Transform the System: Preface

NOTE: Following is the latest draft of the Preface for a booklet, tentatively titled “Transform the System,” which is a work-in-progress. I welcome feedback. To review the projected contents, click here.

Preface

Imagine. Forty adults enjoy a picnic on a riverbank. They see small children floating downstream and dive in to save them from drowning, but can rescue only half of them.

A man on a raft passes by and reports that one mile upstream a giant monster is throwing children into the river. He estimates it would take twenty adults to subdue the monster.

The party proceeds to discuss what what path to take through the thick jungle alongside the river.  Unable to agree, twenty return to rescuing children, five meditate or pray, five return to eating and drinking, and ten go after the monster. But when the activists find the monster, they can only slow him down.

That scenario is a metaphor for our current situation. If we, the people, united, we could improve national policies and greatly alleviate suffering and injustice. But we’re fragmented, without the power we need.

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At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren brought the crowd to its feet when she declared, “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged.”

During the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump echoed that theme and received strong support. Clearly, there’s widespread concern about “the system.” Advertising and popular culture often refer to “the system.” Following are some images that reflect that perspective.

system2

                      

 

 

system3

 

 

 

 

 

 

system4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

system5

 

 

 

 

system6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

system7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does that “folk wisdom” have merit? Does “the system” exist? This booklet is based on the proposition that it does.

When most writers discuss “the system,” they only talk about the government and the economy. Other writers only talk about “systems” and propose “systemic reform” in terms of those specific systems.

This declaration takes a more comprehensive, or holistic, view. We assert that “the System” includes all of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals who are conditioned to fit into the System and reproduce it in our daily lives.

Our society is stable because the System, which is  self-perpetuating, provides ongoing coherence and stability. The various elements of the System are interwoven. They overlap and reinforce one another. That underlying consistency is what the popular wisdom refers to when it talks about “the system.”

If we understand the System, expose root causes, connect the dots, and clarify how the pieces fit together, it will help us correct injustices that the System inflicts on the disinherited, reverse the dehumanization suffered by the powerful, and eventually restructure the System.  

A widespread commitment to that goal could help unify a broad array of forces into a “transform-the-system movement.” Various organizations could fight for specific causes while doing so for the sake of the larger cause. We could affirm both/and, within a shared commitment to systemic transformation. We could build momentum by occasionally supporting one another on timely priorities when victories are near. With that approach, we could inspire discouraged, inactive people who want to have a short-term impact. And we could also inspire idealists who are concerned about the need for long-term fundamental reform.

Toward that end, this booklet analyzes the System, proposes basic principles for how we can move forward, and presents a step-by-step plan for how we can restructure the System and transform the United States into a compassionate community.

A variety of social-change strategies will always be needed. That’s a good thing. This work is neither the final word nor a blueprint. But hopefully it will offer a sensible direction that some will find useful and spark new, better ideas.

NOTE: Following is the latest draft of the Preface for a booklet, tentatively titled “Transform the System,” which is a work-in-progress. I welcome feedback. To review the projected contents, click here.

Preface

Imagine. Forty adults enjoy a picnic on a riverbank. They see small children floating downstream and dive in to save them from drowning, but can rescue only half of them.

A man on a raft passes by and reports that one mile upstream a giant monster is throwing children into the river. He estimates it would take twenty adults to subdue the monster.

The party proceeds to discuss what what path to take through the thick jungle alongside the river.  Unable to agree, twenty return to rescuing children, five meditate or pray, five return to eating and drinking, and ten go after the monster. But when the activists find the monster, they can only slow him down.

That scenario is a metaphor for our current situation. If we, the people, united, we could improve national policies and greatly alleviate suffering and injustice. But we’re fragmented, without the power we need.

+++

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren brought the crowd to its feet when she declared, “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: They’re right. The system is rigged.”

During the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump echoed that theme and received strong support. Clearly, there’s widespread concern about “the system.” Advertising and popular culture often refer to “the system.” Following are some images that reflect that perspective.
system2
system3

 

 

 

 

 

system4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

system5

 

 

 

 

system6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

system7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does that “folk wisdom” have merit? Does “the system” exist? This booklet is based on the proposition that it does.

When most writers discuss “the system,” they only talk about the government and the economy. Other writers only talk about “systems” and propose “systemic reform” in terms of those specific systems.

This declaration takes a more comprehensive, or holistic, view. We assert that “the System” includes all of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals who are conditioned to fit into the System and reproduce it in our daily lives.

Our society is stable because the System, which is  self-perpetuating, provides ongoing coherence and stability. The various elements of the System are interwoven. They overlap and reinforce one another. That underlying consistency is what the popular wisdom refers to when it talks about “the system.”

If we understand the System, expose root causes, connect the dots, and clarify how the pieces fit together, it will help us correct injustices that the System inflicts on the disinherited, reverse the dehumanization suffered by the powerful, and eventually restructure the System.

A widespread commitment to that goal could help unify a broad array of forces into a “transform-the-system movement.” Various organizations could fight for specific causes while doing so for the sake of the larger cause. We could affirm both/and, within a shared commitment to systemic transformation. We could build momentum by occasionally supporting one another on timely priorities when victories are near. With that approach, we could inspire discouraged, inactive people who want to have a short-term impact. And we could also inspire idealists who are concerned about the need for long-term fundamental reform.

