Capitalism

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Book on Utopias from the 17th Century to Today

Ruth Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (Oxford: Peter Lang Ltd 2011).

I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything for several days. Part of that is because the news doesn’t really inspire me. It’s not that it isn’t important, or that the Tories have stopped trying to strip working people of their rights and drive them further into poverty and degradation. Or that I’m unmoved by Trump trying to organise a coup to keep himself in the Oval Office like just about every other tin pot dictator throughout history. Or that Brexit isn’t threatening to destroy whatever remains of British industry and livelihoods, all for the benefit of the Tory superrich and investment bankers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have their money safely invested in firms right across the world. Or that I’m not outraged by even more people dying of Covid-19 every day, while the government has corruptly mismanaged their care by outsourcing vital medical supplies and their services to firms that are clearly incompetent to provide them, because those same firms are run by their chums. Ditto with the grossly inadequate food parcels, which are another vile example of Tory profiteering. It’s just that however disgusting and infuriating the news is, there is a certain sameness about it. Because all this is what the Tories have been doing for decades. It’s also partly because I can’t say anything more or better about these issues than has been already said by great bloggers like Mike, Zelo Street and the rest.

But I’ve also been kept busy reading some of the books I got for Christmas, like the above tome by Ruth Levitas, a sociology professor at Bristol Uni. The blurb for this runs

In this highly influential book, Ruth Levitas provides an excellent introduction to the meaning and importance of the concept of Utopia, and explores a wealth of material drawn from literature and social theory to illustrate its rich history and analytical versatility. Situating utopia within the dynamics of the modern imagination, she examines the ways in which it has been used by some of the leading thinkers of modernity: Marx, Engels, Karl Mannheim, Robert Owen, Georges Sorel, Ernst Bloch, William Morris and Herbert Marcuse. Utopia offers the most potent secular concept for imagining and producing a ‘better world’, and this classic text will be invaluable to students across a wide range of disciplines.

It has the following chapters

  1. Ideal Commonwealths: The Emerging Tradition
  2. Castles in the Air: Marx, Engels and Utopian Socialism
  3. Mobilising Myths: Utopia and Social Change in Georges Sorel and Karl Mannheim
  4. Utopian Hope: Ernst Bloch and Reclaiming the Future
  5. The Education of Desire: The Rediscovery of William Morris
  6. An American Dream: Herbert Marcuse and the Transformation of the Psyche
  7. A Hundred Flowers: Contemporary Utopian Studies
  8. Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia.

I wanted to read the book because so many utopias have been socialist or socialistic, like the early 19th century thinkers Karl Marx described as utopian, Saint-Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen, and was interested in learning more about their ideas. In this sense, I’m slightly disappointed with the book. Although it tells you a little about the plans for the reformation of society, and the establishment of a perfect state or political system, the book’s not so much about these individual schemes as a more general discussion of the concept of utopia. What, exactly, is a utopia, and how has the concept been used, and changed and developed? Much of this debate has been within Marxism, beginning with the great thinker himself. He called his predecessors – Owen, Fourier and Owen ‘utopian’ because he didn’t believe their particular schemes were realistic. Indeed, he regarded them as unscientific, in contrast to his own theories. However, Marx did believe they had done a vital job in pointing out the failures of the capitalist system. Marxists themselves were split over the value of utopias. The dominant position rejected them, as it was pointless to try to describe the coming society before the revolution. Nevertheless, there were Marxists who believed in their value, as the description of a perfect future society served to inspire the workers with an ideal they could strive to achieve. This position has been obscured in favour of the view that Marx and his followers rejected them, and this book aims to restore their position in the history of Marxist thought. This idea of utopia as essentially inspirational received especial emphasis in the syndicalism of Georges Sorel. Syndicalism is a form of radical socialism in which the state and private industry are abolished and their functions carried out instead by the trade unions. Sorel himself was a French intellectual, who started out on the radical left, but move rightward until he ended up in extreme nationalist, royalist, anti-Semitic movements. His ideas were paradoxically influential not just in the Marxist socialism of the former Soviet Union, but also in Fascist Italy. Sorel doesn’t appear to have been particularly interested in the establishment of a real, syndicalist utopia. This was supposed to come after a general strike. In Sorel’s formulation of syndicalism, however, the general strike is just a myth to inspire the workers in their battle with the employers and capitalism, and he is more interested in the struggle than the workers’ final victory, if indeed that ever arrived.

