Christainity, Philosophy

middle class economics and the industrial reserve army

During his State of the Union address, President Obama coined the term “middle class economics.” Days later a blog post appeared on the Huffington Post further explaining what he meant. He opened by asking

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and rising chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

These two generalized questions demonstrate our economic and political discourse. He softly recognizes that the wealthiest 20% people in the country own 85% of the wealth and resources. If the economy does not change, they will continue to increase their wealth. Additionally, he insinuates that if one works hard that our government and capitalist economy will assure that one is rewarded with by her or his efforts. Yet, those President Obama missed in his address are ‘the industrial reserve army’ and those who work hard at several part-time jobs making minimum wage only to scrape by. Karl Marx describes this underclass as a symptom of capitalism.

The economy in capitalism must grow and multiple or it cannot survive. Marx in the Communist Manifesto described that capitalists continually must revolutionize their technology, labor, and other modes of production to make a higher profit. As well, competition among businesses is often a zero-sum game with larger companies absorbing smaller ones. In this way, “the big capitalists grow bigger and fewer.”* For example, in the US, two cable companies, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, dominate one’s ability to access the Internet. Like wayward lovers, they’ve created territories with what city each one can occupy. As a result, the underclass suffers as these companies gain more business.

Marx wrote that the finished is not the only commodity, but also the labor of the worker. He would go on to theorize this as the fetishization of commodities. And as capitalism forcibly travelled around the world, it exponentially created more commodities. Call centers were set up in India providing customer service and paying workers small wages. Sweatshops landed in Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Bangladesh providing slave wages for the underclass and children (in those countries who turn an eye away from this horror). Answering phone calls half way round the world, sowing fashionable clothes by people who cannot afford to wear them, and child labor became commodities within the last fifty years. And these all affect the lower classes.

Karl Marx wrote on, systematized, and enlightened the world when he described the destructive nature of capitalism, yet few listened. Today’s discourse of middle class economics blatantly ignores the industrial reserve army. It tries to inspire people to work even harder to achieve the mythical American Dream. Until the monster of capitalism is slain, we will continue to have unemployment, people without homes, peopleless homes, people without healthcare and refugees.

poor of the world

*Wielenga, Bastiaan, Introduction to Marxism, Centre fro Social Action (Bangalore, India) 1984, p. 62

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Justice, LGBTQI+, Philosophy, Politics

anxious for revolution

Like any new relationship, we set high expectations for the New Year. Of ourselves we determine that this year we will be fit, love more, find a new job, get out of debt, and the list goes on. These demands give way to disappointment and if we weren’t already anxious about the resolutions, we certainly are now for disappointing ourselves. I understand these moments of high anxiety as a symptom of capitalism. Economic theorist and philosopher Karl Marx explained, “Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”*

Chilean Protest

Marx knew that capitalism was out of control. That it was far too big and there was an “economic and political sway of the bourgeois class.” In capitalism, it is the overlords, the CEOs, the bourgeois that control the means of production as well as politics, ideology, foreign relations, and culture. Back to my main argument: how does capitalism create anxiety? Simply, persons without the power: the workers, the proletariat, “the least of these” acknowledge, at least subconsciously, that they are under the control of bosses, cops (who use force to sustain the capitalist system), and patriarchy.

Hence we demand high expectations of ourselves because this is the only way we can relate to the world. This is all that we know. We live in an America of bosses beyond bosses, cops beyond cops, and a stock market as our conscience! Possibly, to relieve this symptom, we need a high dose of an egalitarian community. Jon Grinspan wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times titled, “Anxious Youth: Then and Now.” To summarize, the anxiety in Millennials is nothing new or creative. Even in 1859, young persons were concerned about their love lives, when to get married, and if they were ever going to find a job. Here’s a gem from the article:

“Another solution (from the anxiety) was to find like-minded young adults, to share, as one later put it in his memoir, their “baffling discouragements and buoyant hopes.” Nineteenth-century young people were compulsive joiners. Political movements, literary societies, religious organizations, dancing clubs and even gangs proliferated. The men and women who joined cared about the stated cause, but also craved the community these groups created. They realized that while instability was inevitable, isolation was voluntary.”