Toward that end, this booklet analyzes the System, proposes basic principles for how we can move forward, and presents a step-by-step plan for how we can restructure the System and transform the United States into a compassionate community.

A variety of social-change strategies will always be needed. That’s a good thing. This work is neither the final word nor a blueprint. But hopefully it will offer a sensible, useful direction and spark new, better ideas.

Reader Responses, My Comment, and a Quote

compassion-weaknessIn response to Political Correctness in 2016, I received the following responses:

I appreciate your honesty and substance, as usual.

I would love you to have a wide audience as what you say is thoughtful, meaningful, and of use, as well as important.

But all I can do is appreciate hearing your articulation, feeling the support and a “light” in the seeming hopelessness of the darkness descending.

Whether you can continue, or not, I’m grateful for these posts.

I wish you, and all, a miracle of hope and generosity. May it be in our lifetimes, and may our lives make sanity, the welfare of all inhabitants of this planet possible long after we are gone.

+++++

I hope you don’t give up, Wade. But trying to function on the left is really hard. You have the people with a lot of class privilege, mostly but not entirely white. Then you have a lot of other people who become “leaders” by trashing everyone else who isn’t in their particular identity group. How it advances one’s cause baffles me, because if you antagonize your allies you won’t have any. Reading what I just wrote makes me want to give up too.

I really like your honest approach to things, and I think what you have been writing has become more and more insightful. Unfortunately, the truth of the insights makes me, at least, want to give up myself. How can the left accomplish anything when its worldview, in practice, is just as anti-human as that on the right? Who is going to be inspired by this crap? … Wade, as I wrote elsewhere, I think your thoughtful comments are very important, and I hope you don’t give up.

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Good piece — thanks for sharing.

+++++

Don’t lose heart!

That’s a really sad story you told, about your angry interlocutor who no longer wants to read what you have to say, or have a dialogue with you.  There’s a person who’s hurting so deeply, that they lash out at even at those who are most likely to listen considerately to them, and even somebody as cautious in making judgements as myself can only think: is that really what a measured and adult response looks like?

+++++

I doubt that you have ever intentionally disrespected that person, and know that you are usually pretty careful to write what you mean, choosing your words to convey quite precise shades of meaning.  The only point they make that I would have to agree with is this: guessing what “most persons of” any group – race, colour, class, nationality, religion or sect, political party or side, gender or sexual orientation – just isn’t likely to resonate with “most” – or even many – persons of that group.  Putting it another way: making a generalisation about how people are likely to think, feel or behave based on (one of) their overt group memberships runs the risk of alienating many of that group’s members, because every group is comprised of individuals with (usually) as many points of difference as of commonality.

A thought for you: This may be one of the lessons of intersectionality … we are all unique in our situations, being at once a member of many different groups that, taken as a whole, often have different default positions or understandings; as individuals, we often have to resolve conflicts between the (majority or default) positions and viewpoints of the various groups we belong to.

   For example, if you know that I’m:

       an Australian,

       a Muslim,

       a mathematician,

       a husband, father and grandfather,

       a teacher and a business analyst

   – does this tell you in convincing terms what my position would be on, say,

       our military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq?

       evolution and creation science?

       religious education?

       sexual mores and laws, such as the age of consent, abortion, homosexuality or in vitro fertilisation?  

   I’m confident that, while you could take reasonable guesses at all of these, you’d miss the mark fairly widely on some.  More importantly, I’d be happy to tell you if you asked – which means you don’t have to guess at all!

But the reason I’m writing to you is this: to tell you that what you’ve been doing is more useful than you can know.  Sometimes, you are (possibly) too humble!  Arrogance and thoughtlessness do NOT spring to mind as adjectives to describe “Wade Hudson”!  Know that even the gadfly has its use: it keeps the beast moving …

+++++

The person who wrote those comments (“Don’t speculate on what people of color…”) is neither an activist nor a progressive, and he does not speak for people of color any more than you speak for white people.  He’s a reactionary.

I no longer have tolerance for the type of bigotry that leads so many, in a moment of truth, to reply to comments such as yours by saying such things as “your bullshit” and issuing such emotionally violent insults as “check your white privilege” to someone who is so far removed from the upper class as to make such an insult ludicrous.

Progressives need to understand that identity politics is not a leftist or a progressive movement – it is a rightist and reactionary movement.  The ‘grey area’ has separated into a sharp line and a categorical distinction – in our time in history, the identity-politics left is no different from the Donald Trump right – they are two forms of the same reactionaryism that causes neighbor to hate neighbor and to split and divide by race and gender so that some can be elevated while others are crushed, rather than struggling for a better system together for all.

I urge you, for example, to listen to the speeches of Fred Hampton from the Black Panther party whose anti-racism was fundamentally embedded in what was deeply understood to be the primary struggle of overturning corporate capitalism and materialism and fighting for what he called socialism.  The Black Panther party was absolutely adamant about not replacing white elites with some fraction of black elites – by not replacing one oppressor with another – and to them it was very clear that this meant economic oppression.  The anti-racist struggle of the Black Panther party was always in that frame, as it must be, because people are not born racist – they are driven by circumstance to be so.