The book also covers the debate over William Morris and his News from Nowhere. This describes an idyllic, anarchist, agrarian, pre-industrial society in which there are no leaders and everyone works happily performing all kinds of necessary work simply because they enjoy it and find it fulfilling following a workers’ revolution. Apart from criticisms of the book itself, there have also been debates over the depth of Morris’ own socialism. Morris was a member of one of the first British Marxist socialist parties, Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, and the founder of another, the Socialist League, after he split from them. Critics have queried whether he was ever really a Marxist or even a socialist. One view holds that he was simply a middle class artist and entrepreneur, but not a socialist. The other sees him as a socialist, but not a Marxist. Levitas contends instead that Morris very definitely was a Marxist.

When it comes to the 20th century, the book points out that utopias have fallen out of fashion, no doubt due to the horrors committed by totalitarian regimes, both Fascist and Communist, which have claimed to be ideal states. However, the critic Tom Moylan has argued that utopias have still been produced in the SF novels of Joanna Russ, Ursula le Guin, Marge Piercy and Samuel Delaney. He describes these as ‘critical utopias’, a new literary genre. The heroes of this literature is not the dominant White, heterosexual male, but characters who are off-centre, female, gay, non-White, and who act collectively rather than individually. The book criticises some earlier utopias, like News from Nowhere, for their exclusive focus on the male viewpoint, comparing them with the Land of Cockayne, the medieval fantasy that similarly presents a perfect world in which everything is seemingly ordered for men’s pleasure. In contrast to these are the feminist utopias of the above writers, which began in the late 19th century with Harriet Gilman’s Herland. It also discusses the value of satires like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, and dystopias like Eugene Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984.

Levitas does not, however, consider utopianism to be merely confined to the left. She also considers Thatcherism a form of utopianism, discussing the late Roger Scruton’s Conservative Essays and citing Patrick Wright’s On Living in an Old Country. This last argued that the Conservative promotion of heritage was being used to reinforce old hierarchies in a markedly racist way. Some members of society were thus delineated as truly members of the nation, while others were excluded.

The book was first published in 1990, just before or when Communism was falling. It shows it’s age by discussing the issue whether the terrible state of the Soviet Union served to deter people dreaming and trying to create perfect, socialist societies. She argues that it doesn’t, only that the forms of this societies are different from the Marxist-Leninism of the USSR. This is a fair assessment. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of books about the future colonisation of Mars, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the colonists not only succeed in terraforming the planet, but also create socialist society in which authority is as decentralised as possible, women are fully equal and patriarchy has been overthrown and businesses run by their workers as cooperatives. At the same time, those wishing to return to a more primitive way of life have formed hunter-gatherer tribes, which are nevertheless also conversant with contemporary technology.

Further on, although the Fall of Communism has been claimed to have discredited not just Marxism but also socialism, recent history has shown the opposite is true. After forty years of Thatcherism, an increasing number of people are sick and tired of it, its economic failures, the glaring inequalities of wealth, the grinding poverty and degradation it is creating. This is why the Conservative establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party, were so keen to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite, a Communist and Trotskyite, or whatever else they could throw at him. He gave working people hope, and as Servalan, the grim leader of the Terran Federation said on the Beeb’s classic SF show, Blake’s Seven, ‘Hope is very dangerous’. A proper socialist society continues to inspire women and men to dream and work towards a better world, and it is to stop this that the Blairites contrived to get Corbyn’s Labour to lose two elections and have him replaced by Keir Starmer, a neo-liberal vacuity who increasingly has nothing to say to Johnson and his team of crooks.

Back to the book, its discussion of the nature of utopia therefore tends to be rather abstract and theoretical as it attempts to describe the concept and the way it has changed and been used. I didn’t find this really particularly interesting, although there are nevertheless many valuable insights here. I would instead have been far more interested in learning more about the particular ideas, plans and descriptions of a new, perfect, or at least far better, society of the many thinkers, philosophers and authors mentioned.

