Monday, December 24, 2012

Preferential Options for the Rich

The budget negotiations which have taken place over the past weeks in Washington could not have arisen at a more ironically suitable time.  Set against a background of Yuletide trees and Mangers, they allow us to see that the ghoulish gamesmanship taking place in the nation’s capital has pushed the country off a moral cliff.

It is typically said that, at Christmas, those Christians, who have not delivered themselves unto shopping, celebrate hope, renewal and family. While those elements are not untrue, they have been turned into a kind of sentimental kitsch and moral treacle which obscure and soften the in-your-face challenge of the Christmas story. 

At the risk of being overly homiletic, I would to take a step back and contextualize the Nativity so as to bring out its more vivid colors and original impact. For what Christmas really commemorates is the birth of beauty in humility and poverty. 

Each of the Gospel writers emphasize different aspects of Jesus's life according to their audience. The story of Christmas comes to us almost entirely from the Gospel of Saint Luke and it is his account which has the Son of God being born of wayfarers in a manger.

Luke's biography of Jesus was written for the non-Jewish inhabitants of the Greco-Roman world. Not surprisingly, it followed the expected, standard-form pattern of classical biographies: noble lineage, portents at birth, prodigies in youth, career accomplishments, acts of generosity, interesting sayings, public works, portents of death and, if one happens to be an Emperor, an apotheosis, to sit among the gods on Olympus. 

Luke's account is clearly structured as a parody of the expected Roman biography.  But although he follows the form, he inverts the substance. The inversion first takes place in the emblematic Magnificat in which Luke has Mary announce her unexpected conception by saying,

“God has hath regarded the humility of his handmaid... He shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. (Luke 1:51-53)

No self-respecting Greek or Roman would have said such a thing.  The Greeks worshipped excellence and the Romans worshipped success.  Divinity manifested itself in the youth of noble bearing and in the magnus vir.  But Luke is unrelenting.

 “And while they were there, in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger...” (Luke 2:6-7)

Although the Nativity Scene has benefited from the beautification of the world's most skilled painters, the naked facts are not pretty.  To all appearances Mary was homeless. She is first portrayed going "with haste into the hill country" where she enters Elizabeth's house to announce her pregnancy. (Luke 1:39-40)  According to St. Matthew, Joseph contemplated breaking off his engagement to Mary because she was pregnant by no known man. He changed his mind, and the couple are next seen wandering at night, in the middle of winter, 80 miles from Nazareth, while Mary is close to term. (Matt. 1:18-24)

St. Matthew adds that Mary and Joseph put up in a manger because there was no room at the “inn” making it sound to us as if it was all a question of missed reservations. (Matt 2:1-6) However, this is an inaccurate translation because, in those days, there were no inns.  There were no roadside restaurants or even rest areas either.  To travel was to camp out on foot, without the benefit of freeze dried scrambled eggs.  You managed with what you could bargain or carry.  If you were lucky, the locals might offer you hospitality -- a floor to sleep on, some shared morsels to eat. 

By all accounts, Joseph and Mary weren't very lucky.  They are not said to be travelling in a group.  They are living out of the "back of the burro"  and, just as they get to Bethlehem, Mary goes into labor and has to give birth in a cow stall.  What in the world did they use for water?

Luke makes no attempt to mask the wretchedness. Instead, he astonishingly proclaims that, on cue, the Host of Heaven suddenly appeared to a bunch of shepherds to announce the birth of "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!" The shepherds take off running toward the stables, behold the infant Jesus and return hence “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2:8-14)

Two thousand years later, it is hard for us to imagine the kind of jaw-dropping astonishment with which  the average, everyday,  Gaius would have reacted to the story.

Luke foists his listeners on a series of contradictions.  Jesus is descended of nobility; but born in a filthy cow stall a probable bastard of homeless wanderers. As the Host of Heaven sounds its trumpets a Delegation of the Most Honorable Shepherds of the District comes to proffer their good wishes and salutations.  Not till Don Quixote does literature string together such a pile of absurdities.

But it is a pile of absurdities which ultimately transformed the fundamental values of western society.  Luke very intentionally turned the Roman Order on its head. Wealth and Power and Success do not ascend to an Olympus of elite heroes and gods but rather the Most Powerful God of the universe is to be found descended into the womb of failure and hunger and weakness.

It is this descent which became the cornerstone of the Christian creed: “...and He came down from Heaven....”  That filthy, homeless person with a cardboard sign, snivelling in the cold on the curb?  There is your god.

The Romans did not want for symbols of motherhood, family and prosperity.  The Augustan Ara Pacis or Altar of Peace depicts Mother Rome, nurturing her twin sons, flanked by symbols of prosperity -- sheaves of wheat, an ox, a sheep and the winds of commerce between East and West. Luke takes the symbolism and sets it in a cow-stall in one of the most insignificant towns in the entire Empire.

It is from this inversion, that the  Catholic Church derives its  doctrine of the Preferential Option for the Poor which states that in our thoughts and deeds God demands a preference be given to the well-being of the poor and powerless of society.  Saint Augustine, put it this way:

"God does not demand much of you. He asks back what he gave you, and from him you take what is enough for you. The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess superfluities, you possess what belongs to others." (Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 147, 12).


"Christ who is rich in heaven chose to be hungry in the poor. Yet in your humanity you hesitate to give to your fellow human being. Don't you realize that what you give, you give to Christ, from whom you received whatever you have to give in the first place."  (Commentary on Psalm 75,9)

This then is what Christmas is about.  It is about recognizing Christ in poverty and giving to the poor.

