The Missing Faith Dimension of the Capitalism vs. Socialism Debate

Jesus Communist

Democracy Now recently reported surprising results from a new Gallup poll about evolving attitudes in this country about socialism. The poll concluded that by a 57-47% majority, U.S. Democrats currently view socialism more positively than capitalism.

Let me offer some reflections sparked by those poll results. I offer them in the light of some pushback I received over my related blog posting about the capitalism vs. socialism debate. These current reflections will emphasize the faith perspective that has not only shaped my own world vision, but that should mobilize Christians to be more sympathetic to socialist ideals.

To begin with, the Gallup poll results are themselves astounding in view of the fact that since after World War II all of us have been subjected to non-stop vilification of socialism. As economist and historian, Richard Wolff, continually observes Americans’ overcoming such programming is nothing less than breath-taking. It means that something new is afoot in our culture.

On the other hand, the Gallup results should not be that shocking. That’s because since 2016, we’ve become used to an avowed socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, being the most popular politician in the country.

On top of that the recent 14-point victory of another socialist, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, grabbed everyone’s attention. Recall that Ms. Cortez defeated 10-term congressional incumbent, Joe Crowley, in her NYC race for the Bronx and Queens seat in the House of Representatives.

Socialist candidates seem to be sprouting up everywhere. They advocate a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and tuition free college education.

Such promises seem to be somehow awakening Americans (at least subconsciously) to the reality that at least since WWII, similar socialist programs have become quite familiar. We’ve all experienced their efficacy since Roosevelt’s New Deal. We expect the government to intervene in the market to make our lives better.

In fact, since the second Great War, there have been no real capitalist or socialist economies anywhere in the world. Instead, all we’ve experienced are mixed economies with huge elements of socialism that we’ve all taken for granted.

Put otherwise, economies across the globe (however they’ve identified themselves) have all combined the three elements of capitalism: (1) private ownership of the means of production, (2) free and open markets, and (3) unlimited earnings, with the corresponding and opposite elements of socialism: (1) public ownership of the means of production, (2) controlled markets, and (3) limited earnings. The result has been what economists everywhere call “mixed economies”: (1) some private ownership and some public ownership of the means of production (exemplified in the post office and national parks), (2) some free markets and some controlled markets (e.g. laws governing alcohol, tobacco and fire arms), and (3) earnings typically limited by progressive income taxes.

What has distinguished e.g. the mixed economy of the United States from the mixed economy, e.g. in Cuba is that the former is mixed in favor of the rich (on some version of trickle-down theory), while the latter is mixed in favor of the poor to ensure that the latter have direct and immediate access to food, housing, education and healthcare.

My article also went on to argue that the socialist elements just mentioned have enjoyed huge successes in the mixed economies across the globe – yes, even in Russia, China and the United States.

“All of that may be true,” one of my readers asked “but how can you ignore the tremendous human rights abuses that have accompanied the “accomplishments” you enumerate in Russia and China? And why do you so consistently admire socialism over capitalism which has proven so successful here at home?”

Let me answer that second question first. Afterwards, I’ll try to clarify an important point made in my recent posting’s argument about the successes I alleged in Russia and China. That point was in no way to defend the horrendous human rights abuses there any more than those associated with the successes of the U.S. economy which are similarly horrific. But we’ll get to that shortly.

In the meantime, let me lead off with a that basic point about faith that I want to centralize here. Here my admission is that more than anything, I’m coming from a believer’s perspective.

That is, without trying to persuade anyone of its truth, I admit that my Judeo-Christian faith dictates that the earth belongs to everyone. So, boundaries and borders are fictions – not part of the divine order. Moreover, for some to consume obscenely while others have little or nothing is an abomination in the eyes of God. (See Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31).

Even more to the point of the discussion at hand, it is evident that the idea of communism (or communalism) comes from the Bible itself. I’m thinking of two descriptions of life in the early Christian community that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance,

Acts 2:44-45 says:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 4:32–35 reads:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Jesus’ identification with the poor and oppressed is also important for me. He said that whatever we do to the hungry, sick, ill-clad, thirsty, homeless, and imprisoned, we do to him. The words Matthew attributes to Jesus (in the only biblical description we have of the last judgment) are:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is much, much more to be said about this basic faith perspective. But for now, let that suffice.

Now for the second point about human rights:

• To repeat: no one can defend the obvious human rights abuses of Russia or China. They are clearly indefensible.
• In fact, they are as inexcusable as the similar abuses by the United States in countries which are or have been U.S. client states. I’m referring to Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Vietnam, and countries throughout Latin America and Africa. In all the latter, it has not been unusual for freedom of press to be violated, for elections to be rigged (think Honduras just recently), for summary executions to be common, for journalists to be assassinated in large numbers, and for dissenters to be routinely imprisoned and tortured. Christians advocating social justice have been persecuted without mercy. (Recall that infamous Salvadoran right-wing slogan, “Be a patriot; kill a priest.”)
• Moreover, while we have been relatively free from such outrages on U.S. soil, the events of 9/11/01 have been used to justify restrictions of freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Here the reference is to wiretappings, e-mail confiscations, neighbors spying on neighbors, and other unconstitutional invasions of privacy that seem to violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. It is now even permissible for the nation’s head of state to identify the press as “the enemy of the people.”
• 9/11 has also been used to justify the clearly illegal invasion of at least one sovereign country under false pretenses (Iraq) with the resultant deaths of well over a million people (mostly civilians). Other countries have also been illegally attacked, e.g. Libya, Yemen and Somalia without due congressional authorization. 9/11 has further “justified” the establishment of “black sites” throughout the world, the “rendition” of prisoners to third countries for purposes of torture, innumerable (literally) arrests without charges and imprisonments without trial. It has even led to extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens.

