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CBS has launched a new “reality” show that involves giving two struggling families $100,000 and then giving them a choice to share part of it with the other family or keep it all. It is the sort of exploitive trash we’ve become accustomed to from the media industrial complex. If the class divisions in the United States were not already at Dickensian levels, The Briefcase wouldn’t exist at all. I joked on my Facebook feed that I hoped the season ended with the revelation that all the families had been secretly pooling their “gifts” in order to finance an armed revolution. While I don’t really think that’s a viable long term solution, the fact that the producers of the show didn’t conceive of this possibility demonstrates how little the poor in this country see themselves as a class that could engage in unified action for their collective benefit.

Let’s be clear: class warfare is not a choice. The oligarchs in charge of our economy and popular culture inflict varying degrees of suffering on the rest of us without restraint or even a sense that the individuals they are harming are people at all. We are “externalities” in their game. Collateral damage in their campaign to feed their bottomless hunger for wealth. The onslaught effects everyone outside of the plutocracy, not only those who recognize the situation or who feel outrage at the most egregious crimes.

Neo-liberalism has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest in our society. But, since the people who benefit from it are also in charge of the information and entertainment the majority of the population is exposed to, they are able to distort the situation to make it appear as if there is a way to “win” the rigged game they’ve set up for us and “make it.” As a result, the poor and middle classes don’t see themselves as a group, but as individuals who simply don’t have money. For all their talk of “individual responsibility,” the very wealthy act in the interests of the class they belong to far more often than those of lower socio-economic strata.

I’m not naïve. I realize the families involved with The Briefcase have pressures on them that make pooling their resources difficult. But, assuming a season of 8 shows, the contestants as a whole will receive $1.6 Million. Certainly a percentage of that could go toward some effort to undermine Corporate America’s stranglehold? You could buy a congressional representative’s vote with that, at the very least.

The Briefcase ultimately revolves around the dialogue of charity. It is “good” for one of the families to give part or all of their money to the other. It is “bad” for them to keep it. This even though both have the same amount, a fact that isn’t know to the contestants until the end of the installment. The families are being judged on “individual” virtue, which is a very nice semantic barrier to furthering their long term interests as members of a class.

Every successful social movement has recognized that its members are in the position they are because of their status. Black people are oppressed as Black people. LGBT people are oppressed because they are LGBT. Their movements for liberation appropriately focus on the thing they are mistreated on account of. When it comes to economics, Neo-liberalism has created such a broad group of differently disadvantaged groups that members of those groups are likely to see themselves as individuals existing within those subgroups, rather than members of the broader collective of those whom the oligarchs are screwing over.

This process is aided both by systemic factors, such as economic pressures and a media controlled by the ruling class, and the antagonisms that exist between subcultures. For instance, The Briefcase features a gay couple and a family of Bible thumping Republicans. The bigotry of the latter prevents collective action with the former. These barriers exist because the Right has encouraged them, and the beneficiary is the corporate system that leaves both families in the dust, until they are “rescued” by being made into a television carnival act.

The Briefcase, contrary to many opinions, represents not a new low, but a continuation of the process of class warfare that has always existed. It has simply gotten more extreme, because capitalism demands that everything increase at a greater rate.

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I have just done an initial read through of “Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue” by Gus DiZerega and Philip Johnson. My reactions to the book are quite layered, and I thus feel it most appropriate to write more than one review of it, focusing on a different train of thought triggered by reading it.

When reading both the introduction and the section on the Culture Wars, I was reminded of a talk I saw by Slovak theorist Slovoj Zizek entitled “Maybe We Just Need Another Chicken.” The title refers to a tale Zizek often tells about a man who visits a mental hospital with the complaint that he sometimes thinks he is a chicken. This is not the first time he has been through treatment, and the staff remind him that he knows damn well he’s a man. “Yes, I know,” the man replies. “But I don’t think the chicken knows it yet.”

The point of the story is actually to highlight the elements of our feelings that must remain buried in order to maintain civility. Zizek goes on, in his usual ponderous way, to make the case that this tacit ignorance of certain factors is not really a bad thing, so long as it is acknowledged and recognized as an act, that the conversation isn’t fully authentic. On the other hand, there is much concerning the notion that we live in a “post-ideological” era, a point of view which both Zizek and I agree devalues the political nature of controversies such as those involved in the Culture War.

This “post-political” perspective was one of the first things which jumped out at me when reading the introduction. Oddly, the first place I noticed it was not in Philip Johnson, but in the introductory note by Don Frew:

Unlike relations between other faiths, the relationship between Paganism and Christianity has been mythologized into an epic struggle between good and evil, leading on both sides to a continuing demonization of the “other.”