And yet, at this very Christmas time, what is the spectacle that Washington presents to the world?  It is the spectacle of powerful, well-stuffed, hypocrites arguing over preferential options for the rich.

House Speaker Boehner wants to limit tax increases to persons making over one million dollars a year, while the President is willing to “compromise” on incomes of $400,000.  What is seldom explained is that the “increase” is not on the full $250,000, or $400,000 or $1 million but only on the excess over those amounts.  In other words, a person who earns one million and ten dollars would only see a 2% increase on the ten dollars above the million.

While the Speaker and the President are haggling over how little to tax the rich and super-rich, House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, is busy telling people that her party has no problem with cutting back on so-called entitlements for the poor. 

In particular, Pelosi has no problem with reducing social security adjustments for inflation, so that, over a ten year period, the average monthly social security check would be reduced by 3%-5% per year. The “chained CPI” -- as the reduction is called -- means that as a person gets older his social “security” life support shrinks.  Last week Pelosi, whose net worth is estimated at 90 million dollars, stated that the chained CPI was not a “cut” in benefits. "I consider it a strengthening of Social Security,” she said.

Social Security does not contribute to the budget deficit which is the spawn of astronomical defense and war spending coupled with tax cuts for the rich.  But even if Social Security contributed to the deficit, the chained CPI “savings” would only amount to $122 billion.  Last year’s defense budget was $680 billion.

This Christmas we would do well to note that the face Washington presents to the world is that of a bloated, snarling, ogre.

©Woodchipgazette, 2012.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Forgotten Purchase

As followers of this trail of chips  might have detected, we chipsters are devotées of the Middle Ages and adamantaly reject the canards of  certain vituperative Frenchmen and  the propagandists of capitalism. 

There is no question that history has witnessed a steady and progressive march of technological progress of which our Age is the latest beneficiary.  However, the chrono-centric notion that we have advanced in our concepts of humanity is so highly dubious as to be considered false.

Equally false, in our view, is the notion indoctrinated into impressionable minds that the Middle Ages were a time of brutish, barbarism.  In our view, a subtler, finer appreciation of the paradoxes of existence permeates medieval consciousness than the matter-bound modern mind set.

We recently came across another Nugget of Interest that corroborates our bias.

Laws of King Canute (995-1035)

“Merciful punishments shall be determined upon for the public good; and the handiwork of God and the purchase which He made at a great price, shall not be destroyed for trivial offences”  (Leges Regis Cnuti, Inst. Leg. Secularium II. De Misericordia in Judicio Habenda, given in Thorpe's Ancient Laws and Institutes of England, (1840) pp. 528-529 [Trans. per. P.H. Sawyer, From Roman Britain to Norman England, (1998, 2d Ed.) ISBN-10: 0415178940, at p. 190.].)

Magna Carta (1215)

“For a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. (Id, (1215) Art. 20.)

Laws of Chief Justice Rhenquist (1980)

"The length of the sentence actually imposed is purely a matter of legislative prerogative.  This is not to say that a proportionality principle would not come into play ... if a legislature made overtime parking a felony punishable by life imprisonment."  Rummel v. Estelle (1980) 445 U.S. 263  274 and fn 11.)

But for an unsignaled lane change?  Well, in that  case...

We would not be so foolish as to think that the Middle Ages were an Age of Perfection but they were a time when men had not forgotten perfection.  Today's jurists thrash about in the swamp of expediencies and, like Rhenquist,  consider "the purchase which He made at a great price" to be an arbitrary "subjective value" which cannot be relied upon in the brave new world of realjur.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Begging & Begging the Question

Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth. -- Lucy Parsons

Faced with massive beggary in Europe, the New York Times met the issue head on by begging the question. The Times reported that, despite austerity protests, Greece and Spain were proceeding with further budget cuts. In Greece, the government "agreed on an austerity package that includes some of the most severe cuts in public pensions ever imposed in a developed country." In Spain, the government "introduced one of the most draconian budgets in the country’s history."

"The markets need reassuring," the Times explained and the cuts were "intended to reassure international investors and demonstrate the fiscal discipline that the euro zone was demanding..."

foto per N.Y. Times

Unlike Greece which had slashed pensions 10 percent, Spain took its cuts of flesh from other parts of the body. "Politically, it is understandable that Mr. Rajoy would want to put a protective bubble around the country’s 10 million retirees at a time when people are marching in the streets," the Times sympathetically intoned before going on to warn that "the fact that Spanish public pensions are being enhanced is a reminder of one reason European debt and deficit problems have proved so difficult to resolve."

What deserves note is not that budget cuts are being made but rather that the Times simply assumes that the "deficit problems" can only be "resolved"  by starving pensioners.   Entitlements  (i.e., people entitlements) are the problem and once pensions are cut the difficulty will be solved.  Never once does the Times question whether perhaps people -- and not "markets"-- need reassuring. Never once does the Times question the Moloch that demands the sacrifice of babies.

For the past nine months or so we have been thinking about Marx's Fetish of the Commodity and have been whittling away at a chip on the subject, but the Times report -- which is simply a reflection of what the Establishment thinks -- about sums it up. And what the New World Order demands is a Shylockian "economy" on a ferocious scale. We are in need of a Portia or a Parsons. 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Culture of Imbecility

A blogger we came across asks whether it is true that Americans have fostered a "culture of dependency."

The short answer is that "societas" is a compact for mutual dependence (well duh, right?), which is why Aristotle (some old greek) said that society's foundation as well as its ultimate purpose was friendship.

Constant repetition of the Robinsonnade (vid: Grundrisse, Ch. 1) has given rise to a culture of egoism which has made Americans socially stupid.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Political Howl

We had better things to chip at than to watch the Republican Party convention; however, short of living in a remote cabin, it is impossible to isolate one's self from the "news stream" that has become something of an Orwellian ether which is omni-present and all-permeating.