Such observations make the general point that when countries perceive themselves to be under attack, they implement policies both domestically and abroad that defenders of human rights correctly identify as repressive, cruel, criminal and even homicidal. Russia, China, and Cuba have been guilty of such policies. But so has the United States in supporting friendly regimes throughout the world and by implementing increasingly repressive policies here at home.

Now consider the pressures that led Russia, for example, to implement its own indefensible repression:

• As the most backward country in Europe, its people had suffered enormously under an extremely repressive Czarist regime. [Czarism, in fact, was the model of government that most Russians (including criminals like Stalin) had internalized.]
• Following its revolution, Russia was invaded by a vast coalition of forces (including the United States). It was forced to fight not only the invaders, but Czarist sympathizers and anti-communists within its own population.
• The country had twice been invaded by Germany through Poland and saw itself as needing a buffer from its implacable enemies to the west.
• Its people had fought heroically against German invaders and though suffering 20 million deaths and incredible infrastructure destruction, it managed to defeat the German army and largely be responsible for winning World War II.
• During the Cold War, Russia found itself under constant threat from western powers and especially from the United States, its CIA, and from NATO – as well as from internal enemies allied with the latter.

My only point in making such observations was not to defend Russia’s indefensible violations of human rights (nor China’s, nor Cuba’s); it was, rather, to make my central point about the efficiency of economies mixed in favor of the poor vs. those mixed in favor of the rich.

As shown by Russia (and even more evidently by China), economies mixed in favor of the poor develop much more quickly and efficiently than economies mixed in favor of the rich. While both Russia and China became superpowers in a very short time, the former European and U.S. colonies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia have remained mired in colonial underdevelopment. The latter’s organizing principle of “comparative advantage” has proven ineffective in enriching them, since it locks them into positions of mere suppliers of raw materials to industrialized countries. No country has ever reached “developed” status by following such principle. In other words, Global South countries are still waiting for that wealth to “trickle down.”

So, readers shouldn’t mistake the argument made by Wolff and others. It was not to defend the indefensible. (Even Khrushchev and Gorbachev recognized and denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin.) The relevant point is about capitalism vs. socialism. It was to indicate that the vilification of socialism overlooks the achievements of that system despite (not because of) restrictions on human rights that are common to both systems in egregious ways that no humanist or follower of Jesus should be able to countenance.

My conclusion remains, then, that it is up to people of conscience (and especially people of faith) to oppose such restrictions and violations wherever we encounter them – but especially in our own system where our voices can be much more powerful than denunciations of the crimes attributable to “those others.”

My Interview on Rob Kall’s “Bottom-Up” Podcast/Radio Program

Two weeks ago, Rob Kall posted an interview with me on OpEdNews. It centered on my book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact & fake news. I had great fun doing the show. Here it is.

A Very Sad Independence Day

Weeping Lady Liberty

The following reflection somehow seems appropriate for the 4th of July when everyone is celebrating our Founding Fathers and our great democratic tradition.

The piece comes out of a family discussion that took place about three weeks ago. In the exchange, I ended up characterizing the detainment facilities for refugees and migrants attempting to cross our borders as “concentration camps.” I was told in no uncertain terms that my comparison was inflammatory since it evoked inappropriate connections with Hitler’s extermination camps – an implied comparison that, for my conversation partners, was way “over the top.” We have no extermination camps, they said.

From there the conversation spun to more detailed comparisons of the United States to Hitler’s Third Reich and to what I and so many others perceive as a return of fascism, which I connected with capitalism. Once again, my observations were dismissed as wildly exaggerated, too general and jumping all over the place, bringing up issues not germane to the topic at hand. My references were to Iraq, Yemen, police brutality, xenophobia,

All of that drove me to compose the following essay more for myself than for anyone else — to clarify my own thought. To repeat, it seems appropriate for publication here on this 4th of July.

Hitler Redivivus:
How He Has Returned Triumphant in the Person of Donald Trump

Let me begin this piece on the contemporary return of fascism with an “easy essay” I wrote back in 1993. Today, the essay’s description of the triumph of “Hitlerism with Hitler” is proving far more prescient than I realized in the moment of its composition. Its form follows the spirit of Catholic Workers’ co-founder, Peter Maurin, who invented the poetic “easy essay” genre when he wrote for the Catholic Worker newspaper which he founded with Dorothy Day.

This particular imitation of Maurin’s style references Marge Schott, an infamous admirer of Adolph Hitler. Schott is the deceased owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. She was a racist and collector of Nazi memorabilia. Besides disdaining some of her players as “nigger millionaires,” she once famously said that Hitler was originally “a good guy,” until he “went too far.”

As you’ll see, the essay is about Ms. Schott’s hero and how he and the system he embodied actually did win World War II and has reincarnated today in thinly disguised form. That is, Hitlerism with its fascism, concentration camps, and genocide have in this era of Donald Trump more evidently returned to our world than seemed possible to most 25 years ago when I first published my own easy essay.

For starters though, here’s the Maurin-inspired piece as I originally wrote it:

Hitler, Bonhoeffer, Jesus and Us
(An “Easy Essay” with apologies to the memory of Peter Maurin and thanks
to Marge Schott)

Following Germany’s defeat
in “the First Inter-Capitalist War,”
the system was in trouble in das Vaterland.
It also foundered world-wide
after the Crash of ‘29.
So, Joseph Stalin
convoked a Congress of Victory
to celebrate the death of capitalism
and the End of History —
in 1934.

Both Hitler and F.D.R.
tried to revive the corpse.
They enacted similar measures:
government funds to stimulate private sector production,
astronomically increased defense spending,
nationalization of some enterprises,
while carefully keeping most in the hands of private individuals.
To prevent workers from embracing communism,
both enacted social programs otherwise distasteful to the Ruling Class,
but necessary to preserve their system:
legalized unions, minimum wage, shortened work days, safety regulation, social security . . .

