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.