So it was we read that the media were not happy with Ryan's speech which was strewn with lies -- not seeming lies, not plausible lies, but lies which lay beyond the pale. 

The candidates' speeches, intoned the New York  Times, "seemed to signal the arrival of a campaign in which fact-checking concerns have largely been set aside"  But, queried James Bennet of the Atlantic, "what if it turns out that when the press calls a lie a lie, nobody cares?”  Alas, replied the Times, "blatant falsehoods like those of the Romney-Ryan campaign are only possible because Americans no longer expect to hear the truth."

No longer?  Perhaps. But we would first ask of the Times - what exactly is a blatant falsehood and how does it differ from a mere falsehood? Is a blatant falsehood one that is totally unacceptable as opposed to merely unacceptable?

Totales unannehmbar! Where had we heard such phrases before? According to Viktor Klemperer, the philologist who studied the Nazi use and abuse of language (Lingua Tertii Imperii  (1947) ), such hyperbolic ambiguation was among the linguistic devices employed by the regime to corrupt language and, hence, thought.  

If something is unacceptable, it cannot be accepted.  "Totally unacceptable" supplies a howl of emphasis that it really really cannot be accepted.  But this howl of necessity implies that there could be some unacceptable things which are, at least to some extent, acceptable.  But the acceptably unacceptable is nonsense,  and the persistent use of such urgent and insistent  hyperbole reduces speech to a din of shouts embodying latent contradictions.

To say that the Nazis "employed" such devices unduly suggests intentionality. It is perhaps more accurate to say simply that that was their usage.  Conrad Heiden, a social democratic parliamentarian who fled to the United States in 1936, wrote that National Socialist leaders and administrators were drawn from a class of "intellectual brutes" -- men whose professional training and native intellegence implemented and amplified a brutish core.  In other words, they barked, snarled and howled only they were "intellectual" enough to do it in words. 

Howling and lying are nothing new in politics.  Cleon's speeches to the Athenian assembly, Anthony's waving of Casesar's bloody toga, Innocent the Third's cry of Deus lo vult were hardly emblematic of reasoned discourse.  The sorry truth is that civil society is only a whisper away from the wolf pack.

Neither is the corruption of language anything new. In a famous passage in his history of the Peloponnesian War Thucydides discusses the "revolution" in speech that accompanies, and is in fact, the precursor to civil dissolution.

The ancient Greeks understood very keenly that to be a political animal is to be a speaking animal; for it is words, says Aristotle, which enable us "to decide the expedient and the inexpedient and to distinguish the just from the unjust."

American intellectual and political life is in such a pathetic state because grammar is not taught in what used to be called Grammar School and because social scientists and sociologists run roughshod over syntax in a rush toward something called "hard facts".  

The consequences of blurring distinctions is illustrated by the much-used term "potential suspect."  A suspect is a person who may be guilty of some crime; thus a "potential suspect" is a person who possibly, may be guilty of something.  But of course anyone is possibly guilty of something.  The term renders us all all potential suspects -- or perhaps merely suspects but in all events warranting surveillance.

Even the appellate judiciary, which supposedly makes a profession of precise speech, runs roughshod over the plain meaning of words.  Among other weirdnesses of speech, it has, in recent years, dredged up the oxymoronic concept of an "ongoing emergency" once so favored by despots who suspend the rule of law on an ongoing temporary basis. 

In Michigan v Bryant (2011) 562 U.S. ___, Justice Sotomayor defined an "ongoing emergency" as one in which the police need to "'assess the situation, the threat to their own safety, and [the] possible danger to the potential victim'".  Left undefined were the contours of a possible, possibility of harm (i.e. 'danger') to a person who might possibly be or become a victim. 

If the Supreme Court can "think" this way, it is no surprise the run of the mill appellate courts are even worse.  In one California case we are familiar with, the Court of Appeal rejected an argument against punishing recidivist status by stating, "appellant was not punished for his recidivist status but for being an habitual criminal."

Such blatherings are really no more than articulated howls; sounds of wrath wrapped in the tissue of words.

It is true that sophistry has a legitimate role to play in law, politics and theatre (which are all much the same thing).  The maleability and ambiguity of shades of meaning is what allows language and thought to develop just as dissonance can give rise to new and engaging harmonies.

I would venture to say that the difference between Socrates and the Sophists was not that Socrates did not employ subtle tricks of logic and rhetoric (he did), but that he did so with a good faith desire to elucidate as opposed to bad faith and cunning aim to confuse.  

The same applies to judicial politics.  The structure of federal legislative power rests on Justice Marshall's somewhat dubious distinction between "absolutely necessary" and merely, ordinarily "necessary."  (McCulloch v. Maryland  (1819) 17 U.S. 316 )  One can disagree with Marshall's concept of federalism; one can call him sly, but  his play on words had a constructive purpose. 

Neverthless, as Aristotle would also say, moderation in all things. A persistent and pervasive misuse of language batters words into articulated mush with predictable effects on the brain.

The vast heap of slogans, labels, oxymorons, pleonasms and other grammatical mutations that comprise American social, political and judicial discourse today did not heap-up on account of some judicious play of what the French poet Valéry called sons et sens.  It arose from a culture of linguistic abuse.

By chance, we were perusing our friend Alexis de Tocqueville who had some relevant things to say on the matter.  A passionate materialism and insistence on equality, he wrote, rendered Americans impetuous, restless and indifferent to the dictates of reason. 