Roosevelt called it a “New Deal;”
Hitler’s term was “National Socialism.”
Roosevelt used worker discontent
with their jobs and bosses
to get elected four times.
Meanwhile, Hitler successfully directed worker rage
away from the Krupps and Bayers
and towards the usual scapegoats:
Jews, communists, gays, blacks, foreigners and Gypsies.

He admired the American extermination of “Indians”
and used that model of starvation and internment
to guide his own program for eliminating undesirables
by hunger and concentrated slaughter.
Hitler strictly controlled national unions,
thus relieving the worries of the German elite.
In all of this,
he received the support of mainline churches.
Pius XII even praised der Führer as
“an indispensable bulwark against communism.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the German “Confessing Church”
resisted Hitler’s program
of social Darwinism, patriotism and persecution of the undeserving.
Confessing faithful were critical of “religion”
which combined anti-Semitism, white supremacy, patriotism and xenophobia
with selected elements of Christianity.
They insisted on allegiance
to Jesus alone
who stood in judgment over soil, fatherland, flag and blood.
They even urged Christian patriots
to pray for their country’s defeat in war.
Bonhoeffer participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler
and explored the promise of
Christianity without “religion.”

Hitler initially enjoyed great popularity
with the powerful
outside of Germany,
in Europe and America.
He did!
Then as baseball magnate and used car saleswoman, Marge Schott, put it,
“He went too far.”
His crime, however, was not gassing Jews,
but trying to subordinate his betters in the club
of white, European, capitalist patriarchs.
He thus evoked their ire
and the “Second Inter-Capitalist War.”

Following the carnage,
the industrialists in other countries
embraced Hitlerism without Hitler.
They made sure that communists, socialists and other “partisans”
who bravely resisted German occupation
did not come to political power,
but that those who had cooperated with Nazis did.

Today, the entrepreneurial classes
still support Nazis, whenever necessary.
The “Hitlers” they love have aliases
like D’Aubisson (El Salvador), Diem (Vietnam), Duvalier (Haiti), Franco (Spain),
Fujimori (Peru), Mobutu (Zaire), Montt (Guatemala), Noriega (Panama), Peron (Argentina), Pinochet (Chile), Pol Pot (Cambodia), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Somoza (Nicaragua), Strossner (Paraguay), Suharto (Indonesia). . . .
The list is endless.

The global elite deflect worker hostility
away from themselves
towards communists, blacks, gays, immigrants and Muslims,
towards poor women who stay at home
and middle class women who leave home to work.
Today, Christians embrace social Darwinism
while vehemently rejecting evolution.
Standing on a ground of being
underpinning the world’s most prominent culture
of religious fundamentalism,
they long for Hoover,
and coalesce
with the right.

In all of this
is forgotten the Jesus of the New Testament
who was born a homeless person
to an unwed,
teenage mother,
was an immigrant in Egypt for a while,
came from the working poor,
was accused of being a drunkard,
a friend of sex workers,
irreligious,
possessed by demons
and condemned by the state
a victim of torture
and of capital punishment.

Does this make anyone wonder about Marge Schott,
the difference between Hitler’s system
and our own,
and also about “religion”
and how to be free of it,
about false Christs . . .
And who won that war anyway?

Fascism

Having summarized my general argument in that easy essay, the first point to be clarified is the nature of fascism. As I argue in my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, fascism is really a species of capitalism. In my book, I call it “capitalism in crisis.”

What I mean is, fascism is the form capitalism often assumes when the free market’s endemic dysfunctions (periodic downturns, creation of obscene wealth disparities, inability to address environmental pollution, labor unrest, etc.) endanger its very survival. In its fascistic form, the system morphs into a police state.

With such enforcement, fascism’s essence may be summarized in three points. It is (1) Police State capitalism, (2) that favors the culture’s elite, and (3) blames the system’s disfunctions on scapegoats – in Hitler’s case on communists, socialists, Jews, Gypsies, blacks, and the disabled.

That’s the 1930s form capitalism took not only in Germany, but in Italy, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere during the Great Depression following the systems worst crisis ever precipitated by the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

However, since pure capitalism does not really exist in unregulated, free-market form, it is not exactly accurate to describe fascism as a kind of capitalism. That is, especially since the Crash of ’29, to insure its survival, capitalism has had to adopt elements of socialism such as: social security, minimum wages, severe limits on income, rent control, unions, guaranteed health care, public schooling, food subsidies, creation of national parks, etc. Economists call such provisions combined with free markets, “mixed economies.”

To cope with the problems of the Great Depression, such accommodations with socialism became so common that it is now true to say that neither capitalism nor socialism in their pure forms exist today – if indeed they ever did. Instead, mixed economies are all we have in the world. All economies are mixtures of capitalism and socialism.

This, however, does not mean that all economies are the same. The crucial question distinguishing, for example, Hitler’s mixed economy from that of Franklin Roosevelt is: “Mixed in favor of whom?” Hitler’s economy was mixed in favor of blond, blue-eyed Arians. Roosevelt’s with its social security and high taxes on the wealthy was modestly mixed in favor of working classes.

Or to put it in more contemporary terms, “Mixed in favor of whom?” is the crucial question differentiating Cuba’s mixed economy from that of the United States. The United States economy is unabashedly mixed in favor of the wealthy on the theory that the abundance enjoyed by the rich will trickle down to the general population. Cuba’s on the contrary is mixed in favor of the working classes based on the observation that the system’s “trickle” is never enough to provide a decent standard of living for entire populations.

