Posts Tagged ‘Zohar’

The Global African: How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Black Politics

January 25, 2016

This is fascinating. It’s an attack on Neoliberalism from a Black American perspective, talking about the harm it has done to Black communities, churches, politics and people’s personal psychology and sense of self-worth. In this piece from the Global African, there’s a discussion between the host, Bill Fletcher, and a professor of Black Studies at Johns Hopkins university, Lester Spence about the harmful effects of Neoliberal economics. The second segment talks about the Paris conference on Climate Change, and the implications this has for communities in the Developing World.

They’re both important issues, but the piece that interested me was the first half, the critique of Neoliberal economics. Lester Spence, the professor being interviewed, has written a book about it. Apart from the economic theory itself, he also wanted to correct and supplement some of the ideas in Cornel West’s book, Racial Matters, and a work on Neoliberalism by a White academic. He admires both books, but states that the leave out vital issues, like the way Neoliberalism has corroded Black people’s ability to organise and their sense of self-worth for Cornel West’s book, and the racial dimension of Neoliberalism in the study of it by the White academic.

For the benefit of their viewers elsewhere in the world, Spence defines what Neoliberalism is. He states that it is the view that people should organise themselves as a business, and that politics and public services should also adopt the methods of private industry, including libraries. This has resulted in the destruction of the notion of ‘the public’. In the case of the churches, it has resulted in a mentality that sees the Bible as a business manual, which if adopted will not only spiritually enrich you, but also materially as well. In this it resembles the teaching of some of the earlier Black cult leaders. This is in line with Neoliberalism generally, which despite the part of the word being ‘neo’, Greek for ‘new’, takes much of its doctrines from the 19th century.

The result of Neoliberal economics, as pioneered by Milton Friedman, has been massive income inequality and the economic devastation of the working class. This has affected all Americans, but African-Americans have been particularly hard hit, in places like Detroit. Spence and Fletcher point out that Neoliberal economics was rolled out when Black Americans were first being elected to positions of political leadership, particularly in the communities that were worst affected. Thus, Black politicians and leaders became the scapegoats, charged with the failures that the economic system had produced.

Spence states that some Black people have prospered through Neoliberalism. These were middle class people, who had the education and affluent background, which gave them the entrepreneurial qualities prized by the system. People like himself. But those less privileged, like citizens with special needs, it has been devastating. They have got poorer.

He also talks about the ‘Black Nihilism’ that the economic system has spawned. This was identified by Cornel West in Race Matters, which was written about the time of the Rodney King riots. In the words of the two conversing here, it’s the lack of love Black people have for themselves and their fellow Black Americans. This takes away their power to combine and organise politically, and replaces it with therapy. The result is that Black politics has been enervated, and the ability to bring about political change nullified.

There is also a distinct racial dimension to the economic theory and its political appeal to specific American demographics. He criticises the White academic’s otherwise excellent study because it ignores this. Spence states that some of the people, who vote overwhelmingly for Neoliberal policies are poor Whites, who are suffering as much as Black communities. This needs to be explained.

Spence has also taken the unusual stem of publishing his book with a small press publisher, Punctum. It’ll be available at the price of a few dollars for about five years as PDF, then free on-line after that. Spence states that he wanted to break out from the ‘honeyed noose’ of academia, and make the book’s publishing, and not just its contents, a political act. He also disliked the appellation of ‘scholar activist’, despite his actions.

This is a very thought-provoking piece from the perspective of one of the racial groups hardest hit by the wretched brainchild of Milton Friedman, von Mises and co. It’s a perspective that needs to be taken into account when addressing the poverty and despair this pernicious theory has created.

Regarding the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, there’s an increasing movement away from it, and some of its worst preachers have attacked it. One of these was the American right-wing Evangelist, Jim Bakker. Bakker was one of the televangelists that emerged in the 1980s, with Swaggert, Jerry Fallwell and the rest of the corrupt crew. Bakker was criminally corrupt, as well as morally bankrupt, and ended up going to gaol for defrauding his church. He has since written a book criticising and denouncing the very theology he used to preach as heretical.

And the doctrine of self-enrichment through religion or spirituality isn’t confined to Christianity. It’s also in the New Age movement. Deepak Chopra, one of the movement’s leading writers, has said that he promotes ‘Prosperity Consciousness’. You can see the same corrupt ideals at work in The Cosmic Ordering Service, another New Age book that told you if you wanted something, you could get it, so long as you went through the proper New Age mental rituals. The Qabbala cult Madonna belongs to is also part of it. This isn’t much like the original Qabbala, which is a complicated system of Jewish mysticism. It’s a radically simplified version of it, which again promises its adherents worldly wealth through practicing a few basic spiritual formulas or exercises. It’s been strongly criticised by mainstream Jewish scholars for both its theological distortions and the massive profiteering involved. The person responsible for the Qabbala cult, for example, sells a copy of the Zohar for up to $300 or so. It might even be more. These are all in Hebrew, but he tells his followers that they don’t have to bother understanding this mystical text. Simply having it will confer spiritual benefits and material wealth. It’s needless to say that this is very definitely not what proper Jewish religious scholars believe.

As for White people voting for Neoliberal politics, my guess is that race, and particularly racial contempt for Blacks, has been an important element of the strategy through which it has been sold to them. Right-wing American politicians have stigmatised Blacks as being feckless welfare scroungers. The interventionist policies used to improve their conditions, such as affirmative action, merely act to prevent the benign market operating as it should. It stops virtuous, well-qualified Whites from getting the jobs they need by giving them to Blacks. At the same time, food stamps, unemployment benefit and support for unmarried mothers mean that Blacks are dependent on welfare and aren’t bothered about getting jobs.

The White poor, who are being fed this rubbish, don’t see themselves as dependent on welfare, despite the fact that many of the most hard-line, fervently Republican communities are the poorest in America. The Young Turks did one piece about a year ago looking at one county in the American south – I think it was Kentucky – where nearly everyone was unemployed and consequently dirt poor. And just about everyone in that county – 97 per cent – were White.

This is also the bilge being fed to people over here. A few years ago, The Spectator, never pro-Black in the first place, began running stories stating that, thanks to left-wing policies, White men were the only demographic group not welcome in London. It was a counterpart to the Republicans’ ‘Southern Strategy’ of targeting ‘Angry White men’. The fear of the economic and social threat of immigrants, whether from the EU or the Middle East, is being used by Cameron to try and frighten voters into allowing him to cut even more welfare benefits. You could see that in the reports Mike posted over at Vox Political on Cameron’s attempts to get the other EU leaders to deny migrants over here the welfare benefits to which they were entitled under EU and their own countries’ laws, which included payments to which they were entitled and which were paid by their countries of origin.

The Republicans and the Tories are using White racial fears to impoverish and degrade Whites, Blacks and other racial groups. And they’ll keep playing on this as long as it appears to work. Blacks and Whites need to unite to stop this, and ensure a better, fairer world for working people, whatever the colour of their skin.

Advertisements

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.