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From Obsuristan to Absurdistan: Barbarism or Human Future

by Marc Batko Tuesday, Jun. 16, 2009 at 4:05 AM

Individual security can be emphasized so global vision fades. Half-truths and fish stories carry the day. "Communism is oppression of many by man and capitalism is just the reverse." Our challenge is to reawaken wonder and interdependence, to consider the way of nonviolent resistance.



By Marc Batko

[The following thoughts come from critical theory and liberation theology. Resistance is part of our nature as antibodies are part of our bodies. Dissent like the refractory child can be a new beginning in confronting private opulence and public squalor. Leaving law school and becoming a translator was a triumph of unconditional love. I was overcome by Jurgen Moltmann's idea that hope sets us apart from all creation in that we can go beyond everything present and past in the power of the coming, the power of the promise (cf. "Theology of Hope"). I look forward to your comments on overcoming the fundamentalist traps and our elite democracy. Email:]

“If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own” (Wes “Scoop” Nisker)

“Some deep alternative current has been flowing out of the spiritual adventures and identity struggles of recent generations. Of course, we didn’t create the conditions or questions of the new age; we got caught in them. The ground shifted; the old gods departed, the economic and political utopias crumbled, and the traditional answers were washed away. We didn’t leave home; home left us.” (Publisher’s comment on “The Big Bang, the Buddha and the Baby Boom”)

Wes “Scoop” Nisker, author of “The Essential Crazy Wisdom” and “The Big Bang, the Buddha and the Baby Boom,” was a radio commentator on KSAN in San Francisco. Nisker takes us on a hilarious wild ride from West to East and back again in his quest for true self and enlightenment. Combining the best elements of memoir and social commentary, Nisker uses his own story to illuminate the Baby Boomers’ roots of spiritual hunger in postwar America.

Nisker coined the word “car-tastrophe,” a helpful description of our short-term fixation where means are confused with ends, where long-term necessities like community centers and sharing wealth are deferred, where dissent and criticism are expunged from memory, where privatization held to be the panacea leads only to the bitter fruits of generational mistrust, generalized insecurity and exploding inequality.

Hope comes from outside the system of short-term constraints and manufactured consent, info-tainment and sports transfiguration, vulgar materialism and turbo-individualism, self-absorption and trickle-down economic mythology. Hope often seems unwelcome like a foreign language or incessantly questioning child. Whether our future can be more human, open and dynamic depends on public consciousness and political mobilization. Let us face the contradictions and myths of our culture and live the new life of the questioning child in the midst of the old. “The old gives way to the new as the snow gives way to the spring.” (Rainer Rilke, German poet).

In the movie “Wag the Dog” with Dustin Hoffman, people were easily convinced Albania was a terrorist threat. All that was necessary was imbuing the people with a little philosophy, “You can’t change horses in mid-stream.”

The penultimate needs the ultimate (cf. Dietrich Bonhoeffer). As time is borrowed from the future, we are interdependent harbingers of the future. Part of nature, we are part of the spirit world with traditions of solidarity and resistance. We are called to live in double vision, in universal and particular history. We are dialogical beings who relate to one another as question and answer. When questions disappear, we enter the fundamentalist trap. Agorophobia is the psychological term for clinging to a black-white monochrome against the daunting moral diversity. Dialogue shuts down as the loudest prevails.

The state has a social nature and cannot only be a power and security state. The free moral state is in tension with the national security state. Rights are balanced and exist in a hierarchy: work and privacy, economy and ecology. Majority rule is only possible with minority protection. All people yearn for freedom and self-determination. The UN Charter sought to outlaw war. International law is based on self-determination and reparations. When these truths are twisted or repressed by nonstop consumerism or corporate elites, we live in a state of manufactured consent, selfishness, herd conduct and conformism.

In the US, the fourth branch, the media, has degenerated to non-stop gossip and propaganda. Concentration, mergers and profit worship led to the disappearance of foreign bureaus and international news.

Countervailing narratives challenge the dominant narrative, the US as the city on the hill, the cowboy on the white horse. Critical thinking, culture shock and intercultural learning are antidotes to selfishness, herd behavior and conformity.

Lying into war, lying to the American people and the UN General Assembly follow the Goebbels model as George Orwell warned in “1984.” The big lie relativizes and normalizes the small lies. War becomes a domestic necessity to divert the people from economic contradictions.