The “African American activist” you quote is so far removed from the true anti-racist activism represented by the Black Panther party that it would be an insult to their memory for him to even claim he understands what the Black Panther party represents.

We have a long, long ways to go.  I do not even attempt to engage in the world of leftists because leftism has been overtaken by identity politics.  It is simply impossible to try to reason or be honest (as you have been) with leftist culture today.  You are bound to run into emotionally violent hatred in response to your efforts – from those who label themselves as leftists, most of all.  Attempting to reason with this type of politically-correct reactionary thinking is no more likely to succeed than attempting to reason with a white supremacist group.

It is going to take an ideological tremor carrying the force of an earthquake before there will be any good openings to finally address the real systemic issues facing our world – war, materialism, greed, and spiritual stultification born of waste and decay.  “Check your white privilege” does nothing to move us forward – it is pure reactionaryism, pure emotional violence, enforced by a power-hungry culture of “the prestige of self-righteousness”.  It’s about time progressives don’t cow-tow to politically correct violence.  It is the tragic truth.

+++++

Yes, please speak your truth.

I always appreciate it, even when I disagree with it.

I wish in our culture more people gave, and many more people accepted, unsolicited advice.

+++++

I read your writings. I always have. I’ve read your stories. Ever since we connected over Charter for Compassion.

I’ve sent your links, joined groups you’ve been a member, posted many of your thoughts on social media, encouraged others in the Bay Area to connect with you. I share in your frustrations.

Know that conversations and dialogue can matter. You need not have to have a large pulpit or a growing mailing list to make a difference. I look forward to knowing of all the ways you share your truth…either through a single correspondence or conversation via email or phone…or by one day taking a cab in the bay and finding you as the driver.

Hang in there.

Best wishes to you for 2017.

+++++

Those words of support hearten me. Hopefully they will help me proceed with a better attitude, and perhaps squeeze out more time for productive efforts.

Concerning the last comment, though in context I think it is implied, on reflection I think I should have added a parenthetical comment to clarify the opening sentence. So I’ve edited the post to read: “Trump wasn’t condescending (toward the white working class),” said one of my taxi passengers,…”

Overall, however, I disagree with that criticism. I believe the left does have a problem with “political correctness,” which is why Trump was able to exploit that theme. More seriously, the reluctance to be self-critical on this point reflects a general reluctance to be self-critical.

Since posting Political Correctness in 2016, I’ve read “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say: How the Language Police Are Perverting Liberalism” by Jonathan Chait in the New York Magazine. It’s a lengthy account of many battles that have been fought on this turf. I found it compelling. But in case you don’t want to read the entire article, I post here the conclusion:

The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movement’s dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movement’s longevity that many of its allies are worn out. “It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing,” confessed the progressive writer Freddie deBoer. “There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.” Goldberg wrote recently about people “who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in [online feminism] — not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.” Former Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay told her, “Everyone is so scared to speak right now.”

That the new political correctness has bludgeoned even many of its own supporters into despondent silence is a triumph, but one of limited use. Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism, which has extended social freedoms to blacks, Jews, gays, and women, is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.

Knowing that others feel bludgeoned into tired silence helps me feel less alone, which motivates me to persevere.

Political Correctness in 2016

pc“Trump wasn’t condescending (toward the white working class),” said one of my taxi passengers, making a point that I failed to make in my 2016 blog posts (though I did write about leftist condescension).

Apparently hardly anyone else made my passenger’s point. I just googled the phrase and found no results.

Trump’s supporters felt he respected them, listened to them, spoke their language.

And one of Trump’s main points was his complaint about political correctness, which rang a bell with his supporters. I also failed to fully analyze that point, though in “Countering Racism,” I did quote Van Jones on the issue:

Van urged progressives to really understand the pain being experienced by many white working class people and learn how to speak to it. He described the struggles many suffer, including I believe the erosion of their long-held identity as breadwinner, and then one of their children comes home and tells them, “You are a bigot.” Van said, “That is painful.”

And I did often caution against name-calling and hurling judgmental labels. But, although I linked to Thomas Edsall’s excellent, important “The Anti-PC Vote,” I only commented on his reference to problematic language. On second thought, after Trump’s victory, his piece calls for fuller attention. And considering that it was published on June 1 2016, Hillary should have given it more thought too.

In both the workplace and academia, Haidt argues,

the accusatory and vindictive approach of many social justice activists and diversity trainers may actually have increased the desire and willingness of some white men to say and do un-PC things.

In this atmosphere, according to Haidt,

+++

Trump comes along and punches political correctness in the face. Anyone feeling some degree of anti-PC reactance is going to feel a thrill in their heart, and will want to stand up and applaud. And because feelings drive reasoning, these feelings of gratitude will make it hard for anyone to present arguments to them about the downsides of a Trump presidency.

Trump’s anger at being policed or fenced in apparently speaks to the resentment of many American men and their resistance to being instructed, particularly by a female candidate, on how they should think, speak or behave.

+++

On April 26, Trump wheeled out a spectacularly offensive attack on Clinton, perhaps designed to provoke the response it got. He accused her of playing “the women’s card” when “she has got nothing else going. Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she would get 5 percent of the vote.”