What the statement that “both sides” of the Pagan/Christian divide have “demonized” each other does is ignore the power dynamic in mainstream society that favors Christian over Pagan. Frew’s constant use of the word “faith” highlights this subconscious dominance. “Faith” is appropriate to Christianity. It is simply a null category in a belief system favoring experience to intellectual comprehension.

To “demonize” someone, it seems to me, you have to have a lack of experience with that group. Unless an individual had been raised in total isolation from any of the influences of Western Culture, they’ve encountered Christians of many varieties. If they’ve ever “come out” in a predominantly Christian environment, their beliefs were probably met with derision or outright hostility. Young people who decide to study Paganism or other, more occult paths may have even had to deal with the “Deliverance Ministry” or heard of others who did. People lose their children, their homes, their jobs, even their lives because Christians have not only failed to accept them, but don’t even want to try.

Let me put it another way. Say there were a group of kids in a particular school that belonged to a certain club. Part of this club’s ethos was that they were better than everyone else, simply because they had joined up. Some members of the club took this to the extreme, and started using their putative superiority to actually beat up and harass anyone who hadn’t joined yet. The other members of the club said little, either because they were philosophically in sympathy, or they feared losing the privileges accorded to group members, or simply wanted to “keep the peace” within the club. Then, one day, the milder members decided to start reaching out to those out to those who wouldn’t join, not in any attempt to coerce them into joining, but because they saw that the animosity between “ins” and “outs” was having a negative effect on the school.

What would the “outs” think, what would they be forced to think in the interests of self preservation, when they saw the “good ins” coming? Anyone whose ever been robbed on the street can tell you this: you assume that anyone approaching you late at night wants to mug you. To do otherwise is to invite bodily injury, or an unpleasant and lonely death.

Have the “outs” in this story “demonized” the “ins” as a whole? No. They have a rational aversion to dealing with a member of a group which has persistently beaten them up. If the “good ins” turn around and claim that they are the victims of prejudice, the response would be something like “where were you when I was getting beaten?”

Pagans have not “demonized” Christians. We are the “other” in a predominantly Christian culture. (Even atheism is really an argument with Christian theism, not any other religion.) Christians have, however, as a general rule, demonized us. This is not some dim memory shaded with myth, like the Catacombs. This is a daily occurrence, where children are taken away and jobs lost right in front of us.

The tacit agreement to not talk about the power dynamic also shows itself in Lanie Peterson’s response a the end of the book. She asks why Gus DiZerega “raised the specter of Falwell and Robertson” at all in discussing the Culture Wars. The answer is simple: these are the representatives of Christianity that most non-Christians see. It is assumed, since atrocities such as Proposition 8 in California pass, that their perspective finds at least partial sympathy within the greater Christian community that votes. (If anyone tells you they voted for Prop 8 for non-religious reasons, they are kidding themselves. The question is so purely metaphysical that the only secular response would be to vote “no” simply because the issue is meaningless to anyone but a Christian.) If more moderate Christians don’t want people like Robertson speaking for them, then it is their responsibility to speak up, loudly and in force, against their ideas.

This is not to say that, on this one issue, I think the project of the book fails. Indeed, it’s a very informative read. But the omission of an acknowledgment of the political context does make it less satisfying than it could be. Now that I’ve gotten the “chicken” out of its coop, subsequent reviews will be less abrasive.

As the connections between Sarah Palin and the extreme fringe of the Religious Right make it into even the mainstream press, it might be a good idea to pull back a bit and look at the possible roots of this movement. Not the history of the movement, or the complex relationship between Post-Millenial and Pre-Millenial Dispensationalism that created today’s push to theocracy, but the deep impulses, urges, and deficiencies of modern society that allowed these perspectives to flourish.

In all quarters of Conservative Evangelicalism, not just the Religious Right and Far Right, it is often claimed that “America is Spiritually Dead.” This is a very difficult claim to refute, mainly because it is true. Not for the reasons the Conservative Evangelicals assert, not because we have lost the Word of God beneath the nihilistic veils of Secular Humanism, or have failed to adopt the proper theological perspective, but because at some point we flattened the Cosmos and made the human ego the sole arbiter of value, the satisfaction and reification of that ego the only worthwhile goal.

During the Enlightenment, three value spheres that were once undifferentiated got split. Morality, truth, and esthetic value were, in the past, the same thing. When we discovered that a moral system could be based on lies, and that the truth was sometimes ugly, this became untenable. The basic problem with modern and post modern society is that this “solve” or separation never got integrated, the “coagula” part of the alchemical formula. Differentiation became dissociation, and the result is seen in endless “debates” about “science and religion,” among other places.