In “Nemesis,” Chalmers Johnson explains how the empire like Narcissus falls in love with its reflection and drowns. The US in its epochal system crisis could renounce on empire like Great Britain and become a republic. Recognizing its own hubris as an eternal safe harbor, the US could mend its own pockets, accept new priorities and perspectives and see others as partners instead of vassals and raw material warehouses.

In “The Narcissism Epidemic,” psychologist Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me,” shows how self-absorption and self-righteousness become normalized as “natural laws” in a competitive society. Narcissism, overestimation of self or self as center of the universe, is different from healthy self-esteem. Narcissism brings distrust and aversion, not success. Spirituality, inclusion in a greater reality, and gratitude are antidotes. Saying “I love you” is an invitation to connection while repeating “I am special” and “I am a princess” foster separation. As prejudice can be gradually overcome, narcissism can be overcome individually and collectively.

The auto-executives who arrived at Congressional hearings in their private jets to plead for billions in bailouts were a tipping point triggering public outrage and cynicism. Private vices do not lead to public virtue. Everyone pursuing profit maximization triggers exploding inequality and social chaos. Private opulence and public squalor exist side by side, as economist John Kenneth Galbraith warned in the 1960s.

The trickle-down myth of corporate beneficence and the myth of the self-healing market were foundations of capital’s neoliberal anti-social offensive. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund used “structural adjustment” to force acceptance of foreign corporations as a condition for loans. The Washington Consensus of privatization, deregulation and liberalized open markets led to lost decades and marked declines in gross domestic product. Now the global South insists on food security and sovereignty to put corporate power and mainstream economic theory in its place. Higher profits were said to lead to greater investments and more jobs. Corporations prefer speculation on currency markets and takeovers to job creation and economic democracy.

As self-determination and reparations are foundations of international law, food sovereignty and corporate de-legitimation are vital for a human future that reverses the destruction of nature and exploding inequality of incomes and assets. Economics is too important to be left to economists, as war is too important to be left to the military.

Economics should be a part of life, not a steamroller crushing personal initiative and creativity. As the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, institution criticism is part of the journey of democracy and reclaiming life. The church, unions, media and schools are independent greatnesses that often lose their independence in the onslaught of profit maximization and instrumental rationality.

Privatism and consumerism seem like “natural laws” in a hyper-individualistic culture that eschews history and intercultural learning. Private and short-term interests drown out public and long-term necessities. The center cannot hold, the poet William Butler Yeats warned a century ago. What is imperative is a change of individual and collective consciousness.

Erich Fromm and the democratic socialist tradition could bring light and dynamism into our frozen overly materialistic culture. Being is more than having. Possessions can possess us. Bereft of spiritual understanding, we can confuse luxury, status and brands with life. Repressing the urgent need for self-criticism, rethinking and reducing our ecological footprint, we can be sedated and narrowed by the nonstop consumer culture with its pictures of success and unattainable wealth.

Double standards and intimidation are false securities as the capital offensive leading to a credit- and bubble-prosperity induced a false economic security. Shareholder value leads to profit worship and the denigration of workers and the environment.

Anthropocentrism is a blindness like narcissism, prejudice, xenophobia and homophobia. In “Truth and Method,” Hans-Georg Gadamer explained that the human sciences (philosophy, history, language and play) use a different methodology than the natural sciences. Experience differs from experiment as the non-repeatable and inexact differ from the repeatable and exact. Methods of inwardness and listening are necessary rather than measurement and quantification.

If infinite growth is impossible in a finite universe, qualitative growth could supersede quantitative growth. As sickness is not sin and life is not longevity, the universal right to be protected from social risks like poverty is codified in constitutions. The welfare state wrongly stylized as “Bolshevism” is really the human future. The history torn in war, hatred and ethnocentrism could give way to a future of interdependence if the political will and love of life can be mobilized.

If the right to work is to be assured, sharing of income and assets is vital. The earth does not belong to humankind; humankind belongs to the earth, chief Seattle admonished. Nature is God’s gift to be shared by everyone. Nature is not merely a free good, external or sink but the basis of future life and future economics.

Housing as a human right is often eclipsed by the right of speculation (cf. Arnold Kunzli, “Housing as a Human Right”

Rights are balanced and exist in a hierarchy, work and privacy, economy and ecology.