"I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. The Americans have no philosophical school of their own, and they care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided, the very names of which are scarcely known to them.  ¶  To evade the bondage of system and habit,.... [is] the principal characteristic[ ] of what I shall call the philosophical method of the Americans.
"As to the influence which the intellect of one man may have on that of another, it must necessarily be very limited in a country where the citizens, placed on an equal footing, ... are constantly brought back to their own reason as the most obvious and proximate source of truth. It is not only confidence in this or that man which is destroyed, but the disposition to trust the authority of any man whatsoever. Everyone shuts himself up tightly within himself and insists upon judging the world from there.  ...  As they perceive that they succeed in resolving without assistance all the little difficulties which their practical life presents, they readily conclude that everything in the world may be explained, and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding.  .... . This disposition of mind soon leads them to condemn forms, which they regard as useless and inconvenient veils placed between them and the truth."  (Democracy in America, Book II, Sec. 1, ch. 1.)
• • •  
"[T]he desire of acquiring the good things of this world is the prevailing passion of the American people ... And yet, "[f]rom time to time strange sects arise, which endeavor to strike out extraordinary paths to eternal happiness. Religious insanity is very common in the United States."  ( Op. Cit., Book II, Sec. 2, ch. 12.)

Of course all this was as of 1831, before the advent of that thing known as "mass communication." The very term ought to give rise to suspicion if  suspicion were not already superceded by the reality of a society and culture grounded in hucksterism and kitsch.

A daily barrage of advertising which blares spurious claims and insinuated benefits has stupefied our minds into an acquiesent inactivity which accepts without question whatever is asserted in much the way babies gurgle and coo when  brightly coloured rattles are rattled before their eyes.  Our heroes and myths rather than inspiring occasional remembrance and enthusiasm blunt our sentiments under a narcotic pall of vulgar, flashy concoctions all of which ultimately serve to gratify our national vanity.

"The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. The most slender eulogy is acceptable to them, the most exalted seldom contents them;  ....  Their vanity is not only greedy, but restless and jealous; it will grant nothing, while it demands everything, but is ready to beg and to quarrel at the same time. If I say to an American that the country he lives in is a fine one, "Ay," he replies, "there is not its equal in the world." It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it."  (Op. Cit., Book  II, Sec. 3,  ch 16.)

And so it was that it took but a passing glance to see in the rosy, white faces of the cheering Republicans all the vainglory and aggression of which Americans are capable.  Theirs were the whoops and howls of ego indulging itself and snarling at the "not me".  

It will be little different in the Democratic convention which will indulge a different version of l'amour propre under a barely indistinguishable set of noisy platitudes accompanied by a noise of nonsensical cheering. 

"Yet in the end the spectacle of this excited community becomes monotonous, and after having watched the moving pageant for a time, the spectator is tired of it.". (Op. cit., Bk II, sec 3, ch. 17.)

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012


Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Poisonous Tree

There once was a tree that bore poisonous fruit. A young girl walking through the orchard ate one of its delicious berries and died.  The farmers in the village got together and decided to cut off the branch that had borne the poisoned fruit.

But a month later an old man died, he said, from fruit plucked from the tree.  Again, the village farmers met. “He was old and sick anyways,” said some.  But others answered that his infirmities were not to blame.  After much debate, the farmers decided to cut off the offending branch.

A month further on, the farmers began to discover dead squirrels and birds in the vicinity of the tree.  It seemed they had all eaten the tree’s poisoned fruits.  The villagers met again but could not decide which branch to cut or how many.  As they wrangled on, a young boy stood up and said: “The tree is poisoned; why don’t you cut it down and be done with it?”

But others replied that the tree was too fruitful to be cut down.  It was the largest tree in the orchard, it produced a plentiful harvest and, what’s more, provided copious nesting places for birds.  It had been there since the village was founded.  “All that may be true,” said the boy, “but it is poisoning all who eat of it, and you will all die.”

So the farmers assembled and cut the tree down.  They pulled out its stump and extirpated its roots.  They cleansed the surrounding soil and in the fresh sod they planted a young sappling which in time grew even larger than the old tree and yielded plentiful, wholesome fruit.


Every day my mail box is filled with causes.  A friend forwards a petition to prevent some proposed bill.  An organization asks for money to save a forest. The non-mainstream news if filled with outrages: police brutality, denial of health care, environmental destruction, denial of justice, unemployment, homelessness, educational debt, cut backs to pensions, malnutrition, exploitation of women and child slavery, corporate graft, political corruption and more corporate graft.  It is simply overwhelming.  And being overwhelming, the attempt to oppose and reform each of these evils becomes exhausting and ends in futility and despair.

The world is awash in poisoned fruit. What is the root of this evil?  The system which prevails is grounded in the private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit. The only logical conclusion is that this tree must be  removed, root and branch, and replaced with its antidote: the collective control of the means of production and the generation of goods or services in accord with sustainable need. 

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th's Unsung Prophet



The love which I profess for Your Majesty, the just recognition of the honors with which you have distinguished me and the affection I bear for my Country, move me to submit to Your sovereign attention some thoughts I consider to be of interest in the present circumstances....

The American colonies have achieved independence; this is my sorrow and misgiving.

This Federated Republic is born, shall we say, a pygmy be cause it has been formed and given its existence through the power of France and Spain who assisted it in gaining its independence.  But tomorrow, as it consolidates its constitution, it will be a giant; and after that it will become an irresistible colossus in those regions.  It will then forget the favors and benefits received from those foreign powers [who came to its aid] and will think only of its own aggrandizement.

The liberty of religion, the ease of establishing settlements within immense boundaries and the benefits offered by the new government, will call forth laborers and artisans from all nations, because men go where they think fortune will smile; and within a few years we will behold the menacing colossus of which I have spoken.