Head Hand Heart

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 5:01pm in

We can all see that we live in a world of misallocated capital, but we also live in a society of misallocated labour.

We disproportionately praise, and pay, those who work with their heads. Yet when it comes to the people who work with their hands or their hearts, well, they end up with crumbs in comparison.

So how did the cult of the knowledge worker become so pervasive? Host, Ross Ashcroft met up with author, David Goodhart, to discuss.

The post Head Hand Heart appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Head Hand Heart

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 5:01pm in

We can all see that we live in a world of misallocated capital, but we also live in a society of misallocated labour.

We disproportionately praise, and pay, those who work with their heads. Yet when it comes to the people who work with their hands or their hearts, well, they end up with crumbs in comparison.

So how did the cult of the knowledge worker become so pervasive? Host, Ross Ashcroft met up with author, David Goodhart, to discuss.

The post Head Hand Heart appeared first on Renegade Inc.

History Debunked Calls for More Black Blood and Organ Donors to Show Black Lives Really Matter

This is another, really short video from History Debunked. It’s creator, Simon Webb, is an author, and has published several history books. He’s very definitely a man of the right, and many of his videos tackle and refute some of the myths and false history being promoted as part of the Black history movement. In this video he expresses his incredulity at the rioting and destruction of statues that broke out earlier this year with the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement. He finds it difficult to understand how defacing a statue of Winston Churchill or setting fire to the Union flag shows that Black lives matter. Black deaths at the hands of the cops are widely publicised, but they probably occur at the rate of less than one a year. There hasn’t been one for over a year now, and they may well only happen once every 2 to 3 years.

A far greater killer of Black lives is Sickle Cell Anaemia. This can result in episodes, known as Sickle Cell crises, that can produce blindness, disability and death. They can be treated with transfusions. There are differences in the blood of different races, so that Black people are better treated with blood from other Black people, Whites with White blood. But there is a terrible, pressing shortage of Black blood and organ donors. The NHS in London and Birmingham is currently seeking 5,000 Black blood donors so that they can treat the Black victims of this disease. Whites are twice as likely to donate blood and the organs of dead relatives as Blacks, which means, for example, that Blacks on average wait twice as long as Whites on dialysis for a kidney transplant. He therefore feels that the people, who protest against a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University, instead of demonstrating against injustices that may have occurred centuries ago, should donate blood in order to show that they really believe Black Lives Matter.

Saving black lives; a way forward for the Black Lives Matter Movement – YouTube

This is obviously a controversial view of BLM. The demonstrations and riots against the statues occurred because the historic western slave trade is seen as being inextricably linked to the terrible, underprivileged conditions of many western Blacks. Institutional racism in the police has been a particularly obvious cause of anger and resentment amongst the Black community. It could be said that it doesn’t matter how low the actual numbers of Black people killed by the cops are, it’s still too many. In fact, it’s questionable how disproportionate the number of Blacks killed by the cops compared to Whites actually is. Sargon of Gasbag, the Sage of Swindon, went through the official statistics in one of his videos and concluded that Whites were in far more danger of being killed by the police than Blacks. This certainly runs counter to the allegations made by BLM. Sargon is, however, extremely right-wing. Too right-wing for UKIP, as when he joined, more socially liberal members left. I don’t agree with Sargon’s views about Trump, capitalism or how British political theory begins and ends with John Locke, but he did present a very good case on this issue.

And it is true that Sickle Cell Anaemia is killing Black people. Black people are more prone to it thanks to an adaptation in their blood cells which makes them far less palatable to mosquitoes, and hence vulnerable to the malaria they carry, than Whites. And it is true that there is a terrible shortage of Black blood and organ donors. Various Black ‘slebs have appeared on The One Show to urge Black people to consider donating blood.

Years ago I read in the book Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, that the use of blood plasma to save lives in blood transfusions was the invention of a Black American doctor, who successfully used it on Brit injured in the Blitz. It would undoubtedly be great if more Black people followed in his footsteps by donating their blood to save other Black lives.