Fascism Today
Its Concentration Camps

The argument in my earlier quoted easy essay was that Hitler’s system, whatever we might call it, persisted following his presumed defeat in 1945. More specifically, in our own day, our country has been taken over by fascist criminals like Hitler. But, let’s be clear: this is not a new phenomenon begun with the presidency of Donald Trump. No, the take-over has been in process at least since the end of the Second Inter-Capitalist War in 1945.

In fact, the argument can be credibly made that our country was founded by such criminals. Using rationale supplied by John Locke, our Founding Fathers committed genocide against North America’s indigenous peoples, eventually confining them in concentration camps (called “reservations”). They employed the same logic to enslave workers kidnapped from Africa imprisoning them in labor camps (called “plantations”).

For Locke, who inspired Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the crucial and ironic pronouncement behind such operations was that “All men are created equal.” But note well that in his formulation, the statement had no liberating relevance for Native Americans, African slaves, women or propertyless whites. Instead, its expressed intention was to establish the right of imperialists like him and his cohorts to steal land and resources from the continent’s indigenous inhabitants.

Locke’s point (as explained in The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking) was that just because the “Indians” were here first, they had no special claim on the lands they called home. That is, since (in Locke’s estimation) huge tracts were not being farmed as they would be in England, they were there for the taking by the Indians’ equals from Great Britain.

Locke said that a refusal by the Indians to recognize such equality amounted to a declaration of war against the British. So, the natives could be exterminated with abandon – a task our country’s great Indian Fighters took on with enthusiasm and relish creating a holocaust that killed millions.

Adolph Hitler himself took inspiration from the examples just cited. He liked the concept of concentration and work camps. He was expressly impressed by the efficiency of U.S. extermination of our continent’s First Peoples. It inspired him and evidently the minds behind contemporary concentration camps.

With all this in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that the camps are reincarnating today before our very eyes. Our government has set them up world-wide. They are so ubiquitous and normalized that they remain practically invisible. But consider their contemporary equivalents in:

• The U.S. prison-industrial complex itself for blacks, browns and poor whites transforming “Americans” into the most imprisoned population on the planet
• Guantanamo Bay for holding “terrorists” who after years of internment and torture have yet to be charged with crime and which Fuhrer Trump promises to fill to the brim
• Black Sites concealed throughout the world where kidnapped Muslims and others disappear without a trace and are tortured without mercy
• Fort Bliss (sic), a concentration camp for immigrant children
• Baby Prisons for infants as young as four months
• Detention centers for refugees from U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere
• Family prisons immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America as they await trials which can be postponed indefinitely
• The Gaza Strip, the world’s largest open-air prison for Muslim Palestinians, “the Jews’ Jews” – unconditionally endorsed by U.S. politicians of all stripes

Fascism Today
Its Genocides

In such hell-holes the criminals (often the guards) commit murders, rapes and inflict torture with impunity. Nonetheless, since Hitler, it is no longer permissible for such polite company to crudely incinerate victims in ovens or to poison them in gas chambers. (That would be too “inhumane” and reminiscent of the unspeakable.) So, today’s executioners murder and incinerate Muslims (today’s “Jews”), and others on site. (It saves the trouble and expense of packing them into box cars.)

In other words, the executioners travel to the victims’ countries of origin in the Middle East and Africa and do the dirty work there – often from 10,000 feet in the air, where the screams of incinerated Muslim children cannot be heard. They cremate their victims more humanely in the targets’ own homes with napalm and white phosphorous. Alternatively, “pilots” seated comfortably in their air-conditioned “theaters” send automated death squads (killer drones) to decapitate those suspected of evil thoughts. In the process, the system’s butchers have massacred millions far exceeding anything imagined by that little man with the toothbrush mustache:

• Already by 1978, John Stockwell, the highly decorated ex-CIA Station Chief in Angola, estimated that his agency’s “Secret Wars” had killed more than six million in its dirty wars against the world’s poor. In Stockwell’s own words, every one of those wars was illegal and “bloody and gory and beyond comprehension almost.”

• Add to that
o The hundreds of thousands slaughtered during the 1980s in El Salvador,
Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras
o More than a million victims in the completely illegal war in Iraq
o Untold fatalities in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia,
o The 10,000 already killed in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle
East – with the numbers increasing each day from cholera and
intentionally-inflicted starvation

Again, the numbers are staggering – far beyond anything accomplished in Hitler’s death camps.

Meanwhile, at home, “Americans” are dissuaded from protest by a militarized skin-head police force of body-builders and thugs. “Dressed to kill” in their black or camouflaged flack suits, and anonymous under their helmets and behind polarized face-shields, they stand ready with batons, tasers, and AK47s – as well as employing surplus military tanks, and Humvees – to punish anyone who dares opposition.

Conclusion

Connect such apparently disparate issues – Hitler, concentration camps, extermination, the prison-industrial complex, U.S. wars of aggression, Stockwell’s calculation of 6 million victims, Guantanamo, torture, militarized police, Palestine, unpunished police killings of unarmed blacks, Black Lives Matter, black sites, Muslim bans, baby jails . . . – and one might well get accused of “changing the subject” or “jumping all over the place” or of being a negative alarmist.

But the truth is, the dots, though scattered, are there just waiting to be linked, just as they were in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. As then, the basic connection is the crisis of capitalism as described in my earlier-shared easy essay. With that crisis becoming more evident each day, fascism’s arrival has been clearly signaled, though its concentration camps and holocausts have been effectively renamed and camouflaged. As a result of such stealth and rebranding, the system’s reappearance has passed almost without notice.

However, patriots like John Stockwell have seen it coming since 1978. More recently, so has Michael Moore. It’s high time for the rest of us to take note!