Thus fortified, we should apprehend that the Anglo-American power will cast its first sights on the full acquisition of the Floridas from whence it will seek to extend its dominion into the heart of Mexico.  Not only will it interdict  our commerce with Mexico at will but it will aspire to conquer those vast imperial regions, which we will not be able to defend from European shores....

Man is the same everywhere; the difference in climate does not change human nature or sentiments: he who is presented with an opportunity to acquire power and enrichment will do so... How could we expect that the Americans should respect New Spain [Mexico] when they shall have the opportunity to take over that rich and beautiful country? ... [fn.1]

After much investigation and reflection on the political and military aspects of this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the following measures are the only way to avoid such a great loss to us:

1.    That Your Majesty cede all your American possessions, except for Cuba and Puerto Rico, ... in a manner as will most expediently establish three princes of Your Blood as Kings of Mexico, Peru and the Other Lands, retaining for Yourself, the title of Emperor. 

. . .

4.    That said sovereigns and their issue be resolved to marry with Spanish royalty and vice versa so that all four kingdoms may forever be bound in an indissoluble union. ...

5.    That the four nations consider themselves as one for purposes of reciprocal commerce, maintaining in perpetuity the strictest offensive and defensive alliance for their protection and development.  ...

6.    That France, our ally, undertake to provide the former colonies with such finished goods as we ourselves do not manufacture ...  pursuant to treaties with us and France ... and to the absolute exclusion of England.

. . .

This is, in the main, the idea which I have formed with respect to this delicate matter, and if it meets with Your Sovereign approval, I will enter into negotiations in the most secret and cautious manner....


The Count of Aranda is the unsung prophet of American greatness, who understood what the nascent United States were about without the obfuscations of sentimental hortatory.

Translation © Woodchip Gazette, 2012

FN1:  It appears that the memorandum underwent two drafts, the first and second being recorded in a single document.  This paragraph is from the second draft which is somewhat more elaborated and takes into account various ongoing diplomatic developments.  The substance of both drafts is the same.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pope Benedict Mistakenly Corrects Himself.

As readers of these woodchips might know, we have long been impressed by Pope Benedict’s erudition, kindliness and (very dry) wit. It has seemed to us that Benedict has been unfairly libelled by a materialist-liberal press out to destroy his moral authority and animated by a long standing ideological hatred of the Catholic Church.

This is not to say that we chipsters are out to defend everything the Church does or teaches. But it is to say that the Catholic Church stands for and advocates an existential-moral tradition which is deeply and extensively thought out and which deserves considered respect.

The Church’s sexual doctrine is grounded in its greater concepts concerning the sanctity of all life. In the Church’s view, there is an animating life-force which permeates all of Creation and with which we do best to harmonize ourselves.

The harmony spoken of is not some hippiesque, religious kitsch of floating with the flow in Aquarian, Gurdjieffian “self-realized” bliss. “I am in touch with Me and Myself” is not the harmony the Church references. The harmony referenced is greater than that which can be conceived, and encompasses things which appear to us as evil as well as good.

Most fundamentally the Church rejects Manicheism - the notion that the cosmos can be divided into opposed forces of good and evil. Orthodox Christianity insists that it is all good, even the bloody and useless Crucifixion of God himself. Therein is the paradox; and there too the heresy of Puritanism which thinks we can explain away what we don’t like and kosher our way towards something called “goodliness” by making ourselves clean and useful.

Karl Jung put it simply enough. In the end, he said, man has a choice either to deny or to affirm. There is, ultimately, no reason to chose one or the other; but everything else flows from the decision made.

It is foolish, we think, to hope for that day of redemption when “stalk and flower” shall perceive that “no foot of man shall crush them.” (Wagner, Parsifal.) Nature is full of crushing and violence and bloodied tooth and fang. But when we behold this mighty and radiant work which lies between two eternities of darkness, do we reject it or accept it? God, we are told, beheld his Creation and affirmed that it was good.

But if we choose to accept it, we necessarily chose to accept things which are beyond our comprehension and perhaps beyond our strength to bear. We choose not to deny some part of it that may be baffling or inconvenient or unpleasing to us.

And yet, it is this rejection that forms the basis of the materialistic liberalism of the present day, which trumpets a propaganda of convenience and utilitarianism guided only by ego. Would that this were true Epicurianism; for, Epicurus was a brilliant and serious philosopher. But it is not; and there is a difference between what Epicurus taught and mere self-indulgence.

In excoriating what we have called “materialistic liberalism” we do not mean to say that we oppose specific policies advocated by so-called “liberals” -- in particular policies on contraception, marriage, abortion, or termination of life. What we mean is that these policies are not well-grounded in a coherent moral view that goes beyond mere expedience. And, assuming there is nothing wrong with advocating expediencies, it is still childish and vituperative to attack the Church for trying to advocate something more permanent and solid.

Given these considerations, we have been open to hearing what Pope Benedict has had to say on love, faith and social justice. We wish some of his more antagonistic critics would actually take the time to read him and, if necessary, to trouble themselves reading the great authors of the Helleno-Christian tradition with whom Benedict is carrying on a discussion.

What we have taken away from his encyclicals can be distilled into three primary points.

On the question of social justice, Benedict reminds us that regardless of historical conditions and irrespective of the particular type of political-economy we chose, our private and public actions must be animated by a preferential option for the poor. The phrase, if pondered, needs no further explanation.