Hillary rose to the bait. Three days later, appearing on Jake Tapper’s CNN show “The Lead,” she countered:

+++

I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak. … I am not going to deal with their temper tantrums, or their bullying or their efforts to try to provoke me. He can say whatever he wants to say about me, I could really care less.

+++

Trump responded on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on May 2. What Clinton said “was a very derogatory statement to men,” Trump declared. “It was almost as though she’s going to tell us what to do, tell men what to do.” He continued, “It was a real put-down.”

The kind of messages that provoke reactance and a defiant or oppositional response, according to one study, include “imperatives, such as ‘must’ or ‘need’; absolute allegations, such as ‘cannot deny that …’ and ‘any reasonable person would agree.’ ”

…Some people will reject a policy or action that is to their advantage when they feel pushed or forced into making the “correct” decision.

In other words, reactance can foster a totalizing loyalty that does not respond to reasoned fault finding. This might help explain Trump’s seeming immunity to criticism from his adversaries. His followers feel that they have experienced a “diminution of freedom” and believe that Trump can “restore their autonomy.”

He has won a unique admixture of support, based in part on what might be called an anti-rational or irrational loyalty but also in part on his recognition of legitimate grievances among his adherents that many other politicians belittle or deny. This loyalty, as Republican candidates found during the primaries, is far wider and deeper than anyone not sharing it expected.

She has yet to discover a compelling rebuttal to Trump on political correctness,…

One reason is her deeply embedded elitism, which is shared by many, probably most, leftists — as reflected by the fact that she still has not really apologized for her “irredeemable … deplorables” comment, which fired up Trump’s base. And neither have most of her supporters.

As I see it, political correctness, which was a term originated by Socialists in opposition to the top-down imposition of dogma by the Communist Party, is reflected in the following statement (I don’t recall who the author was) concerning how to respond to Trump:

If you are able to talk about “giving Trump a chance,” or to urge “reconciliation” with an authoritarian sexual predator, racist, xenophobic, megalomaniac, anti-Semitic, transphobic, islamophobic, ableist, cheat and liar–you likely have a whole lot of unexamined white, middle and upper class, cisgender, heterosexual privilege and you are exercising it in a way that will further oppress those without your privilege.

The accusation that others, even those who are generally allies, are exercising white privilege merely because they disagree on tactics is common, and, to my mind, troublesome. Yes, those of us who are white, including working-class whites like myself, need to examine our privilege closely and be careful when we offer comments — as middle-class professionals who are persons of color should examine their class privilege.

The moment during the convention coverage that was most memorable for me was a segment on Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” Her reporter interviewed Republican delegates who repeatedly replied “All Lives Matter” when asked what they thought about the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” Those responses reinforced the stereotype of white Republican racists. But when the reporter probed, the delegates talked convincingly about how they do not want to be racist and they want to learn more about how to talk with African-Americans without being offensive.

During the campaign, numerous voters were quoted about how they often feel like they are walking on eggshells, worried about offending someone. At time, that leaves them speechless.

I’ve recently had one such interaction that has bothered me a great deal, and still does, leaving me uncertain about what to think. After another police killing of an African-American man, an African-American activist whom I considered an ally, with whom I’d had a number of positive interactions, posted:

I think we are better off without the police. I think we might be safer, happier, healthier if there were no police…. the system we have is not reformable and we are better of with no police than the ones we have now,…

I replied:

I doubt that most people of color would support abolishing the police. Rather it seems that we need to insist that the police live up to their alleged purpose: to Serve and Protect. there are examples of police departments that have done that. Pushing to multiply those examples seems like a more winnable strategy. Working steadily to reform our systems can eventually transform them

He responded:

Don’t speculate on what people of color would support to people of color. It is fucking annoying. Can you check your white privilege for once Wade it is getting so tiring. Go post your confident self righteous strategy thoughts on your own page. I don’t have the patience for your bullshit today. Speak for your fucking self. I have been ignoring your pattern of behavior for a while. quietly deleting your offensive posts without comment, but I am all out of hope and all out of patience for white bullshit. I am not inviting a dialogue. I am setting a boundary. Never post on my page again. You are happy to read but i don’t want to hear what you have to say. …You have made great sacrifice and I honor that. And the way you relate to me disrespectful of my basic humanity and you have to cut it out. Sorry of the vent but today I just can’t take it any more. Love to you….

Those comments disturbed me profoundly and I’ve thought about them a lot. After reading “It’s Not About Race” by John Metta, I thought about them more. Metta reports having been the only person of color in a discussion about race, during which he stated, ““I speak with a lot of emotion, and sometimes that emotion is anger. That should be allowed, because anger is a valid response to oppression. I’m not angry at you as an individual, but at a system of injustice.” Metta then reports that sometime later, a man said that he hoped we could “rise above emotions.” He wanted an “intellectual discussion” using logic so we could “really get to heart of the matter” without getting “derailed by emotions.”

