments and Nations and peoples.  That seeks to follow a way that slowly frees us  from our petty loves that we may find ourselves overwhelmed for a love for all that isn't generic that somehow impossibly loves each person in their interconnected person-hood, ultimately found in their relation to God no longer bound by limited and relative values democracy, or freedom or any human mythology or fable.

This conviction is hard to maintain on this Independence Day in which I'm to ignore American injustices and celebrate the ideal of the U.S. that has never been actual or real except in very limited and always at the price of others freedoms, and even at times maintained through the death of others deemed less deserving of life and freedom.