Wall Street oligarchs and speculation threaten the real economy. Financial markets capture the government, as former IMF economist Simon Johnson explains (cf. “The Quiet Coup” in The Atlantic, May 2009


Confusing offense and defense is a perversion like conflating public and private. Turning the government into a trough for the super-rich, encouraging politicians to be “money-chasers” (Bill Moyers) and lobbyists to be legislators are ominous signs of an elite, proto-fascist monopoly economy that immunizes itself from criticism. With the myths, the system of “minority consumption” (Robert Kurz) stylizes itself as a natural law, represses criticism and alternative economics.

What seemed utopian in the past, turning away from the worship of profit and pursuing steady-state zero-growth stewardship economics, proves to be necessary for survival. Infinite growth is impossible in a finite universe. Increased gross domestic product in the short-term can entail destruction of the foundations of life in the short term (cf. Thomas Fischermann, “Better Growth,”

Consumption, not population, has gone through the roof. The earth has enough for the needs of all, not the greed of all (Gandhi). With the encouragement of advertising and credit, needs and wants are confused and unnecessary ostentatious consumption is promoted. Possessions can possess us where the meaning of life mutates into the accumulation of things. Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism agree that riches can be thorns and that simplicity, enlightenment and conversion are ways to life.

Inequality has also gone through the roof, especially since Reagan extolled greed and shifted taxation from corporate taxation to individual taxation. Three-quarters of the income growth in the US from 2002 to 2006 went to the top 1% (cf. “Economic Crisis and the Crisis of Neoliberal Ideology” by Vladimiro Guacce While the top 1% had 15-18% of total assets in 1968-1970, its share soared to 55-58% by 2007. Over the past 10 years, the financial services industry (banks, insurance, investment firms) contributed over billion in campaign contributions and lobbyists.

May the love of life unite us against the maladies and myths of the past so production can be for needs and not for profits. The system of elite democracy and shareholder rule could give way to decentralization, regionalization and the sovereignty of human rights. The horse must be set before the cart and our own pockets mended! May we take the hard path of system- and structural criticism and refuse the path of least resistance, scapegoating and blaming the weak!

and an earlier essay DEAR MATRIOTS (Jan 6, 2008):

Dear Matriots

Dear Matriots, seekers for an alternative economics and an alternative spirituality,

In Kaspar Hauser by Jacob Wassermann, a town was afflicted by drought, the wells were dry and people became angry and violent until a little boy played so beautifully on his flute that water rose in the wells again.

The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas said that instrumental rationality threatens to colonize all life, relationships and dialogue. Professors lament that they are often only asked whether the question will be on the test and whether it will put money in our pockets.

The future must be open and dynamic, welcoming and dynamic, self-critical and intercultural. The future must be anticipated and protected in the present, not extrapolated from the present (cf. Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope). The Zapatista vision of one world where many worlds fit and where everyone has a place could free us from fatalism, cynicism and one-dimensionality, the bitter fruits of vulgar materialism (cf. Ernst Bloch) and the self-healing market.

A Chinese friend Yu Xia designed a web site for me that offers 300 translated articles on anti-militarism, economic ethics, political theory, the Jewish-Christian dialogue and liberation theology,

Here are links to recent articles and translations that can give us new hope and enthusiasm as we seek alternative economics and alternative spirituality. Jesus calls us to the creation of a new language and a new mathematics, to be salt, leaven and light. Faith is personal but not private and is more interruption than custom. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, faith is a leap across seventy thousand fathoms of water.

"Community Centers: Learning from O Canada!"

"The Cart in the Speculative Mud"

"The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush"

"The Welfare State in the Market Trap"

"Egoism versus Pluralism: The Crucifix Decision"

"The Cure is the Sickness: Toward the Post-Washington Consensus"

"45 Articles to Celebrate the De-Selection"

I look forward to your comments. The fire of youth will never be put out. Don't let them break your spirit. We are only called to plant the seed, to be truth-tellers and storytellers, to redefine and expand work, to revive our welcoming tradition and decry the tradition of fear. In a world where understanding is a fusion of horizons, prejudice can be a stepping-stone to the event of understanding (cf. Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method). May we discover the wonder of parallel worlds and the different stages and phases of life. The race is not to the swiftest but to the simple, modest and merciful, to become as children, open, affirming and enthralled.

Victory of the Loud Little Handful

by Mark Twain

The loud little handful - as usual - will shout for the war. The pulpit will - warily and cautiously - object... at first. The great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it."

Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded, but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the antiwar audiences will thin out and lose popularity.

Before long, you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men...

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

Mark Twain, "The Mysterious Stranger" (1910)

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