Those remarks led Metta to analyze cultural norms and the need to accept cultural differences. He concludes:

I was angry that a white man was telling me we should “rise above emotions” and “get to the heart of the matter” by talking about race intellectually and avoiding emotions…. Every single thing white people do and say is done in the context of normative white culture, which they don’t have to think about…. Most of the time, they can’t see their own culture, much less someone else’s, meaning they have no idea what the hell we’re talking about anyway. So either we get angry, or we just close our eyes, nod our heads, and say things like “Yeah, using the Socratic method to talk intellectually would probably be a good way for us to discuss systematic racism.”

That essay prompted me to post Shut Up and Listen where I said:

Responding to anger can be difficult. Generally the best response is to listen, ask questions, learn, empathize, and find points of agreement. Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated, as I’m still learning.

That’s especially true if you are White and the other is African-American. Let’s face it. In this country, race matters. Persistent oppression and White assumptions of superiority charge the atmosphere.

I wrote that though I have never said anyone should “avoid emotions.” How to channel anger wisely is another matter, however, especially in the context of talking about how to be effective politically. And if we want to counter racism, when and how we “call out” people for racist comments is a delicate matter. If we aren’t careful, we can make them more racist.

All this leaves me confused, uncertain, and discouraged. I see the whole world spiraling down into tribalism rooted in rigid identities, labelling, and name-calling. Hillary’s biggest mistake was letting Trump pull her down into the politics of personal destruction and ad hominem attacks, which was given birth by the 1968 Gore-Buckley debates and later the Democratic Party’s  attack on Robert Bork. Activists are generally guilty of the same mistakes and fail to see their particular issues as simultaneously reflections of how the System divides, conquers, and oppresses everyone, including its administrators who are dehumanized.

I disagree with Bernie that we need to emphasize class more than race. Each are equally important. I disagree with Hillary’s elitism. And I believe we need a massive, democratic, multi-issue grassroots movement with inclusive leadership whose members are co-equal, with no claim to privilege based on background, including having been relatively more oppressed.

My New Year’s Resolution is: Speak my truth. At the same time, I remind myself: avoid unsolicited advice and precede, and follow, criticisms with appreciations.

I don’t know how much time and energy I’ll have to write, or how much I’ll be motivated because my efforts seem to resonate with only a relative few. I have to drive taxi as much as I can, probably for as long as I can, so I’ll have some money when I’m 95. And absent more support and encouragement, it’s hard for me to push myself to write more than an hour a day.

Maybe the #LoveArmy will indeed prove to be what I’m looking for and I can relax and just be a foot soldier rather than carrying so much of a burden on my shoulders.

Regardless, as I learned recently, “I am good enough (and will be better).” Whether the same applies to humanity remains to be seen.

Putting Christ Back in Xmas

blackjesusSanta Claus, the Great Lie at the heart of the American Dream, is symbolic of what’s wrong with America. Children are told, If you’re nice and do what you’re told, you’ll get the gift you want. But if you’re naughty and act outside the norm, good luck. As adults, we learn: if you want a gift or a card, you have to give one. Xmas love is a transaction.

The hypocrisy is boundless. You meet up with relatives you ignore or detest throughout the year and act nice. You obey rules that prohibit authenticity, like “no politics.” You smile and joke and tell stories and go home thinking, Well, that wasn’t too bad.

The season is defined by shopping. After the Church co-opted St. Nick to seduce the masses, Nick has returned the favor with a vengeance. The celebration of the birth of Jesus has become an orgy of selfish materialism. WIIFM, the Internet acronym for What’s In It For Me, sums up modern life. It’s the mantra that complements the lie that both Michelle Obama and Melania Trump tell children: You can grow up to be whatever you want to be. The corollary to that deception is: you get what you deserve.

All that socializing contradicts the teachings of Jesus, who said:

  • Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
  • What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
  • Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.

As Bob Dylan said, These days “not much is really sacred.”

When times are tough, I turn for guidance and inspiration to Howard Thurman’s classic book, Jesus and the Disinherited. No wonder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. carried it with him when he traveled. It’s a wonderful self-help manual for activists!

Thurman affirms:

  • [The] universality that makes all class and race distinctions impertinent…,
  • …the simple practice of brotherhood…[with which we] treat others…as human beings,
  • …the human family [in which each stands] in immediate candidacy for the profoundest fellowship, understanding, and love…, and each person meets the other where he is.

Concerning noxious collaborators with oppressors like tax collectors, he says, “To love them means to recognize some deep respect and reverence for their persons,” though “to love them does not mean to condone their way of life.”

Even with the Roman conquerors, Thurman insisted, “To love the Roman meant first of all to lift him out of the general classification of enemy. The Roman had to emerge as a person…”

For Thurman, the starting point is:

The underprivileged must himself be status free…. Love is possible only between two freed spirits…. There cannot be too great insistence on the point that we are here dealing with a discipline, a method, a technique, as over against some form of wishful thinking or simple desiring…. Such a technique may be found in the attitude of respect for personality.

Does love require “ignoring the fact” that the other has a particular status? Thurman answers:

Hardly. For lack of a better term, an ‘unscrambling’ process is required. [Otherwise] the ultimate fate of the relationship seems to be in the hands of the wider social context. It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship…. This cannot be discovered in a vacuum or in a series of artificial or hypothetical relationships. It has to be in a real situation, natural, free.