Nuclear War, Capitalism, And Other Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/12/2020 - 2:17pm in

The life of every terrestrial organism is being threatened with the steadily growing possibility of nuclear war because after the fall of the USSR a few imperialists decided that US unipolar hegemony needs to be maintained at all cost.

I’m growing a uniquely deep hatred for people who scoff at me for saying that nuclear war is a real risk. There’s no basis whatsoever for the belief that what the US empire is doing with Russia and China is safe. Your source is your own cognitive dissonance with the subject.

To be clear, the risk is not that anyone will choose to have a nuclear war, it’s that a nuke will be deployed amid heightening tensions as a result of miscommunication or malfunction, as nearly happened many times during the last cold war. The more tense things get, the likelier such an event becomes. This new cold war is happening along two fronts, with a bunch of proxy conflicts complicating things even further. There are so very many small moving parts, and it’s impossible to remain in control of all of them.

People like to think every nuclear-armed country has one “The Button” with which they can consciously choose to start a nuclear war after careful deliberation, but it doesn’t work that way. There are thousands of people in the world controlling different parts of different nuclear arsenals who could independently initiate a nuclear war. Thousands of “The Buttons”. It only takes one. The arrogance of believing anyone can control such a conflict safely, for years, is astounding.

The “Great Reset” will result in further widening of the wealth gap and more control for unelected oligarchs. Of course it will. Just like all the other steps in capitalism’s inevitable march toward dystopia. This isn’t a deviation, it’s a continuation.

Chortle, chortle, socialism is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy you silly child. Much more realistic to choke our planet to death chasing imaginary currency in an imaginary economy so we can pay to live on the planet where we were born.

“Socialism has never worked,” said the system that created the earth’s sixth mass extinction.

Capitalism is held in place by imagination, compartmentalization, violence, and a huge mountain of survivorship bias.

The unspoken premise of modern capitalism is that the world is about to be saved by union-busting tech billionaires who choose every day not to end world hunger.

Capitalism does not reward innovation in the way our world requires because:

  1. It constricts solutions to only those that can make money. All the crises our species now faces can be solved easily, but if the solution isn’t profitable it’s rejected.
  2. Capital buys up competitors’ solutions to shelve them.
  3. Stress inhibits creative thinking.

Life pro tip: 100 percent of the capitalism cultists who say you “don’t understand economics” are posturing. It’s an empty slogan they’ve been trained to bleat, and if you debate them for a bit you’ll soon find that all they can do is vaguely gesticulate at other people’s ideas which they clearly do not understand. They’re pure bluster.

“I need water.”

Better go find some then.

“All the water’s right there. You’re standing on the hose.”

You’re just jealous of my success.

“No I’m dying of thirst and you control all the water.”

Better pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make some water then.

All the chipper articles and news segments you’ve been seeing in the US mass media about “tiny houses” are really just glorifying the re-emergence of shanty towns in America.

Obama gets a lot of criticism for killing Libyans, killing Syrians, killing US citizens, killing all kinds of people all over the world, but he doesn’t get enough recognition for also killing the anti-war movement.

Imperialist warmongering is by far the worst expression of white supremacism in the world, yet liberals and progressives virtually ignore it. We’ve seen millions of establishment-endorsed lynchings of brown-skinned people since the turn of the century, and it’s accepted as normal.

Progressives who say “We have to work within the Democratic Party because the only alternative would be tearing down the entire system” are so close to getting it.

The dumbest thing about the Democratic primaries was watching all the mainstream narrative managers pretending all the shitlib candidates were different from each other. “Ooh, this one has brown skin, but this one speaks better Spanish! Let’s write ten thousand think pieces about these crucial political differences.”

Rank-and-file Democrats have been trained for four years to only care about foreign policy if a president wants to withdraw troops from somewhere that Russia might arguably approve of. Which will work out nicely for the foreign policy agendas of the Biden administration.

Your favorite artist has great content but shit political opinions because they’re very talented but our society is saturated with establishment propaganda. Hope that helps.

People tell me they like what I say but they wish I’d say it more politely. Uhh I’m trying to help topple a psychopathic global empire here. People who are put off by a little crude language aren’t really my target demographic.