Think Critically about Syria, Skripal, and Building # 7 Before It’s Too Late: Apply “The 9/11 Principle”

Syria Crisis

What level of evidence of an opponent’s criminal state activity justifies sanctions, diplomatic expulsions, retaliatory bombings, conventional war or even the risk of nuclear war? The question finds urgent relevance amid unsubstantiated charges of chemical weapons use by the Assad government in Syria and in the light of wild accusations against Vladimir Putin of Russian responsibility for the poisoning of double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

In my new book, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news, I offer a whole series of criteria for answering questions of evidence and judgment of guilt.

“Magic Glasses” is a term coined by the late comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory for habitual critical perspective that refuses to go along with group-think imposed by American oligarchs and propagated by the mainstream media (MSM). For Gregory, critical thinking was like donning a pair of spectacles that reveal things as they truly are, not as the oligarchs and their publicists would have us see them.

Magic Glasses Cover

Chief among the criteria I offer in my own Magic Glasses is what might be called the “9/11 Principle.” It enjoys new relevance in the light of a recently-filed petition for a grand jury hearing about the true causes of the destruction of the 3 World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/01. The 54-page petition with 57 exhibits was submitted on April 8th by the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. The principle states that:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

My 9/11 Principle and its implied relationship to Assad, Skripal and the attack on the World Trade Center is found in the final chapter of The Magic Glasses. There I attempt to appropriate Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model of mainstream media (MSM) which identifies its function as not that of seeking truth, but of defending government policy despite the facts.

In the case of designated enemies, Chomsky explains, merely circumstantial evidence, hearsay, and the work of discredited intelligence agencies is all that’s required to establish guilt and justify retaliation. Moreover, responsibility for the alleged misconduct will be attributed to the highest level possible.

This syndrome finds its most recent expression in the just mentioned cases of alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons, and in the Skripal poisonings. In both cases, long before the dust had settled, the Trump administration on the one hand, and Theresa May on the other quickly drew conclusions condemnatory of designated enemies (Syria in Trump’s case, and Russia in May’s) before standard criminal investigations were allowed to unfold. In each case, guilt was linked directly and immediately to the relevant head of state – Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin.

Contrast such premature judgment with MSM coverage of alleged U.S. crimes. There smoking guns are always demanded. And then if the “gun” is found, responsibility for its use is routinely assigned to the lowest official available. Abu Ghraib represents a case in point. Crimes that were later traced to the oval office itself were originally presented as the work of a few low-ranking bad apples.

More to the point, consider the official story of 9/11. That Washington-sanctioned account has carried the day for more than 16 years despite problematic evidence ignored or dismissed by government investigators. That’s the evidence undergirding the case submitted by the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry. It includes:

* The historical facts that no steel-framed building in the history of the world has ever fallen as the result of even the most intense fires burning in some cases for days on end.
” Yet three such buildings fell on a single day after a few hours of localized conflagration.
” World Trade Center Building #7 was not struck by aircraft; yet it too fell into its footprint like Building #1 and Building #2 in fewer than 10 seconds after a relatively few hours of fire.
” Larry Silverstein, the owner of WTC Building #7 is heard on tape admitting that he and an unnamed NYC fire official decided to issue the order to “pull” the building in question. Using the language of demolition engineers, where to “pull it” means to initiate the final demolition process, Silverstein says,

“I remember getting a call from the fire department commander telling me they were not sure they would be able to contain the fire. I said, ‘You know, we’ve had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is just to pull it. And they made that decision to pull. Then we watched the building collapse.'”

* The scientific fact that Jet fuel (the medium responsible for ignition of the fires in question) cannot produce fires whose temperatures can cause steel to melt.
* The evidentiary fact that widespread traces of thermite explosives were found amid the wreckage of the collapsed WTC buildings.
* The procedural fact that thorough investigation of the WTC debris was prevented by an inexplicably hastened and immediate removal of crime scene evidence following the buildings’ destruction.

In the light of the differences between government and MSM treatment of alleged crimes of the U.S. government on the one hand and of designated enemies on the other, let me repeat my 9/11 principle. It states:

Since 9/11/01, any evidence for enemy-state wrongdoing (such as use of chemical weapons or alleged assassinations) must surpass the level of the evidence routinely dismissed by the U.S. government indicating that the World Trade Center destruction of 9/11/01 was the result of controlled demolition rather than of fires caused by planes crashing into the structures.

Please note that the principle does not take a position on the question of responsibility for the dastardly events of 9/11. Instead, it merely:

* Suggests that for the sake of fairness, balance, logic, and consistency, the same standards of behavior must be applied to designated enemies as that applied by U.S. officials to their own conduct. (This is Chomsky’s Principle of Universality that any child can understand.)
* Underlines the high bar set by authors of the official 9/11 story and of their disinterest in answering the still-open questions surrounding the event.
* Implies that no retaliation in the form of sanctions, bombings or (much less) declarations of war should ever take place in response to alleged crimes of designated enemies unless evidence exceeds that denied or rejected out of hand (as conspiracy theories) by proponents of the official story of the September 11th attacks.
* Means that belligerent responses to recent chemical weapons attacks or to alleged assassinations are virtually impossible to justify.
* Consequentially renders the question of war effectively moot.

In fact, no war justifications since the Second Inter-Capitalist War have met the standard set by the 9/11 principle. And even if the opponents of renewed 9/11 inquiry should block the initiative of the Lawyers Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, their very act of denial will only raise the bar the principle sets even higher.

By offering its Ten Rules similar to the 9/11 Principle, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking attempts to clarify issues such as those inspired by the Assad accusations and the Skripal case. It also is meant to spur practical conclusions including:

* Extreme skepticism of any governmental claims based on circumstantial evidence.
* Absolute refusal to endorse any retaliation towards Russia without an incontrovertible “smoking gun” established by an independent agency conducting thorough investigation and presenting its findings to the United Nations.
* Insistence that the evidence in question be concrete, undeniable, and as easy to recognize as a building falling into its own footprint in fewer than 10 seconds.
* Massive street demonstrations against the American and British oligarchs, “intelligence” agencies, and arms manufacturers whose financial interests are recklessly rushing the world towards nuclear annihilation.