With most people generally siding with “materialism” (meaning the view that only the material world is real) either deliberately or simply by social contagion, “morality” became difficult to defend. Morality came to be seen as having at best a tertiary relationship to “real life,” and “ideal” that everyday existence made difficult if not impossible. Staunch advocates of traditional morality, primates as they were, fell into territorial grunting about “higher things” rather than looking to science to bolster their claims.

(If they had done this, they would have noticed what evolutionary psychologists have: human beings are social animals. Morality is one way in which humans fulfill the genetic mandate to survive. If a moral system does not serve this function, it is not valid. The argument from there up to Spirit is not challenging.)

Thus, we were left with nothing to guide us but a logic that can only be rooted in current empirical consensus. This is fine for a good part of human activity, and actually does delegitimize several hundred atrocities that people once took for granted. But it also leaves the human ego, the fragile, frightened persona that can only look through one tiny window at a Universe full of galaxies it cannot see, in an uncomfortable position. It must manage all perception, decide on all truths, rather than the limited bandwidth it is expert at dealing with.

It is as if we have been asked to paint with a scalpel. All we can do in this situation is start carving into our own flesh and smear blood on the canvass. The product is sophisticated, daring, and designed to please. But we are still bleeding and screaming beneath the world’s thundering applause.

If this is an accurate picture, a competent autopsy for our Inner Murder, then Dominionism is not a resurrection, but more off gas.

The impulse to seek Spirit occurs, if it is genuine, when one realizes that the ego is not enough. It needs support from a higher source (or deeper if you prefer). This means that it must give up some control, release some of the functions it has been trying to fill. Not that there aren’t possible problems here, or that this is easy, but this is the basic idea. The ego must ask for help, and be ready to change.

Dominionism is one of those tricky approaches that appears to do this, but covertly aids in reification of the persona the person enters with. The typical conversion narrative is a surrender after a long tragedy. The “I give in” is superficially present, but at a deeper level one has simply taken the previous life and amplified its events into a Passion of the Christ. Read any “born again” story, and you will find a Gesthemane, a Golgotha, and the stone rolled away. Every failure becomes sanctified, every impulse control issue becomes a fiery encounter with the money changers in the temple. The “born again” Christian has become, in their minds, Jesus Christ.

What Dominionism does is create a space in which one is part of a very special spiritual elite. They are in danger, because the world hates them for being so close to God. And, what’s more, it is their job to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.

In other words, they haven’t truly reached out. It would be more surprising if they had. Modern society does not support the basic act of giving up the old self for a new one. It presents superficial transformations, the “ugly fat girl” loses weight and gets a makeover and so forth, but not actual personality shifts that include insight into the individual. That is either silly, archaic, or self abnegation. Because modern perception sees “self” and “ego” as synonyms.

Thus, Dominionism is nothing more or less than another way of reifying the ego and engaging in orgone parties. It presents to a Spiritually Dead world more ways of making Frankenstein’s monster dance.

Until we find a way to bring our egos back into a healthy relationship with the rest of our psyche, movements such as Dominionism will tend to have an appeal. They offer sexy ways to appear to go somewhere when you are in fact going nowhere. And in a flattened Cosmos, nowhere is all there really is.

I’ll be the first to admit that direct confrontation with the State has an undeniable attraction. In the past, I myself have engaged in some direct actions that it might not be a good idea to talk too much about. But after seeing the same scenario about a hundred times, the game gets more than a little stale.

Now, I am emphatically not saying give up. A stateless society is a possibility, and one which I feel it is important to strive for. However, the model of protest borrowed from the Labor Movement of a century ago simply does not work. We are no closer to the goal than we were thirty or even a hundred years ago. The fleeting “temporary autonomous zones” that give upper middle class white kids such a hard on are basically “vacations” and the State shows no sign of even blinking at the thousands of protesters who confront it.

It amazes me that people can hold a view which rightly sees the State as all pervasive and ruthless, and yet still be shocked by the brutality displayed at the RNC. One might almost think folks still clung to the notion that they lived in a free society. I’ll be blunt: the State doesn’t give a shit about anything we do in the open. It can crush us, lie about it, and leave the most ardent opponent of the Bush Administration thinking it’s all okay.

The Left has, over the past thirty years or so, systematically marginalized itself. (I mean the actual Left, not the half-assed crypto-Capitalist Social Democrats that sometimes make it on television.) By insisting on absolute ideological purity, and fracturing along the hundreds of lines of interpretation of that phrase, we have done something the Religious Right realized was the way to lose. The Religious Right, and the far Right in general, was able to make deep inroads into American society by compromising with a system it saw as corrupt using media it traditionally had seen as the tool of Satan. It did this house by house and mind by mind, and today we debate torture and a total lunatic like Sarah Palin can run for Vice President.