On the question of faith, Benedict reasserts that faith is not an interiorized, subjective attitude but a social phenomenon. Faith is not me, my interpretations and my Cosmic Teddy Bear guiding me into the wilderness; but rather a habit of hope which springs from and exists only in civilised communion with others. Just as a life force animates all of creation and is impossible without the creation it animates, so too faith is impossible without the society it nurtures.

On the question of love, Benedict unequivocally moved to make one of what he wryly calls “tacit corrections” of unchangeable doctrine. Eros, he said, was not to be seen as the opponent of true spiritual love but as rather the natural and necessary precursor to deeper and higher forms of caring for one another. Eros could not be viewed simply as a “biological” mechanism but should be seen as the delightful and urgent process by which we are pulled out of ourselves, towards another whom we come to know, appreciate and care for in ever deepening and more permanent ways.

Those three propositions have struck us as fundamentally and radically progressive. And it has struck us as shameful that avowedly progressive elements in Western (and particularly Anglo-American society) have ignored the opportunity and hand offered by the Pope.

It was thus with a certain dismay that we read Benedict’s latest address to the American bishops in which he said,

“[P]articular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike."

POPE DENOUNCES GAY MARRIAGE” blared the headlines. He hadn’t before, but he has now. Insiders may know that the Pope really did not draft the remarks, just as he does not draft the scores of homilies, greetings, letters, exhortations, advices etc. issued by “the Vatican” in any given week. Perhaps he was cornered by “conservatives” in the hierarchy opposed to his “tacit corrections.” But it makes no difference, the bull bears his seal.

It is a shame that Benedict has fallen in with those reactionary pharisees in the Church who would rather blast at homos than raise so much as a timorous voice against the devastation done to society and society’s children by neo-liberal economic policies, neo-conservative killer drones, pollution, prostitution and slave labor. A sentence can undo a corpus and damnation as well as salvation ensues from a single step.

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Holmberg's Mistake as Policy

In his provocative study of pre-Columbian AmerIndian civilizations (1491), historian Charles C. Mann discusses what he calls Holmberg’s Mistake.

Between 1940 and 1942, anthropologist Allan Holmberg went to live among the pre-historic Sirionó of Bolivia whom he described in a later best-seller titled Nomads of the Longbow (1950). According to Holmberg, the Sirionó were “among the most culturally backward people of the world” living in naked hunger under haphazard lean-to’s exposed to rain and vermin, without husbandry or agriculture, without religion or music and incapable of counting beyond three -- the very picture, Holmberg concluded, of “man in the raw state of nature” by-passed by 20,000 years of slow and painful progress.

As it turns out, Holmberg was completely wrong. Far from having glimpsed through the historical hour-glass at Man’s wretched and beastly prototypes, Holmberg had stumbled across the debased and degraded remains of populous civilizations wasted by epidemics and reduced to servitude by a predatory colonialism, aided and abetted by the Bolivian military. The Sirionó were not “wandering” in the forests but hiding from their abusers. “It was as if,” Mann writes, one “had come across refugees from a Nazi concentration camp and concluded that they belonged to a culture that had always been barefoot and starving.”

For some reason, I thought of Gaza. Contrary to the propaganda of our Times, Palestine had not been a “desert” but a fertile land of villages and orchards from whence the bourgeoisie of Europe obtained their olives, fruits and jams. Today, Gaza is a vast walled-in ghetto, steeped in its own sewage, enduring endemic shortages of water, electricity and food, its children suffering from chronic malnutrition. In such conditions, cultural and political cohesion necessarily fragments. Today, the Palestinians are increasingly incapable of concerted political action. They lack not only the wherewithal but, increasingly, the intellect and the will. They are, before our eyes, being reduced to a lumpen sub-proletariate capable only of primitive outbursts which are easily controlled and slapped down by their thuggish Jewish overlords.

But it is not just Gaza. Around the world we can witness instances of physio-social degradation as policy: the favelas of Brazil or Peru where ragged children sniff glue for breakfast and whore their bodies at night; the stinking garbage heaps of Mexico, India, Pakistan, China which --in place of rich and fertile earth -- form the “substrata” of existence. We see the policy at work in the blasted rubble of Iraq, in the squalid, leaky tenements of St. Petersburg and in what affirmative aktion and benign neglect have done to African Americans as to American Indians before them. Firewater and crack are worth legions of cavalry or booted SWAT teams.

More ominously (if that can be believed), we see the policy at work in the indignant austerity riots breaking out in Europe. What has to be realized is that the world’s banker governments are institutionalizing austerity so as to make scarcity and scrounging a permanent way of life for billions of human beings. This policy is no longer even spoken of as a temporary “belt tightening” -- as if being put on a healthy regimen of exercise and diet. The ever subserving press is subtly massaging the way we speak so as to induce an acquiescence of austerity as normal and natural.

In the United State, the regime has simply written off 40 million Americans. They are the “structurally unemployed”. They are, literally, no longer counted. As for the official poor which are counted, Romney’s disdainful answer was “they have their cake.” In times past, a remark like that would have cost Romney and his family brood their heads. Today it paves his way.

As for those above the official poverty line, they have their amusements and teeVees -- technologically complex devices which produce (mirabilis dictu!) the same stupefying effect as primitive rattles and drums.

An equally stupefied “educational” system inculcates people with a stuffing of half-truths, simplicities, and outright nonsense. What Americans are hardly aware of is that the moronization of culture applies equally to the country’s intellectual elite who are themselves careless of grammar (without which acuity is not possible) and ignorant of historical and cultural paradox (without which perspective is not possible).

In Europe, even Der Spiegel, which is hardly Die Zeit or Le Monde Diplomatique, chokes with disbelief on the sheer imbecility of U.S. political “discourse”. In contrast, the New York Times and WaPo report without a blanch, the beyond Dada inanity of the GOP debates. It is as if the press seriously reported on the hee-hawing of donkeys.