That perspective reminds me of Buber: As individuals, we can be available for an I-Thou encounter, but for it to happen, it must be mutual.

These reflections lead me to conclude:

  • If one fully embraces love, that compassion automatically leads to opposing racism, classism, sexism, and other similar forms of oppression.
  • Without being blind to color, class, gender, and the other specific characteristics of the unique person we encounter, we can set aside those labels, which are drilled into us by society, and be ready to relate heart-to-heart.
  • When we express our deepest beliefs, it is not necessary to spell out specific examples, such as instances of racism and sexism, that clarify what we affirm, though doing so can help clarify our meaning.
  • One can fully recognize specific instances of oppression while at the same time seeing them as examples of broader systemic oppression: the urge to climb the social ladder.
  • All of this requires many-sided awareness, the ability to see reality from various points of view simultaneously, rather than embracing dogma and ideology.

So, on this Christmas Day, 2016, I ignore Xmas and appreciate what I have learned from Jesus: Without crucifixion there is no resurrection. Or, as Bob said, he not busy being born is busy dying.

I would rather participate in a community that celebrates the Solstice.

Email to the #LoveArmy

love-power12/16/16

Dear Van, Dream Corps, and the #LoveArmy

Thanks much for today’s report. I’m glad to hear that 60,000 people have already signed up for the #LoveArmy.

In reply to your request, I would like to see the #LoveArmy:

  1. Organize Congressional Action Teams. Based in each Congressional district, #LoveArmy teams engage regularly with their Congressperson’s staff, develop relationships with them, brainstorm possibilities together, and communicate #LoveArmy recommendations to them when the #LoveArmy develops such recommendations.
  2. Convene Community Dialogues with Elected Officials. Persuade elected officials and/or their chiefs of staff to convene open-ended monthly Community Dialogues to receive input from and report to constituents. Structure those forums to insure that the official does not dominate them. Use an outside moderator.
  3. Unlearn negative conditioning. The #LoveArmy needs to encourage its members to engage in critical self-examination and support one another in efforts to overcome tendencies that undermine effectiveness. As you said years ago at an Alternet.org book release party, Van, “We need to be less pro-fessional and more confessional.”\
  4. Develop a positive vision for systemic reform. Interest in “the system” is increasing. But when most people talk about the system, they usually only talk about the economy and the government. My colleagues and I are developing a more comprehensive analysis that sees the System as consisting of all of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals. From that perspective, we present a path to systemic transformation. We welcome help with writing our statement of principles, “Transform the System: A Call to Action.” The latest draft will always be at https://goo.gl/fSX9Cc.

Those are some suggestions for your consideration off the top of my head.

I look forward to contributing to the #LoveArmy as best I can. Next Tuesday I’m hoping a Circle of like-minded people comes together with me as a participant.

Please let me know if you have other ideas concerning how I might help.

Yours,
Wade Hudson

Van Jones Launches #LoveArmy

vanFor many years, I’ve been looking for a holistic community focused on national policy that I could join. During those years, I’ve encouraged Van Jones and others to organize one. Now Van, the prominent CNN commentator and long-term organizer, has launched the #LoveArmy and I’m jazzed!

It’s very close to what I’ve been proposing. I no longer have to try to help start one myself!

My Bay Area friends who want to participate in a #LoveArmy Circle with me are invited to let me know. Folks outside the Bay Area are encouraged to form their own.

Here’s the #LoveArmy description of a Circle:

#LoveArmy Circles are groups of 2 or more people working together to solve our common problems. You take action in your own way, on a local level. We provide structure, support, and keep you connected to a large community of people doing similar work. To be part of Dream Corps’ #LoveArmy Circles, all you have to do is bring two or more people together and stay connected to the Dream Corps.

#LoveArmy Circles can be a group of friends, a few colleagues, an existing book club, moms group, or study group, a civic organization, your family, a collection of neighbors, etc. Some of you may build on existing groups and others may pull together something new for the first time. All are welcome no matter your background, political leaning, or experience.

Get together in these small circles regularly – it could be once a week or once a month. Whatever works for you. Then, each month, we’ll come together in a virtual meeting to learn from each other, share ideas and coordinate our efforts.

The #LoveArmy is a Dream Corps project, whose home page highlights “LOVE + POWER,”  which probably refers to Dr.King’s famous statement, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

The #LoveArmy clearly envisions taking collective action. One of the three forms of involvement they list is “Love in Action,” which is described as “coming soon.” And on their invitation to join, they declare, “Join the #Love Army: Fight Different. … We will be coordinating regular actions and bringing people together in large and small gatherings.”

The #LoveArmy’s parent organization is the Dream Corps, whose Core Values are:

SOLUTIONS: We advance solutions that inspire action, serve justice, and improve people’s lives. Our solutions honor life and amplify the voices of those left behind in the current system. By turning to each other, instead of on each other, we act in solidarity, create unlikely partnerships and open unexpected doors.

SERVANT LEADERSHIP: We lead with empathy. We are committed to the growth and well-being of all people, especially the marginalized and mistreated. We see personal transformation and systemic transformation as interlinked and interdependent. We serve a movement that extends far beyond our own organization. We are committed to creating the conditions for all people to be free.