At some point, one has to abandon certain adolescent fantasies. Transforming the world in a single night of Red and Black Armageddon is one of those fantasies. The rhetoric needs to change, and the tactics need to be less alienating to potential allies. Studies have shown that, even with the internet and television, people still trust the information exchanged face to face than any other source. This is how community is built, and walls between irreconcilable differences torn down.

Talking, sharing, cooperating. Building structures under the radar. Abandoning platforms and attitudes that see those who don’t understand the arcanum of Marxist analysis as dupes. These are the kinds of things that will actually accomplish something, rather than simply boost the egos of those participating in another affinity culture of spite and self destruction.

We can adopt an attitude and outlook that will make us far more powerful in the long run than the Far Right could ever be. The Left is open by nature, ready to embrace difference as valuable. We can learn to actually like the people who disagree with us and see their ideas and feelings for what they are: the result of a unique and undeniable set of life experiences. Listening and acknowledging rather than trying to win “converts” is psychologically a much more effective approach. People listen to people who listen to them and don’t try to shove their own ideas down other people’s throats. Who don’t consider the concerns of those who don’t immediately see the value in property damage as irrelevant and stupid.

We have the opportunity to choose between real connection and childish pranks and temper tantrums. Between love and hate. Ultimately, between life and death. This country is quite likely to be engaged in civil war before the next decade is over, so it would behoove us to look at the direction we’d like to go in before that happens.

Just a thought.

Holy. Shit. I’m fairly certain that, if the huge sections of the government weren’t already in the pockets of these lunatics, the kinds of statements the article below links to would win you a visit from the Secret Service.

The more theocratic elements of the Religious Right have a disturbing habit, (more like a practice) of invoking “imprecatory prayer” — a call for God to literally pour his wrath down on those they consider to be his enemies. Last year, for example, Rev. Wiley Drake, then a Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention made news when he called on his followers to pray for God to smite members of the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (Drake was angry that the organization had reported Drake to the IRS for endorsing Mike Huckabee on church stationary, among other apparent abuses of his church’s 501(c))(3) tax-exemption.) The most recent target of theoractic imprecations is none other than Republican presidential candidate John McCain. They hope that an act of God will make Sarah Palin president.

Truly, after certain other events do we really think it will be long before some disturbed individual takes the step beyond praying?

In case you were wondering just how a completely unqualified lunatic like Sarah Palin got nominated to the office of Vice President, wonder no more. This is the Republican Party’s concession to the Religious Right.

The Nation reports that the influential and secretive Council for National Policy got together during the DNC to meet and talk with Palin. Apparently they were impressed. Which is hardly surprising, considering her documented connections with some of the most extreme elements of the Dominionist movement. We’re not just talking about a religious conservative, but a Joel’s Army level wingnut.

Just the sort of absolute treason that anyone who values democracy should oppose.

I’ve long turned a jaundiced eye toward political ideologies. They’re like dogmatic religions, without the potential for occasional aesthetic beauty. When these ideologies become suicidal, however, I get absolutely pissed.

Let’s be blunt. The marginalizing tactics of the Left in America over the past thirty years have succeeded in doing one thing: handing us over to the Neo-cons, and their crypto-fascist flunkies in the Religious Right. Both major political parties are now entwined with religious extremists, though the Democrats have the decency to keep in on the D.L. While the Left was splintering into factions and maintaining whatever version of ideological purity their particular faction held to, the Right was unifying, and was quite effective. We now have national “debates” over whether or not torture is acceptable, when it should be obvious that a society which treats people as innocent until proven guilty will not under any circumstances punished those who are only suspects. There was a real danger, only just lessening now, of the United States becoming a total theocracy guided by a form of “Christianity” that is bigotry codified into doctrine.

It is into this context that Barak Obama’s run for the Presidency should be seen. He is far from a savior who will end all war and give us the national health care system that every other major democracy in the world enjoys. But he will help us transition from Extreme Right to Center Right.

This is all we can realistically expect under present conditions. Societies don’t just do a 180 and become sane after nearly a decade of insanity. It takes time to bring things back into focus.

Those who value social change in the direction of freedom and compassion have a choice: continue the politics of division and “protest voting” which put the current regime in office, or wake up to the reality that if we don’t make a small change in direction now no large change is feasible later. Revolution is a symptom, not a cure, and if we are to remain healthy, we need to practice some prevention.

There’s still time for the Left to grow up out of its adolescence, but not much.