I and my book are desperately appealing to the American public to put on Gregory’s magic glasses and see the fall of Building #7 as the prescient image of what the oligarchy is about to inflict on our homes, offices, schools, factories, businesses, hospitals, and churches.

Following Dick Gregory, we must see things as they are – and act accordingly before it’s too late.

Press Release: The Critical Thinking Manual Progressive Teachers Have Been Waiting For: My New Book

Magic Glasses Cover

Mike Rivage-Seul has just published the book progressive teachers have been waiting for to ground their post-secondary courses on critical thinking. Available on April 17th from Peter Lang Publishing, the book is called The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking: seeing through alternative fact and fake news.

Rivage-Seul is an emeritus professor of peace and social justice studies at Berea College in Kentucky, where he taught for more than 40 years. He publishes a monthly column in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

His approach to critical thinking – to education itself – should be familiar to progressives. It starts from the position that the purpose of such process is not primarily to interpret the world, but to change it. Therefore, critical thinking and education should not be neutral. It should equip students with the tools they need for social activism.

Magic Glasses summarizes what Rivage-Seul considers the most important insights he gathered over his years of travel and study throughout Europe and especially in the Global South – specifically in Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and India, as well as in Israel-Palestine.

“As you can tell by the title,” Mike says, “The Magic Glasses could hardly be timelier. The concept comes from the great comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory. He spoke of critical thinking as functioning like a set of spectacles. They confer special insight enabling their wearers to see things quite differently from what is considered ‘normal.’

“However, Gregory warns that the glasses come with three rules. The first is that once you put them on, you can never take them off. The second says that once you put them on, you can never see things the way everybody else does, but only as they truly are. And the third is that you can never force anyone else to wear them.”

In other words, Rivage-Seul’s book might be a dangerous read. For instance, he echoes Global South scholars by seeing sinister intent in the Declaration of Independence’s celebrated statement that “All men are created equal.” With those same scholars, he refers to World War II as the “Second Inter-Capitalist War,” and sees the United States as currently occupying the same global position that Adolph Hitler aspired to attain – with similar effect.

“I’ve been wearing Gregory’s magic glasses for years,” Mike says. “They’ve shaped my all my teaching and have often got students mad at me – at least at first. And you should read some of the comments my newspaper columns get! It’s all because I constantly apply the ten rules for critical thinking that my book explains.”

Those rules include: (1) Reject Neutrality, (2) Reflect Systemically, (3) Select Market (as the root of political differences), (4) Suspect Ideology, (5) Respect History, (6) Inspect Scientifically, (7) Connect with Your Deepest Self, (8) Quadra-sect Violence, (9) Detect Silences, and (10) Collect Conclusions.

As a result of employing those guidelines, Rivage-Seul understands U.S. history, terrorism, the renewed nuclear arms race, world hunger, trade agreements, immigration, Black Lives Matter, and other hot button issues in ways that end up being 180 degrees opposed to the mainstream.

“I’m in good company though,” Mike observes. “I’m trying to channel the spirit of the world’s great critical thinkers. Think about it. None – not Jesus, the Buddha, not Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, or Helen Keller – was neutral. They weren’t worried about ‘balance’ or offending anyone. For them, speaking truth to power and living with the results were all that mattered.

“I’m hoping that my book falls into that tradition.”

That social activist tradition is indeed developed in The Magic Glasses. And each point is illustrated with movie clips from films such as Traffic, The Post, Avatar, Sausage Party, The Distinguished Gentleman, Good Will Hunting, American Sniper, Captain Phillips, American History X, War Dogs, Bulworth, and even with the Broadway musical, Hamilton.

In sum, The Magic Glasses of Critical Thinking represents and attempt to supply secondary and post-secondary teachers with a complete syllabus for a course on critical thinking that will help students radically revision their world in ways that inevitably challenge all of their preconceptions.

As such, Rivage-Seul’s book on critical thinking is not only the one progressives have been waiting for, it’s a page-turner as well. As Rob Kall, the editor-in-chief of OpEdNews puts it in his endorsement:

“I love this book. It’s brilliantly written by a very wise man who’s been serially enriched by spending time with some of the world’s greatest visionaries. And he shares what he learned from his conversations with them. The book is addictively readable. I started to skim the book to see if it was worth putting my time into and found I couldn’t stop reading. Michael Rivage-Seul brings sparkling vivacity to the potentially dry topic of critical thinking. As one who has interviewed hundreds of visionaries, I found this book to offer new perspectives and ways of seeing-which is what building critical thinking skills is all about. This book offers so much more than what its title, at first glance suggests. Have a taste and you, will like me, find yourself wanting to consume all the courses of this delicious meal.”

Cosmic-Centrism: South Africa’s a Good Place to Start (15th in a series on critical thinking)

 

Easwaran

In this series, I’ve been tracing my own growth in terms of Ken Wilber’s stages of egocentrism, ethnocentrism, world-centrism, and cosmic-centrism. I’ve been arguing that each stage has its own “alternative facts.” What I believed to be factual as a child, I no longer accept — in any field, faith included. The highest stages of critical thinking are achieved, I believe, by those who accept the alternative facts of mystics and sages across the globe. Their facts receive virtually no recognition from the world at large. Yet, they are truest of all.

The studies and travel I’ve recalled so far in this series had taken me from Chicago and various places in the United States to Europe where I spent five years traveling widely. Then I moved to Appalachia, and from there journeyed to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.  Each step of the way, my awareness expanded. By my 50s, I had pretty much gone beyond ethnocentrism.