The collective mental degradation thus perpetuated is no different than Himmler’s notorious educational programme for occupied Russia. No need to teach the Slavs to count beyond ten, he said. The purpose now, as well as then, goes deeper than getting the oppressed to accept their overlords. It is rather to get them to accept their misery. It is to insure that when the time comes to toss more millions on the garbage heaps of society, people will be too goddamn stupid to notice. In fact, they will think they are well off, like the denizens of Stanislaus Lem’s Futurological Congress who inhabited a hallucinogenically induced happy, prosperous realité faux.

The sad thing is that there is a trip-line beyond which recovery is no longer possible. Like desertification, or acidification, Holmberg’s mistake teaches us that generational deprivation reaches genetic threshold past which the damage is permanent. One is left with a species that is itself little more than vermin. In fact, biologically speaking, vermin are better off. Who knows... perhaps spiritually as well.

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Heresy in America

A friend Woodchips asked us what we thought of Chris Hedges' recent article decrying evangelical Christianity as a fascist ploy.

Oh bah.

Chris Hedges is one of those St. Johnny come-latelies who read Thucydides at age 40 and then "discover" all sorts of neat and nifty insights which they sagaciously blab about in Jane Fonda style to gaping groupies. He is part of a coterie of "liberal" mutual back-scratchers and self-promoters. As a whole, they are the prime products of America's dismal, dysfunctional educational system, given to emitting such blooping barbarities as, "I just had an epiphany!!!" Oh wow... [FN-1]

Hedges latest opus on "Christian Fascism" is a case in point.

First off, it is hand-me down material. He ought to at least give credit to Upton Sinclair who --- back in the Thirties -- coined the bon mot that when "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Snore.

Secondly, these morons -- including Sinclair -- are too scrambled-brained to figure out that the coming of fascism to America would be a good thing. For them, "fascism" serves as the bete noire in a neo-manichean weltanschaunng. It is the Big Yuk Icky Poo of all phoochies. In truth, fascism is very simply the "middle way" between true socialism and true liberalism (capitalism). It posits neither laissez faire nor the abolishment of classes but rather the cooperation between classes in a coordinated scheme of collective and mutual responsibilities. Bismarck came up with the idea. Croley cribbed it (The Promise of American Life (1909)) Teddy ran with it (Osawatomie, Kansas), FDR Calvinized it and Hitler melded it with Pan German jingoism. But from the point of view of political economies, it is all the same thing.

By its very nature, fascism entails a high degree of police power (aka state regulatory power) -- what the GOP bitches and moans over as "gubmint intrusion". They key is how to exert police power over the economy, zoning and like matters without intruding on privacy and political/religious/cultural expression. For a while, the USA, whose fascism was lite opera rather than Wagner, probably did the best job of modulation.

There were some systems, notably Franco's Spain, which looked fascist but really were not. They looked fascist because they spoke the same kind of cultural nationalism that Germany and Italy were speaking, because they were all allied against Soviet Communism and because they all repressed opposition. But Franco's Spain, "betrayed" the Falange (the "National Syndicalists") and ended up simply a reactionary military dictatorship, with virtually none of the social safety net that characterized Germany or even Italy .

What morons like Hedges do, is to adopt without knowing or understanding the communist/socialist critique of fascism as being a "degenerate form" of capitalism. What communists meant was that fascism represented capitalism in its death throws -- a rear-guard action designed to placate the masses with social benefits (false embourgeoisement is the technical term) while holding onto the essentials of capitalist privilege. The communists were not "opposed" to fascism. They welcomed it in so far as it represented what they felt was a necessary historical progression away from liberalism. They opposed it in so far as fascist regimes repressed them and insofar as fascism promoted itself as a permanent socio-economic solution. They just as much opposed the so-called "social democrats" or reformist socialists whom Lenin scathingly called "social chauvinists". FN-2

Third. What Hedges (and Sinclair) fail to understand is that "Christian Fascism" came to America on the fucking Mayflower. It is what this country is about and it is why FDR had to Calvinize his varietal fascism with recourse to a fog of homiletic tissue about liberality towards the deserving poor.

It's pretty simple, actually. The individualism and subjective refuge Hedges blabbers about is the damn essence of the Protestant Heresy. Pope Benedict criticises the Lutheran "mistake" as an interiorization of faith which, properly speaking, is essentially and necessarily social. De Tocqueville critcised the phenomenon as "individualism" -- a word he coined and which he did not intend as a compliment. Marx criticised the same attitude as a Robinsonnade which he says is the hobby-horse of capitalist apologetics: me, my hatchet and the wilderness... blah blah blah.

The idea that "God leads me to my wealth" is hardly a new thing. It is what this America is about. The whole country is simply "Satan's Synagogue" (Sahagun's apt phrase for the heretical "reformists"). It is collectively steeped in the atomization of self and self-delusions. In this respect there is no difference between evangelical fundamentalists and their dialectical opponents, the advocates of Foetus Flush and Self Realization. The reason the country is mired in a so-called "culture war" is that has fallen into the pit of self-love,

" .... l'amour de soi-même, et de toutes choses pour soi ; il rend les hommes idolâtres d'eux-mêmes, et les rendrait les tyrans des autres si la fortune leur en donnait les moyens ; .... On ne peut sonder la profondeur, ni percer les ténèbres de ses abîmes. Là il est à couvert des yeux les plus pénétrants ; il y fait mille insensibles tours et retours. Là il est souvent invisible à lui-même, il y conçoit, il y nourrit, et il y élève, sans le savoir, un grand nombre d'affections et de haines ; il en forme de si monstrueuses que, lorsqu'il les a mises au jour, il les méconnaît, ou il ne peut se résoudre à les avouer." ( La Rochefoucault, Maximes)

Who also said, aptly enough, that youth thinks of itself as "free and natural" when it is in fact no more than "ignorant and ill-polished". I've liked La Rochefoucault since I was 19. Maybe Hedges and his groupies will get around to discovering him one day.