SOUL: We cultivate presence, conviction, and love. How we do what we do matters. Authenticity, depth, and passion matter. We celebrate culture and creativity. We honor the immeasurable. We operate from a place of fierce and unconditional love that is rooted in relationship and connection. We believe in magic. We are awake and alive in this work.

I italicized those two sentences — “We see personal transformation and systemic transformation as interlinked and interdependent….How we do what we do matters.” — because they strike me as particularly important.

The #LoveArmy website declares:

We’re approaching not only a new year, but a new era. The stakes are high. Many of us feel disconnected, disoriented, and dispirited.

The #LoveArmy will come together to make sure everyone knows they are not alone, and that if we stand together, we are powerful.

This is the moment to see ourselves as leaders!

ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT FOR A BETTER FUTURE?

I am!

Holistic Transformation (11/26/16 Draft)

holisticHuman beings are generally compassionate, cooperative creatures. Each day, individuals and organizations relieve suffering and improve the world. But our global social system breeds fear, foments hate, divides people, and undermines community. To steadily transform that System, activists and activist organizations need to change how they operate so they can be more effective.

Our major institutions, our culture, and we ourselves fit together to form the System, which is fueled by the drive to get ahead of others, climb the social ladder, and look down on those below. Hyper-competitive individualism and feverish ambition help preserve the power chain and its dominate-or-submit dynamic.

In our daily lives, individuals strengthen the System with actions like not treating each other with respect, buying cheap products made in other countries, and being seduced by mass marketing. Activist organizations reinforce the System with actions like competing with one another, scapegoating opponents, being dogmatic, and failing to nurture compassionate hearts and minds.

Societies tend to label, rank, disrespect, and discriminate against certain categories of people, which serves to divide and conquer. We pigeonhole people and place them in superficial pecking orders. In ways that are often unconscious, we neglect the equal value of each person and feel superior to some and inferior to others. We learn to dominate or submit. That self-centeredness carries over into nationalism, as nations try to exploit other nations to serve their own self-interest.

To restructure that System, we must learn to care for one another more fully and promote the common good of the Earth Community — all humanity, all living beings, the environment, and life itself — and reform our institutions, our culture, and ourselves to serve that purpose.  

Activist organizations can unite with one another more consistently to focus on achievable objectives favored by a majority of their fellow citizens, help their members unlearn counterproductive tendencies, inspire and attract members with a positive vision, and make our society more democratic.

Individuals can:

  • Establish a balance between self-interest and the common good.
  • Resist oppression and neglect.
  • Relate to one another as human beings.
  • Remember that no evil deed is a reflection of the whole person.
  • Not allow anger to become hatred.
  • Seek reconciliation when in conflict.
  • Be humble.
  • Develop collaborative leadership.
  • Accept that we cannot achieve everything we want.
  • Nurture helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness, and a passion for justice.

By sharing meals, socializing informally, enjoying life together, and listening to peers report on their efforts, activists who belong to the same organization can support each other’s personal growth and political action — and encourage the full membership to do the same. Unaffiliated activists and members of various organizations can also form independent support groups. Occasionally, representatives from all of those groups can compare notes, plan actions, and attract new members.

In these ways, we can grow a network of holistic communities that address the whole person and care for the whole world.

If you agree with these principles and want to be kept informed about efforts to transform the System, please endorse this statement at TransformTheSystem.org (coming soon).

“A Masterpiece from the Muck”

Rafael Chirbes, 2007

Rafael Chirbes, 2007

The last sentence of the New York Review of Books essay, “A Masterpiece from the Muck,” by Norman Rush, which reviews On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, has haunted me. Here are some excerpts:

Poverty in the West is suddenly, inescapably, around. It’s turning up as a deep problem here and there, even in electoral politics, and, clearly, dealing with poverty by the practice of ignoring it is reaching the limits of its usefulness. People at all levels are forced to deal with poverty in one way or another:…

On the Edge consists essentially of an unending soliloquy, a special case of the standard modernist stream-of-consciousness form….

There is also a moral landscape through which Esteban must make his way. It fascinates and repels the reader. Esteban seems not to be agitated by the morally sordid characteristics of his pals and his family…. The cash nexus dominates to the very end. … The moral substrate of the narrative is rotten overall.

The seemingly universal Hobbesian philosophy prevalent among the characters recurs in Esteban’s world: …

…a book written with art and force need not depend on pleasing subjects. In fact, the tension underlying art and often unhappy narratives can provide a confoundingly elevating aesthetic experience….

I think it must be that the thematic conjunction of the topical and the damnably eternal is especially potent today. We don’t entirely comprehend 2008. Has there been a change in the way the neoliberal dispensation works? We are still measuring the consequences of that debacle, still trying to judge whether it’s over. Since 2008 the world has gone unsteady, and not only in the economic sense. Some academically respectable but apocalyptic readings of the crisis are in circulation. One is Wolfgang Streeck’s “How Will Capitalism End?” (New Left Review, May–June 2014). Streeck sees a destructive convergence of three fixed trends in late capitalism: a declining rate of economic growth, soaring overall indebtedness, and rising economic inequality in both income and wealth. His work interlocks with recent dark conclusions by Robert J. Gordon, Thomas Piketty, and Wendy Brown, among others.