Then by 1997 (at the age of 57), I gingerly entered the next phase of Wilber’s growth hierarchy, cosmic-centrism. The door opened that Christmas, when my wife, Peggy, gave me the gift of three books by an Indian teacher of meditation, Eknath Easwaran.

The most important of the three was simply entitled Meditation. The book explained how to meditate and outlined Easwaran’s “Eight Point Program” for spiritual transformation. The points included (1) meditation, (2) spiritual reading, (3) repetition of a mantram, (4) slowing down, (5) one-pointed attention, (6) training of the senses, (7) putting the needs of others first, and (8) association with others on the same path.

As a former priest, I was familiar with such spirituality. After being introduced to meditation during my “spiritual year” in 1960, I meditated every day for the next dozen years or so. Then I stopped. I thought I would never go back.

But after reading Meditation, I decided to perform the experiment Easwaran recommends there. He challenged his readers to try the eight-point program for a month. He said, if no important changes occur in your life as a result, drop the practice. But if significant personal transformation happens, that’s another story.

Suffice it to say that I tried for a month, and now nearly 20 years later, I’m able to report that I’ve never missed a day of meditation. Soon I was meditating twice a day. In short, I had been re-introduced into spiritual practice, but this time under the guidance of a Hindu. However, Easwaran insisted that his recommended practices had nothing to do with switching one’s religion or even with adopting any religion at all.

In other words, meditation had introduced me into the realm of mysticism common to Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslim Sufis, and subscribers to other faiths.

Easwaran described mysticism, wherever it appears, as founded on the following convictions: (1) there is a divine spark resident in the heart of every human being, (2) that spark can be realized, i.e. made real in one’s life, (3) in fact it is the purpose of life to do so, (4) those who recognize the divine spark within them inevitably see it in every other human being and in all of creation, and (5) they act accordingly.

Those are the principles of cosmic-centrism.

South Africa

In 2012, during my wife’s sabbatical in Cape Town, South Africa, my eyes started opening to the divine in nature – especially in the ancient rock formations in the southern Cape. As Dean Perini points out in his Pathways of the Sun, many of them have been “enhanced” by the Koi-Koi and San people indigenous to this area. The enhancements (for instance, sharpening features in rocks which resemble human faces) serve the same purpose as the completely human fabrications in places like Tikal, Stonehenge, and (perhaps) Easter Island.  They position the movement of the sun, moon, stars, and planets to keep track of equinoxes and solstices. All of those heavenly bodies and seasons influence our own bodies (70% water) as surely as they do the ocean tides and the seasons. So it was important to the Koi-Koi and San to mark the precise moments of the annual celestial events for purposes of celebrations, rituals, and feasts.

Near Cape Town, we lived in Llandudno near the location’s great “Mother Rock.” Like so many other mountains, rocks, sacred wells and springs in that area, it exuded extraordinary cleansing energy. My wife and I often made our evening meditation before that Rock, and on occasion in a nearby sacred cave.

They say that the human story began in South Africa 300,000 to 500,000 years ago. So in the presence of ocean, sacred caves, and holy rocks, we attempted to reconnect with the roots of it all and with the animals and ancient peoples who in their harmony with nature’s processes seem much wiser than we post-moderns are proving to be.

We were entering cosmic space, where the principle of the unity of all creation shapes critical thinking.

(Next week: Learning from spiritual masters in India)

My Experience in Zimbabwe (14th in a series on critical thinking)

Zimbabwe

So far in this series, I’ve been trying to trace my personal development from ethnocentrism to world-centrism. The tracing has had me recalling leaving home for the seminary at the age of 14, then traveling to Rome for 5 years following my ordination in 1966. From there I spent a year working for the Christian Appalachian Project in Kentucky, and then decided to leave the priesthood. I subsequently began my 40 year career of teaching at Berea College. My first sabbatical in 1984 took me to Brazil; that was followed by language study in Nicaragua, some teaching in Costa Rica,  where I also worked in a liberation theology think tank, and then several trips to Cuba. In this posting I tell of a mind-expanding six months in Zimbabwe — my first time in Africa. 

Fresh from my first trip to Cuba, my family and I spent 1997-’98 in Zimbabwe – this time accompanying my wife, Peggy, who had received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in the capital city at the university in Harare. In terms of critical thinking, our experience in Zimbabwe helped me further reflect on the importance of Franz Hinkelammert’s observation about the centrality of utopian concepts in critical thinking. Zimbabwe embodied a problem that must be faced by any critical thinker in the mold of what this series intends to explore: Which utopia is a better guideline for structuring a just society – a world with room for everyone, or a market free of government regulation?

That is, if Cuba demonstrated utopian commitment to Hinkelammert’s capacious world, Zimbabwe revealed what typically happens when socialism’s goals are dropped in favor of capitalism’s utopia. Let me share with you my personal experience in the former Rhodesia, for it provides a case study in systemic critical thinking about the way social problems can implicate us all.

To begin with, the Zimbabwe my family discovered in 1997, had experienced the triumph of its bloody socialist revolution in 1980 under the leadership of ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union). After its triumph, and unlike Cuba, ZANU was very cautious in the socio-economic reforms it implemented. True, ZANU established as its goal economic “growth with equity.” And towards that end, its policies followed the Cuban model through programs of modest land redistribution, as well as emphasizing education, health care, higher wages, and food subsidies. This required large government programs and expenditures. In those early days, ZANU devoted approximately 50% of its annual budget to such endeavors. These reforms succeeded in significantly raising living standards for the country’s overwhelmingly black and poor majority. After years of apartheid, they were finally experiencing living room.

However, from the outset, ZANU chose not to institute truly comprehensive land reform to aggressively redistribute white-owned acreage to poor black farmers. Instead, it left 70% of the country’s productive capacity in the hands of the former Rhodesia’s white settler class and under the control of foreign corporations.