The abusers I’ve known have had an interesting feature in common: they always expect, and feel entitled to, a private space to abuse you in. They get outraged and indignant if you tell others about their abuse, acting like you’ve done something deeply immoral. I say it’s interesting because the powerful people who demand secrecy behave the exact same way.

FYI your abuser is never entitled to a private space in which to inflict abuse, whether they’re a significant other or a globe-spanning empire.

______________________

Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Poems For Rebels or my old book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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The Unspoken Premise Of Modern Capitalism Is That The World Will Be Saved By Greedy Tech Oligarchs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/12/2020 - 2:13pm in

Psychopathic neocon Nikki Haley is greasing the wheels for her 2024 presidential campaign by screaming that America has been taken over by socialism.

“2020 was the year socialism went mainstream,” Haley tweeted today. “The dangerous ideology, which has failed everywhere it has been tried and ruined countless lives, is on its way to becoming the default economic policy of the Democratic Party. This terrifying trend threatens the future of every American.”

Ah yes, America. The country where Republicans spend all day screaming that socialism is happening and Democrats spend all day making sure it never does.

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Meanwhile, outside of Nikki Haley’s magical fantasy world where Joe Biden is ushering in a Marxist world order and Bernie Sanders is personally guillotining billionaires in Central Park, Americans are being denied financial support and healthcare even as millions are thrown out of work during the pandemic.

In reality, the world is still very much locked into zealous worship of the great god known as capitalism. And it is choking the world to death.

We live on a finite planet of finite resources with a finite ecosystem that has a finite capacity to absorb punishment without becoming uninhabitable. Science tells us we are fast approaching the breaking point at a debatable rate of acceleration. Depending on what scientists you believe we could get there in several decades, or it could be a whole lot sooner.

Capitalism, the predominant driving force of human behavior in our world right now, offers exactly two potential solutions to this dilemma. The first is to pretend the dilemma doesn’t exist, which is why a Venn diagram of climate denialism and support for capitalism is always going to be a near-perfect circle. The second is the entirely faith-based hope that some kind of sustainable technological innovation is going to save the day before our behavior drives us off the cliff of extinction.

Which means the only answer capitalism has for the current plight of our species is the blind-faith belief that the world is about to be saved, any minute now, by a handful of union-busting tech billionaires who choose every single day not to use their vast fortunes to end world hunger. That is the unspoken premise in the argument for the continuation of capitalism.

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Since ideological echo chambers tend to develop their own dialects and definitions which can make cross-ideological conversation damn near impossible, I should clarify that what I mean by capitalism is the current system dominating our world today wherein human behavior is driven as a whole by the pursuit of capital. The current system of profit-seeking and competition as the primary determining factor of what humans are doing on this planet.

Profit-chasing as the driving factor in human behavior is what got us here. As long as it remains profitable to destroy the environment and human behavior is driven by profit, then humans will continue destroying the environment. Inevitably. This will have to happen.

So for purposes of this conversation it’s actually irrelevant whether capitalism enthusiasts believe the current system is “real capitalism” or not, whether you believe the markets are “free” or not, or whether or not you prefer Austrian over Keynesian models of economic theory. Since we’re talking about any system where profit-chasing and competition drives human behavior at mass scale, we are necessarily talking about whatever pet definition of capitalism you happen to prefer.

So there’s no need to play pedantic word games about this.

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So, again, the only argument for our species continuing along its current trajectory is the entirely faith-based belief that some greedy anti-union plutocrat like Elon Musk is going to promote new technologies which make it unprofitable for any humans to destroy the environment, and do so quickly enough to evert ecological disaster. Which is slightly dumber than believing the world has been saved by the election of Joe Biden.

The plutocratic class are not good custodians of our world. They are not good people. They are not wise. They are not even particularly intelligent. They’re just a very profitable sort of clever, and have a willingness to crush anyone who gets in their way.

The plutocratic class has been buying up control over our political systems to ensure maximum profit, buying up news media outlets to propagandize the masses into supporting the status quo they’ve built their kingdoms on, and forming alliances with sociopathic government agencies which murder people around the world to ensure continual US unipolar hegemony. These are the people we’ve placed in charge of the innovation and distribution of emerging technologies, and we’re meant to believe that they will save the world?