With all its Valencian particularities, On the Edge resonates in a paradoxically bracing (because it’s clear-eyed), apposite way with today’s uncertainties and moods. On the Edge may work as powerfully as it does precisely because it is not a protest novel in the tradition of Zola’s Germinal, Sinclair’s The Jungle, Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, or Hugo’s Les Misérables. There’s not a shred of hope here, or any emerging social force to which to appeal, and that feels about right.

That conclusion has stuck with me because it rang a bell. Times are bleak indeed. Not because of Trump and his like elsewhere, but because I fear the resistance will be ineffective.

Then again, Buddhists recommend avoiding hope. Maybe they are right.

Race, Class, and Systemic Reform

intersectionality2Can compassion-minded activists justifiably talk about human rights without also talking about civil rights? Can we justifiably talk about what it means to be human without talking at the same time, in the same sentence, about race, class, gender, and the other pigeonholes that the System uses to divide and conquer? Or can we first affirm universal principles, and then later, time or space permitting, oppose specific forms of oppression? Might we build a broad coalition based primarily, most fundamentally, on universal principles, while also, secondarily, affirming the rights of people whom the System classifies and oppresses based on certain arbitrary characteristics? In order to mobilize the white working class, do we need to emphasize economic issues more than social issues like race?  

Many post-election commentators are saying that class is more important than race. Robert Borosage for example has argued, “Clinton [talked] about removing barriers, with constituency-specific agendas, rather than focusing on a populist economic message that would lift all (emphasis added).” Borosage concluded, “Democrats better learn how to sing from Bernie Sanders’s gospel….”

Bernie’s post-election message is: “One of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics,” which, according to wikipedia, “refers to political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify.”

In The Guardian, Heather Long says, “As I re-read King’s addresses, I can’t help but think that if he were alive today, he would be preaching and organizing first and foremost about income inequality…. The most pernicious problem in society today is the haves and have nots”

On NPR, Mark Lilla cited as a positive example a man who reported:

I belong to a bowling team with black and Latino coworkers. And when we get together and we talk about politics … we don’t talk about Black Lives Matters. We talk about what matters to our families. We talk about jobs, and we talk about the fate of the country. That is America, and you can reach those people.

In his “The End of Identity Liberalism” essay in the Times, Lilla objects to the proposition that “we should become aware of and ‘celebrate’ our differences.” He argues that “the fixation on diversity” has encouraged people narcissistically “to keep this focus on themselves” and that “younger journalists and editors [believe], that simply by focusing on identity they have done their jobs.”

Lilla criticized Clinton’s campaign for

calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded…. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals…. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it….

National politics in healthy periods is not about “difference,” it is about commonality…. We need a post-identity liberalism,… As for narrower issues that are highly charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with a proper sense of scale.

But as Steven Shults posted on Facebook, “You can draw attention to the plight of the poor without pitting the issue against other issues. This is not a zero sum game. (It’s not a game at all.).” It’s not either/or.

As I see it, Clinton’s mistake was not her calling out to specific constituencies. Rather, it was not calling out to more of them — as examples of a larger problem. Society systematically labels, ranks, and discriminates against countless categories of people. It’s systemic. The problem is the System, which serves to divide and conquer.

If one has only a sound bite, it’s not feasible to present a long list of examples. But in a standard stump speech, it is.

Economic populists, however, want to heavily emphasize economic issues and reject that intersectional approach. Intersectionality” argues:

We should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity…. The classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination…. Socially constructed categories of differentiation interact to create a social hierarchy…. There is no singular experience of an identity. Rather than understanding women’s health solely through the lens of gender, it is necessary to consider other social categories such as class, ability, nation or race, to have a fuller understanding of the range of women’s health concerns…. Seemingly discrete forms and expressions of oppression are shaped by one another….  [This] analysis is potentially applied to all categories (including statuses usually seen as dominant when seen as standalone statuses).

Or you could use Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” to make the point:

Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight

Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight

An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night…

Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake

Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked

Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake…

Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind

Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind

An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time…

Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts

All down in taken-for-granted situations

Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute

Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute

For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit…

Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail

For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale

An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail…

Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed

For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse

An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe

It’s not easy to talk about intersectionality. Some may believe that I as a white man have no right to do so. But partly because what I have to say, I believe, echoes what I’ve learned from people of color such as Howard Thurman, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., James Baldwin, and Mahatma Ghandi, I feel compelled to speak.

To transform the System, we need to set aside labels and affirm our universal humanity, while also opposing specific forms of oppression. The various identities the System inculcates in us overlap and reinforce one another. In that way, the System is integrated, combined into a whole. We can better transform that System with communities that are integrated in the same way — that is, communities whose members acknowledge and accept their multiple identities. From that perspective, if one talks about class one generally needs to also talk about race, and vice versa. However, it is also justifiable at times to go deeper and talk only about our essential humanity. One can hope for the emergence of a broad vision that inspires a massive human rights movement that also affirms civil rights.

I’m not fully comfortable with that approach. It may be wrong. But for now that is the perspective affirmed by the latest draft of the Holistic Transformation statement of principlesI envision that additional publications will address specific forms of oppression.

Criticisms and suggested changes for that work-in-progress are welcome.