In the 21st century, we realize instability is inevitable, but we are too busy hiding behind screens. Of course, I believe social and political change and agitation can happen through the use of social media. Just look at what was accomplished two years ago with SOPA. Yet, this protest was particular to the internet.

Yet, we still need bodies!

We need them protesting, present at hearings, in Congressperson’s offices, and gardening. Our future depends on it.

If we direct our anxious energies toward housing reform, ending poverty, fighting for LGBTQQII+  and women’s right, environmental concerns and changing economic policy; something might change for the better!

A portrait of Jenny and Karl Marx.

A portrait of Jenny and Karl Marx.

*All the Marx quotes come from The Communist Manifesto, which was published in 1848. If you have never read anything by him, the Manifesto is a good place to start.

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Liberation Theology, Prison Industrial Complex

prisons, cultural lag, and the church

Early definitions of cultural lag focused specifically on industry and society. In Marxian terms it refers to how the substructure (production, relations to production,etc) advances in its use of technology, while the superstructure (philosophy, art, religion, family) falls behind this advancement. A simple example in today’s world would be who can purchase certain products, such as an iPad, which costs $500. Much of the general public cannot purchase such a commodity, but if in 15 years our society finds it to be necessary, then it will be affordable.

Hence cultural lag.

New definitions have been constructed, one of the famous theorist who worked on this theory was William Ogburn. He wrote,

“A cultural lag occurs when one of two parts of culture which are correlated changes before or in greater degree than the other part does, thereby causing less adjustment between the two parts that existed previously” (1957).

Ogburn broadened the original Marxian definition which only was concerned with economics and broaden it to any two parts of culture. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann hit the nail on the head, with concern to culture in the US, when he wrote,”Our consumer culture is organized against history. There is a depreciation of memory and a ridicule of hope, which means everything must be held in the now, either an urgent now or an eternal now”(1).* We create ourselves through purchasing, it is what gives us hope and gives us a short attention span. These consequences include one to not be concerned with community, long-term friendships, investing in the future of the Earth, cooking food, etc. Even more so, one no longer needs to be concerned with social issues: racism, sexism, mistreatment of the LGBTQI+ community, colonialism, and other injustices in our world. This drags us down a road of Tolerance, which accepts everyone, but still allows hate without confrontation. Thus, many of the institutions focus on this tolerance and have no concern for anything else other than money. Unfortunately, these kinds of ideas have bled into the church.

One churched person, who happens to also be a theologian, has kept the social injustices that penetrate US at the forefront of their theology. This person is none other than black liberation theologian James Cone.

God of the Oppressed, which James Cone wrote, hit the bookshelves in the late 1960’s. It sought to systemically summarize and demonstrate Black Liberation theology. This was a tough experiment during that era. Blatant racism occurred openly in our institutions, not that it still does not happen today, but that it was more in your face about it. One section of his book I found particularly interesting was how he placed certain white prominent theologians during slavery times in the US into different categories with their approach to the social ill of slavery.

First, there are those who ignored slavery all together. These theologians constructed theologies separate from anything social or political. For Cone, these are the worst kind of theologians since they do not understand that knowledge is historically situated in a particular place and time.

Second, there were white theologians who taught that slavery was a good and godly act. Several theologians like George Whitfield used Scriptural passages to keep slaves in their “rightful place,” as an owner person.

Lastly, there were theologians who were part of the abolitionist movements. They actively promoted that those who were enslaved to be released. (One problem that Cone has with these theologians is that they were still constructing theology from a prestigious point of view, e.g. slaves should be be free because it would be better for society, instead of from the point of view of those who are enslaved are people and deserve the right to be free. I certainly agree with Cone on this position.)

These kinds of theologians still haunt us today. We have those who are oblivious to social structures to the point of distrust and have a theology that they believe to apply to all, thus a kind of white-orthodoxy. Then there are those who lift up institutions like the State, believing that they are absolutely God-given, this probably could only be applied to those who live in the US. Then there are those who want more out of social institutions, pushing them to move beyond themselves. Yet, at the same time believe that justice does not equate to Law.