Then in 1990, after the fall of the Soviet Union, which had supported socialist revolutions everywhere, Zimbabwe, like Cuba, lost a role model as well as a major source of foreign aid. Socialism seemed entirely discredited. So like other socialist countries, Zimbabwe found itself at a crossroads. Its question was that of every socialist country at the time: Should we continue on the socialist path or admit defeat and surrender to the apparent inevitability of capitalism?

Whereas Cuba, despite overwhelming pressure from its virulently hostile North American neighbor, chose to remain with socialism, Zimbabwe decided otherwise. Acceding to the recommendations of the United States and the International Monetary Fund, the country embraced capitalism and drastically restructured its economy. It lowered taxes on local (usually white) commercial famers as well on foreign investors. It cut back on social programs, lowered wages, and devalued its currency. The idea was to create in Zimbabwe an investment climate attractive to multi-national corporations, whose wealth would finance jobs and trickle down to the country’s poor masses.

When our family arrived in Zimbabwe in 1997, the effects of such counter-revolutionary reforms were visible everywhere. On the one hand, Harare seemed to exude prosperity. Downtown streets were broad, clean, jammed with traffic during rush hours, and largely absent of the beggars, homeless, prostitutes and street children we had encountered elsewhere in our travels.

The apparent prosperity was commercial too. Stores in Zimbabwe’s capital were modern, clean and well-stocked with items from all over the world. The East Gate Shopping Center was a monument to it all.  Standing at the corner of Second Street and Robert Mugabe Avenue, it was a block square mall five stories high. Entering this darkened underworld from the sun-drenched pavement outside, patrons were suddenly transported from steaming Third World Africa to very cool and exotic locations resembling Paris, São Paulo, or New York.  The transition was a day to night experience. In the mall the hour was always post meridian, brightened by shop lights, garish neon signs or by commercial manifestos with the same light-bulbed borders otherwise reserved for backstage Hollywood dressing rooms.  Four sets of glass-enclosed, stainless steel elevators whisked shoppers and office workers to their respective destinations. The layers of overhead walkways were constructed of dark green girders, pipes, tubes and mesh floors all made of hard, cold steel.  The appearance of complex, unending scaffolding and catwalks gave reluctant testimony to the unfinished impermanence of the New World Order congealed in the mall’s defiantly postmodern architecture.  At the same time, though, the formation trumpeted the fact that Zimbabwe was part of it all. East Gate housed thoroughly up-to-date clothing shops, shoe boutiques, candy and liquor stores, pharmacies, beauty parlors, sporting goods outlets, and food courts.

It all stood in sharp contrast to Cuba. During this same historical period, after losing overnight 70% of its (Soviet) trading partners, the island found itself plunged into a decade-long depression far worse than anything Americans had experienced after the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Survivors of the “special period” recalled that the average Cuban adult probably lost about 20 pounds. A sociologist told me “We all looked like those pictures of World War II concentration camp internees.” Yet astoundingly in Cuba, not a single school or hospital closed, and unlike European countries after socialism’s demise, there were no riots in the street, much less any   counter-revolution.

Yes, Cuba was apparently miserable under socialism, while Zimbabwe prospered under its new allegiance to capitalism. But was the difference merely apparent? My personal observation and experience with Zimbabwe’s working class and maid system made me wonder. Both showed the country’s underbelly where the vast majority lived in distressing poverty that (in contrast to Cuba) remains to this day.

Anyone could see the distress each morning. Beginning at sunup, around 5:30, a long procession of tan mini-buses transported to the city center waves of black workers from their shacks in the “populous suburbs” that had little to do with East Gate prosperity. Life there was like living in the favelas we experienced in Sao Paolo and Recife. As the vehicles arrived one after another, the waves crashed together to form a turbulent sea of humanity walking, jogging, running, frowning and chattering along streets like Alexandra Park’s Barrowdale Road.

Dressed in heavy wool sweaters and toboggan watch caps of navy, sky blue, red or black, machine operators, plant janitors, maids, gardeners and factotums hurried to assume duties in the industrial centers, or in the homes of well-off whites who meanwhile breakfasted securely behind well-locked gates invariably patrolled by huge fierce dogs. The wealth disparity between blacks and whites was there for all to see.

Each morning innumerable underpaid and overworked maids bravely made their ways from the Chitungwiza slum to Alexandra Park and other white sections of Harare.  It was the same “maid systems” we had encountered in Brazil and throughout Central America.  Actually, I realized, it’s a step below slavery.  At least in the slave system, owners had to provide food, shelter, clothing and health care for their workers and offspring.  With capitalism and the “maid system,” the master class could wash its hands of such concerns, pay a pittance, and leave the maids to figure out how to take care of their children and make ends meets.

Yet I have to admit that in Zimbabwe, we found ourselves cooperating with that very system. And using maids made us complicit in the exploitation of workers throughout the Third World.  The wage we paid our maid was the same Nike workers received in Taiwan — $1.50 a day.  The hours she worked were as long as theirs — twelve. The ideological justification for not providing higher pay was identical as well. “We know the wages are terribly low,” employers everywhere in the world have said from time immemorial. “But if forced to pay more, we’d have to go without employing these people at all; we simply couldn’t afford them.  As a result, they’d be laid off and have no income.  At least under the current arrangement, they have some money coming in.  Moreover, if as an individual, I could afford to pay more, it wouldn’t be fair to other employers who might not be able to do so.  It would just create tension between them and the maids they’ve hired.  We’re trapped in a system without a just alternative.”

This is the sort of contradiction Zimbabwe revealed to me – including in our own lives. So who was better off, Zimbabweans or Cubans? Which country made the better choice? Whose utopia is preferable? And should our family have cooperated with the one Zimbabwe’s governing elite chose? Answering questions like those reveal the essence of the critical thinking recommended here. What do you think?