Social Conservatism and Engaging with the World

A high school friend who has devoted his life to “seeking God in his creation” and to community service recently sent an excerpt from the book The Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christian Values in a Mass Media World. I took the excerpt as a challenge, first because the text was in Portuguese and I needed to prove to myself that I could still read and master ideas in Portuguese. Secondly, after 17 years in secular France I no longer feel the need for God as an affirmation of Life, Love or purpose and this chapter offered an opportunity to think upon “engagement”, “conformity” and “coming out from this world” in the sense proposed by Paul to the Romans, by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).

[To begin, and to keep matters simple, I did find the text in English and suggest that if you are not familiar with Portuguese you might want to read the chapter in English. Have a look at Who Stole Our Culture?, which you will find on the World Net Daily website, www.wnd.com.]

There is nothing to recommend about the author William S. Lind, unless you consider that he has coined a media-friendly moniker and is successfully exploiting this simplification among those who long for aesthetic and philosophical certainty.

Just what then is “Cultural Marxism”?

According to Lind, “cultural Marxism” is a subversive ideology, with a “deliberate agenda” to undermine Christianity and in so doing, destroy American culture.

In his chapter, Lind traces a plausible connection (loosely and with considerable license) between the Marxist observation of tension between social classes caused by competing social and economic interests and Marxist atheism. Starting from the vantage of class struggle (as if this were the only path to change) he traces the ideology through anarchist movement to the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci and the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs, to the Frankfurt School of social thought uprooted by the National Socialists in Germany and transplanted to New York. From New York, Lind traces the ideas of Western Marxism through Herbert Marcuse to the “counter culture movement” of the 1960s, concluding

That generation, which runs every elite institution in America, now wages a ceaseless war on all traditional beliefs and institutions. They have largely won that war. Most of America’s traditional culture lies in ruins.

Of course, Lind continues with his own prescription for “taking back our culture” which is nothing less than “Coming out from this world” (II Corinthians 6:17).

I have several problems with this article. First and foremost, the logic and the reasoning in this article work only if you reason from the standpoint that we live in an “us versus them” world, populated by conspirators who would “defeat” another, in short, a video-game world. This is all very Star Wars, very Manichean, simplistic and reductive. It is the case of good versus evil, where, if I am right, you must be wrong. If I believe in God (or do not, as the case may be) anyone who disagrees or challenges my deepest belief is against me.

The second problem I have with this piece is the unspoken belief that “Marxism” is bad and is diametrically opposed to … well not even capitalism, but Christianity. The dichotomy of Marxism and Capitalism I can understand. But Marxism and Christianity…? Maybe if you consider that anarchists and socialist revolutionaries were bent on overthrowing the capitalist order to ensure social justice. But surely, those are not the Marxists we see everyday who, in small ways work for social justice and to alleviate human suffering.

Finally, I dislike this article because it is prescriptive invites me into a world of belief that I cannot abide, the world of the socially conservative. It would have me agree about things I reject completely and absolutely and the public evangelist ideal that what I believe should be a matter of community record. I will not profess my faith except as a community act. I will not bear public witness but would expect those who “seek God in his creation” to have patience with me and see the spirit of Life, Truth and Love in me.

It is as if the need to believe in and affirm a purpose for life precluded any possible argument for millions of years of biological experimentation, as if it was foreordained that we should occupy the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, and that God will show his chosen species a way out of the evolutionary mess we have created for ourselves.

Here is the text from an excellent review I also found on-line, at a website calling itself, Armchair Interviews:

“The authors have a biblical world view that says that the purpose of man is to know, love, and serve God. Therefore anything that moves someone closer to that end is good. If it does not—it is not good. It is that simple.

“This would explain why Pat Boone would lead his family out of a viewing of the movie, “Paint Your Wagon” in the early seventies. Why? Because the premise of the movie was that the town would be a better place if there were more woman of a certain type—a prostitute. And much of the movie focused on how to get these women to town.

“Many people would say that this is simply entertainment, point to the number of awards the movie garnered, and say that Pat Boone was narrow-minded and out of touch with the times. Pat Boone’s response would be that the movie did not cause people to know, love, and serve God—and therefore should be avoided.” (Bob Pike, “The Culture-Wise Family”, a review published in Armchair Interviews)

In my own life, I have preferred to live as Paul counseled the Romans (Rom.12:2), that they should not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind so that I might prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.

EXPATRIATE CITIZENSHIP

The following was written as a meditation introducing the theme of a luncheon conference on Expatriate Citizenship in a Connected World. The United States Consult General, Diane Kelly, was our featured speaker.

To paraphrase the French adage, “pour faire la République, il faillait faire des républicains” let me suggest that to create a global community we must first cultivate global citizenship.

I am a professional expatriate. Thirty-four of my sixty years have been spent overseas:
I was born and raised in Brazil (where I survived three “revolutions” or moments of high national tension and political turmoil: President Getulio Vargas’ suicide in 1954, Janio Quadros’ resignation in 1961 and succession by left-leaning João Goulart, and finally, the 1964 military overthrow of João Goulart.) I then lived 26 years in the United States (New York and New Orleans) and I am now in my 17th year in France.

My childhood years provided a ringside seat on the early stages of globalization. Indeed, my parents, brothers, sister and I were the embodiment of liberal capitalism, enjoying the fruits of diversified country risks and free trade. Our neighbors and friends in the local community could easily see and admire in us, ad hoc ambassadors, in my father’s words, the benefits of modern consumerism and the apparently unlimited benefits of the free market.