They will not. They will keep chasing power and profit until we drive ourselves off the cliff of extinction. It’s all they know how to do.

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We’re never going to compete and consume our way out of the existential crisis we’ve competed and consumed our way into. Capitalism will never make it more profitable to leave a tree standing than to cut it down, to leave fuel sources in the ground rather than dig them up. Money has no wisdom, no matter how inflation-proof and gold-backed you might want to make it. Markets cannot navigate us through this crisis, no matter how “free” you might try to make them. Capitalism is the problem. Not the wrong kind of capitalism. Just capitalism.

The only way humanity survives the looming existential threats of ecological collapse and nuclear war it now faces is if it radically transforms from a competition-based model to a collaboration-based model. One where we collaborate with each other and with our ecosystem to clear the massive hurdles that are rapidly approaching instead of stepping on each other’s heads in a mad scramble to stay afloat and destroying our ecosystemic life support system for profit.

Even if you want to make the extremely debatable claim that socialism has failed everywhere it’s been tried, an earnest reckoning with our situation will force you to admit that capitalism has failed too. Our system of insatiable profit-seeking to the detriment of our world has led us to the brink of extinction, which is as spectacular a failure as any system could possibly manage. How much of a failure is a system that gets everyone killed? All of it. All the fail.

So it’s kind of a nonsensical position to argue that a movement away from competition and profit-seeking is untenable because it’s never been done before, because our current disastrous situation is the direct result of everything we have already tried. Everything we’ve done led us to this point. If we are to survive as a species, we’re necessarily going to have to do something that is entirely unprecedented. We’re going to have to transcend our old patterning and do something completely new.

A world where human behavior is driven by collaboration in the interests of humanity and our ecosystem instead of competition and profit seeking would indeed be wildly unprecedented. Our current crisis is itself also wildly unprecedented. This is evolve-or-die time.

We are living in unprecedented times, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. We need to stop clinging to our old failed ways of doing things and find the courage to step into an entirely new way of being.

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Thanks for reading! The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Poems For Rebels or my old book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.

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Renegade Retrospective 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/12/2020 - 3:01pm in

The retrospective in a year that has been quite quiet and straightforward. 

In this program we look back and bring together the best of some of our guests so you can re-live 2020 in glorious technicolor...

The post Renegade Retrospective 2020 appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Renegade Retrospective 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/12/2020 - 3:01pm in

The retrospective in a year that has been quite quiet and straightforward. 

In this program we look back and bring together the best of some of our guests so you can re-live 2020 in glorious technicolor...

The post Renegade Retrospective 2020 appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Christ Didn’t Shop for Christmas Presents (Much Less Jets and Guns)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/12/2020 - 2:31am in
By Brian Czech

With Christmas two days out, folks are making tough decisions about Christmas presents. Unemployment rates in 2020 have reached their highest rates since the Great Depression, and gift-giving is a real strain for many. My advice for anyone stressing out over Christmas presents is: Don’t be too hard on yourselves. It’s not like you need an excuse to temper the shopping, but if an excuse was needed, the COVID-caused recession would be it!

It’s true that little kids galore are expecting presents from gramma, grampa, and Santa Claus. But is that a good thing to encourage? This year provides a chance for children to learn about the real meaning of Christmas. If you’re a Christian, the meaning should be simple enough to convey. Even if you’re not a Christian, Christmas 2020 is still an opportunity for teaching kids about material scarcity and the need to conserve. They’ll need such lessons for the 21st century!

With or without COVID-19, isn’t it high time for a re-set on the material expectations of Christmas? Christmas lights, reindeer ornaments, inflatable Santas, lit-up geese, larger-than-life snowmen, Big Dots of Happiness…and that’s before we even step inside! Then in the house we have Christmas trees (chopped down or plastic), another set of lights, presents under the tree, and basically the whole set of lawn ornaments in miniaturized form, on and about the tree. Half of this junk is thrown out and replaced the following year.

consumption

What happened to the little, sustainable Nativity set? (Image: CC0, Source)

What happened to the little Nativity set, re-used for decades? It told the real story of Christmas, or Christ’s mass. Made out of wood, no electricity needed, and possibly even hand-carved, it also told a story of sustainable consumption. I like to believe there’s no coincidence here. I believe, in other words, that Christianity and sustainable consumption are supposed to go hand in hand.