©WCG, 2012.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hunting the Wrong Beast

Once again, elements of the secular and corporate media have raised the hew and howl against Pope Benedict XVI for -- or so they say -- condemning homosexuality as a “threat to humanity.” The Pope said no such thing.

One wonders if there are people whose need for self differentiation is so strong that they yearn to be persecuted from which conflict they draw a sustaining, albeit, negative energy.

There is little to wonder that the corporate media, under the guise of social “liberalism”, wishes to destroy the moral authority and credibility of the Church which, notwithstanding irredentist excesses on its own part, is often the only voice of connection and sanity in an otherwise increasingly deranged and debased world.

In the traditional New Years welcome to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican and after the usual pleasantries, this is what the Pope said:

"Today’s meeting traditionally takes place at the end of the Christmas season, during which the Church celebrates the coming of the Saviour. He comes in the dark of night and so his presence is immediately a source of light and joy (cf. Lk 2:9-10). Truly the world is gloomy wherever it is not brightened by God’s light! Truly the world is dark wherever men and women no longer acknowledge their bond with the Creator and thereby endanger their relation to other creatures and to creation itself. The present moment is sadly marked by a profound disquiet and the various crises – economic, political and social – are a dramatic expression of this."

Why not a headline saying: Pope Decries Materialization of Nature as a Threat to Existence Itself.

The Pope went on to “address before all else” the global economic crises which he said required all countries, particularly the developed ones, to fashion policies which not only “shore up national economies” but “which ensure that all can lead a dignified life and develop their abilities for the benefit of the community as a whole.”

Why not a headline saying: Pope Calls for Economic Policies which Promote Individual Dignity and the Public Good.

The Pope then addressed the Occupy and Indignado movements, particularly those in the Middle East, stating that the “need for social solidarity” should not be turned into a “mere means for maintaining or seizing power.” He then called for national reconciliation in Iraq and a solid two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Why not a headline reading: In Wake of Failure of U.S. Interventions, Pope calls for National and Inter-Ethnic Reconciliation in Middle East.

Benedict then returned to the question of youth, and the need for an educational response to young people’s “demand” for truth, justice and peace. In this connection the Pope stated:

“Education is a crucial theme for every generation, for it determines the healthy development of each person and the future of all society. It thus represents a task of primary importance in this difficult and demanding time. In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue.”

How in the world does this equate with “homosexuality imperils civilization”? It does not. Benedict simply expressed the traditional view in most societies the educational formation begins most fundamentally within the family context.

Jean Piaget, the groundbreaking cognitive psychologist (1896-1980), would hardly disagree. In Piaget’s view, which is now generally accepted in the scientific community, a child’s character and intellectual development are formed less by formal training and teaching than through processes of assimilation and accommodation within his immediate social environment. It was with reference to this developmental setting that Piaget stated, "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”

It is hardly a secret that the Church’s moral doctrine is cut from a unitary cloth the fundamental weave of which is the sanctity and natural unfolding of all life. In the Church’s view, abortion and environmental protection are not separate issues.

Thus, in his diplomatic address, the Pope went on to state that policies which “promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity.” He then concluded his address stating,

“Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. ... Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development.”

The way in which Benedict’s remarks get distorted by the secular and corporate press is nothing short of malicious or hysterical. And what the hysteria overlooks is the subtlety with which Benedict opens Church doctrine to accommodation.

The Pope did not state, as John Paul II would have, that a child’s proper education could take place only within the traditional setting of heterosexual marriage. He stated rather that “among” educational settings “pride of place” went to the traditional family unit. Well ... duh. Most of the world is, after all, heterosexual and, ergo, child bearing. It is really rather petulant to expect the Pope to not address what concerns 90% of humanity in order to specifically validate LGTG issues. What the petulance ignores is the immense flexibility built into the phrase “pride of place.” Yes, the traditional male-female family may sit at the head of the table but that does not ipso facto exclude other families from sitting at the table too.

Equally ignored was the flexibility inherent in a criticism of abortion “for reasons of convenience” or “questionable medical motives”. The use of such phrases clearly implies that there may be reasons for abortion which are necessary and/or beyond dispute.

It is also beyond dispute that, within the Church, there are hardline conservatives, such as Madrid’s Cardinal Ruoco Varela, who categorically condemn all abortion and all “alternative” sexuality not aimed and intended at procreation. But Pope Benedict is not among them. He has consistently worked quietly and subtly to manoeuver the Church into a more assimilative and accommodation position on sexuality which, at the same time, does not give into the disconnected, self-gratifying expediency of materialistic, social-liberal thought -- what used to be called libertinage.

It seems that elements in the so-called “left” want the Church to change positions with alacrity of a Romney and to announce opinions in the sterling timbre of a Jane Fonda. It will do neither, and thank God for that.

This is not to say that the Church does not need to further “refine and develop” doctrines on sexuality which have hitherto injured too many at the expense of an all embracing charity. Benedict himself has wryly acknowledged the roll of such “tacit corrections” within the Church’s magisterium. Those who would welcome such adjustments would do better to leave off hunting beasts to snarl at and listen more carefully to the sparrow on the branch.

©Woodchip Gazette, 2012