Modernizing Conian thoughts about the cultural lag in the church, I have been thinking what the modern church ignored in relation with social issues. The first thing that came to my mind was the the prison-industrial complex. First, I have never heard these words in church. The only prison ministries that they do in church in the areas that I know of are ones that they are concerned with the spiritual lives of the prisoners. I never hear people ask why so many people are in prison or that it is so hard for people to get a job once they come out of prison. This aspect is totally ignored by the church, or at least many of the churches that I have attended.

Paul Krugman, a classic liberal commentator, wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times that concerned the prison-industrial complex. It was well written attempt to simplify the complexity of economics that concern this issue. The problem with this article is that there is nothing written against those who are unjustly placed in prison, as are many of our African-American sisters and brothers. This certainly falls under the Conian critique.

The church has been in a cultural lag for most of modernity. It was not always this way. From the beginning, it was a source of the prophetic. In many respects, we have lost that prophetic voice and thus are not inventors and critics of important aspects of culture, but allow culture to be and condemn only immoral individualistic ethical decisions. We need voices from the church who are concerned about  people who are being treated unjustly, especially those in prison.

The church must educate, organize, and act for justice for all people!

Here are some statistics from ProPublica about For-Profit Prisons in the US.

* Prophetic Imagination published for the second time in 2001.

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Anarchism, Beliefs, Christainity, Philosophy

anarchism and its discontents

The other week I came across my copy of Paul Tillich’s book Dynamics of Faith and decided to misread the title, thinking of it not as relating personality and faith, as Tillich did, but comparing it to expressions of faith. Dynamic represents the overarching ideology of a particular movement, denomination, political party, etc. For example, I have an anarchist dynamic, this includes my thoughts about the government, other humans, distributive justice, and so on. The expression of the dynamic is how I go about embodying my ideology. Therefore, my anarchist dynamic has influenced my expression to read about radical politics, protest unjust systems, boycott particular corporations, to garden, have vegan potlucks etc.

In the past month, I have been to two radical conferences, both in NYC. The first being the Left Forum. There was a wide variety of radical thought, including the Maoists, Marxist, Labor Organizers, and Anarchists. We gathered around a common cause: to help create a better and more sustainable world.

Then this past weekend, I attended the NYC Anarchist Book Fair. I met some great people, who were very passionate about issues of race, gender, political prisoners, and many other issues. With such a concentration of anarchists, I noticed specific patterns of dress, rhetoric, and style. Many of them wore darker clothing, mostly black, dark blue, and/or blood red. I was wearing a black t-shirt, blue dickies pants, and black Chuck Taylors. I fit right in. I, too, was able to fit in right away with my rhetoric of injustices happening in the world.

Maybe this is not a problem, since it happens in all social groups. Most charismatic Christians dress nicely to attend church, they too have a rhetoric of “Have you been saved or washed by the blood?” Many charismatics at least in the US support the political-economic structures in place and usually vote for the more conservative candidates.

Yet for Anarchists, I want it to be different. I picked up two different pamphlets from the book fair this past weekend and they described the genesis of anarchism in the Enlightenment. I am fine with this historical situatedness, since one of the early tenants was that rationality was part of human nature. Thus if all people are rational then all should want to desire freedom for all, and an end to oppression. This was an early idea of anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

All of this is very good, but we must push back. I say that we must adopt a more fluid idea of human nature, similar to Marx’s idea of human nature that differed according to our active participation in the production of labor. According to his historical materialist process of history, human nature in feudalism looks different from capitalism, one is more alienated from their “species-being” in capitalism. Marx’s theme of alienation penetrated all of this thought, even to human nature.

If we were able to see human nature more fluid then anarchism too would change. It would be more of a contextual, local, and allow for more freedom in different countries, or even in the same city! The Dynamic of Anarchism in West Philly may be expressed as free food for all, community gardens, more after school programs, chalk poetry, making other spaces open to the public for events, possibly even having anarchists who identify as Christian to write liturgy for their churches. We must push beyond the expressions that we normally act in and create with others a better world. Hopefully, this will include wearing more colorful clothing.

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