Christ Wasn’t Much of a Consumer

I’m no theologian, but I was born and raised a Catholic. I read the Bible and learned the Catechism. All that teaching left me with plenty of uncertainty that plagues me to this day. Yet there’s one thing I’d bet the farm on: Christ was no conspicuous consumer.

The New Testament—supplemented by biblical archeology—has a lot to say about Christ’s lifestyle, starting with food, clothing, and shelter. His diet was typically at the subsistence level, with plenty of fasting. He probably wore a mantle (a type of shawl), sandals, and a one-piece tunic; “extremely basic.” It’s unclear whether Christ ever owned a home. As a child, he lived in a house with Mary and Joseph. A passage in the Book of Mark suggests he might have had a house as an adult. Yet he spent much of his life on the road—on foot—teaching whoever would listen, giving little thought to living quarters.

consumption

Jesus wasn’t into shopping. (Image: CC0, Source)

If Christ had a house at all, I’m guessing it lacked a swimming pool, wine cellar, and gold-plated bedroom.

Let’s face it: Jesus wasn’t much of a shopper. The one time we find him interacting in the marketplace, he’s driving the moneylenders out! This we read in the Book of John:

“In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’”

Of course, those were the days long before the study of “political economy” and debates over laissez-faire capitalism vs. socialism (democratic or authoritarian). It would be crazy to call Christ a Keynesian, a Georgist, or a Marxist. But he sure didn’t find much redemption in the peddling of goods. That’s enough to know with regard to Christmas shopping.

“Prosperity Gospel”— A Theological Oxymoron?

Despite all we read in the Bible about Christ living frugally, we have (primarily in the USA) televangelist pastors who preach a so-called “prosperity gospel,” the notion that Christian faith will lead to material wealth. So, when you give to the church (such as for building a bigger church), it’s sort of a financial investment mixed in with your witnessing for Christ. Theoretically, then, you’d have more money for Christmas presents later.

This prosperity gospel goes back to the late Oral Roberts, and disciples today include the likes of Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and the unbelievably named Creflo Dollar. Dollar owns two Rolls-Royces, a private jet, and multi-million dollar mansions. Another prosperity preacher is Jesse Duplantis, known for inspiring his followers to buy him private jets. Evidently he’s had four of them—“just burning them up for the Lord,” he says. His latest ride is the Falcon 7X. It flies near the speed of sound with noise-limiting acoustic technology, a Bluetooth-enabled entertainment center, and an in-flight shower.

Whatever happened to the teaching of Christ, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24)? Maybe with a jet, you can just blast your way on through there before anyone notices.

That reminds me of a little story. One time I was giving a talk to a small group of faith leaders in Washington, DC. They’d asked me to talk about limits to economic growth and provide a synopsis of the steady state economy. We then went around the group, maybe ten people in all, and discussed the issues. One minister stroked his chin for a moment and then, deep in thought, stated matter-of-factly, “The steady state economy; now that’s the Kingdom of God.”

As I recall, he was an Episcopalian pastor. While he didn’t elaborate with a theological argument, I think he was getting at the fact that Christians wouldn’t be conspicuous consumers. Instead, they would conserve, caring for creation and leaving room for future generations and non-human species. That resonated with me, and it seems consistent with the life of St. Francis and the teachings of Pope Francis, most notably in the Laudato si’, the Pope’s encyclical on “Care for Our Common Home.”

When it comes to consumption and consumerism, who should we put more stock in: Pope Francis or Creflo Dollar?

St. Francis and consumption

St. Francis of Assisi established a Catholic tradition of caring for creation, a tradition underpinning the theology and teachings of Pope Francis. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca)

Which Collection of Semi-Automatic Rifles and Handguns—Plus Designer Ammo and Shooting Accessories—Would Jesus Haul Out with the Hummer to the Thousand-Acre Moving Target Range?

As you might guess from the heading, I’m going full-preacher mode here. Normally I’d have little standing for preaching purposes, but the notion of “God and Guns” is some of the lowest-hanging fruit I’ve ever seen for an ethical critique. It makes as much sense as “Broccoli and Buns.” It’s a pair that just doesn’t fit. That’s relevant here because guns and ammo—and copious paraphernalia—are increasingly common Christmas presents.

I could use any number of sectors or products to illustrate how ludicrous it is to think of conspicuous consumption as congruent with Christianity. Maseratis, mansions, McMansions, fancy furniture, thousand-dollar bottles of wine…let’s keep them all in mind. Yet something is particularly, exceptionally, ridiculously ludicrous in the case of guns, and more broadly the “shooting sports” sector.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against guns per se—far from it. The NRA likes to point out that guns don’t shoot people: people do. Well, by that logic, I’d like to point out that guns didn’t coin the idiotic slogan “God and Guns.” Neither did God. Gun nuts did.

And of course, a lot depends on the type of gun. I’m not against mufflers either, but I don’t like those outlawed mufflers designed to make the most noise. Not many of us do; that’s why they were outlawed! Similarly, assault rifles with hundred-shot drum magazines are obnoxious as hell and let’s face it: they reek of evil.

I grew up in a hunting and fishing culture and I’ve always had a rifle or two (for deer hunting mostly) and a shotgun or two (for turkeys and such). One good firearm lasts a lifetime and more. I take a certain amount of pride, too, in the lost art of using a single rifle shell per year for venison (maybe two if the freezer is low) and maybe a handful of shotgun shells. I don’t mind hearing a few shots in the distance during deer season. In other words, I’m still not against inconspicuous consumption of guns and ammo. I also understand the country-boy resistance to Second Amendment infringement.

But we’re not talking about the Second Amendment here. We’re talking about a 21st-century cultural phenomenon of conspicuous consumption in the shooting sector. It will play out over the holidays in counties across the country.

Most city dwellers know little about this, but we have an entire subculture out in the countryside these days, including weekenders from the city, driving out with Hummers and SUVs, then jumping onto 4-wheelers and spending countless hours pumping out rounds—hundreds per hour—from semi-automatic assault rifles, shooting targets spiked with Tannerite and leaving a nasty footprint specific to the shooting sports. It may not always be visually conspicuous, but if you’re within a mile, your ears will be polluted with the sound of wanton waste of time, energy, and lead.

When gun nuts get rambunctiously political, the visuals can be uglier still.

God and Guns

Google results from “armed protesters” search, 12/22/20.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t picture Jesus Christ with an AR-15. No way. Not for hunting, protesting, or anything at all. Branded as “America’s rifle,” this phenom of the market hits the bullseye only if you’re shooting for a noise-making, peace-wrecking, lead-polluting, obnoxia-producing Christmas present!

In the Name of God

If you’re a Christian—and maybe if you’re not—you have to be really careful with the name of God. That’s the Third Commandment! The “God and Guns” crowd might want to stand down and reload with new rhetoric. Or the God crowd, at least, might want to separate themselves from the gun nuts.

It’s one thing to pair, for example, “God and Guts” (for bravery) or “God and Grits” (for salt-of-the-earth sensibility). Or even something vaguely (very vaguely) geopolitical, like “God and the Grange.” But for God’s sake, “God and Guns?” That’s about as edifying as “God and Gambling” or maybe “God and Gossip.”

Just because you have a right to gamble, gossip, or bear arms doesn’t pair it with God. You have a right to shell peanuts in church, too, but that hardly makes it godly. In my opinion, when you start hearing “God and Guns” chatter, the country’s on the road to perdition.

Similarly, the “prosperity gospel” reeks of “green growth” deceit. It’s just an excuse for extravagant living and greed. I bet Christ would have nothing to do with it.

He wouldn’t be buying many Christmas presents, either. (He might donate to Smile Train, though.)

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post Christ Didn’t Shop for Christmas Presents (Much Less Jets and Guns) appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Corporate Bodies Have No Soul

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/12/2020 - 8:51pm in

William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) was an English essayist, writer, and social commentator. He is considered one of the greatest masters of the English language, but despite his very high standing among historians of literature and art, his work is … Continue reading →

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