Communicating with the universe. Pioneer 1 Plaque
We watched as the promise of a new era and a grand “Alliance for Progress” inflamed passions and hopes in Latin and North America (1961). Then came the Great Society, the Vietnam War, the first energy shock (the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974) the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of Somoza regime in Nicaragua.

As a young adult in New Orleans I watched as communities were torn by internal strife (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador) and then rebuilt through multilateral, US-led programs administered by the United Nations.

As parents of teenaged children completing their education in Europe, we watched as the Stockholm Declaration (1972) became the Earth Summit (1992) and these found their way into a pragmatic discussion of object-oriented development strategies and environmental management. The OECD’s “International Development Goals” were reformulated as the United Nations’ “Millennium Development Goals” to become a road map for multilateral cooperation and community development.

There is no doubt these changes are at least partly the result of improved communications, from transportation and mobility to telecommunications, 24-hour news cycles and the now ubiquitous Internet.

But it is not obvious that these changes have all been for the good.

Globalization has meant the shifting, transformation, blurring and even elimination of traditional barriers, those lines of demarcation that define self and set apart the other. For it is barriers that define community geographies whether political and administrative, cultural or ecological.

Such geographies are universal, the exist everywhere. But everywhere they exist they are different, they are expressed differently and experienced differently. My Americanness, Frenchness or Dutchness is really nothing more than a descriptor for the frame of reference I bring to my experience of the local community. We may be Sunni or Alawi, Christian, Muslim or Jew, but in a deeper sense we are first citizens and participants in a local community, sharing in the transformation and trade in local environmental outputs, and that by choice and by virtue of friendship and mutual respect is what makes us citizens.

And so we are French, American, Dutch, German or Canadian. But it is because we live in peace that we are not obliged to choose.

Turtle Island and European-American Settlement Patterns

Like so many of my generation of European-Americans a significant part of my conscious being has been devoted over the short span of my life to answering the question “Who am I?” In the face of the material well-being of my generation what could I possibly want? Surely, life was more than about wealth and material comforts.

I suppose the idea that I should know who I was started when my father, seeking to humor my awkward teen existence shared a cartoon parodying the “now” generation with the headline, “Who am I?”. I didn’t think it was terribly funny but I knew that adults were themselves humored by what passed for consent so I let the remark slide. My father probably never thought again about the subject or knew how deeply he had influenced my thought process.

The issue was undoubtedly that I should be constructing a focused adult life in anticipation of assuming an adult identity. He probably did not understand for all of his preoccupations that my life was already under construction and that my adolescent rebellion was already about community and my identity within that community.

The first question then concerned the observed asymmetry of power between the local production system and my privileged ‘colonial’ status. What was it about the encounter of two systems that created unfair advantage? Why was one system local, the other not? Which of these systems was my community? And if my community was the local production system, how could I accept an advantage originating outside of the local community?

[ Before I go any further, I should explain what is meant by “an advantage originating outside of the local community”. I was born and raised on Hummingbird Island, the eldest son of a professional manager responsible for a food processing business that purchased and transformed local farm produce for sale and consumption in Europe. Payment for the transformed produce was made in the United States to merchants who “hedged the risks” associated with the local production system, using the profits to finance additional production operations. ]

To my young eyes and 20/20 vision, since augmented by 40+ years of hindsight and a clear sense of what we know today as “globalization”, this international production system produced a redistribution of wealth, from Europe to South and North America. The redistribution in Europe took the form of purchasing economies (production and sale of less expensive, grain-fed livestock) resulting in lower market prices (increased disposable incomes to consumers) and for producers, lower factor costs at given market prices. For the land- and labor-rich host country this produced employment and land rents. Nothing was taken unfairly.

But this was only one facet of the colonization process. Other facets have since become apparent. The transfer of wealth from one economic system (Europe) to another (North and South America) produced a streamlining of local production processes from credit to manufacturing machinery and data processing, generating ever more wealth; it encouraged population growth and replication of European-style systems of social hierarchy, mobility and social geographies. Economic forces encouraged the progressive removal of natural ecosystems from their primary organic function supporting Earth communities of life and biodiversity. In short, this form of colonization succeeded in reproducing European-American settlement patterns, disenfranchising Native Peoples and advancing the day for “Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony”.

More profoundly speaking, the success of the European colonial system, the “dominance paradigm” now fully mature and “in possession of Turtle Island” must inevitably turn to its next challenge, global scarcity and the control of food and water production systems. This is what is happening today all over Africa and in less developed areas of the world where land, water and labor are plentiful.

Where will it all end?

An old Indian friend whose life model is deeply rooted in community practice and collective intelligence, and who actively anticipates Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony reminds me that the civilization disease which expresses itself as a belief in “individual”-ity, is a social cancer that can only be checked by

Human Persons in-Community, and so in-tune with the Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself, whatever the geographical origins of their Ancestors…

In answering the question “Who am I?” my old Indian friend might as well have said “it is not so much ‘who’ we are that matters, but how well we DO what we ARE”.

This is in fact what he said.

Enclosures

The Stone Wall at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York

Today’s note is inspired by a Google photosearch for an image to illustrate the word “commons”.

The Stone Wall at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New YorkThe idea of a commons implies both freedom and its opposite. As we use the word, a commons is a place where the representatives of a free people meet in a rite of political comity. It is also however, an enclosure, a space secured by law and to which access is restricted. One might speak of a such a community as a community “bound by a commons”.

What is needed is a new understanding of the commons as being either “socialized” or “wild”. Looking at the problem in this light, a “wild commons” would be established by common agreement as beyond property limits, beyond the pale of “socialized” spaces. Such agreements should govern the oceans, the Antartic, the noosphere, outerspace and as much of a national territory as can be reasonably set aside. In short, we are speaking of creating “public parks” on a global scale, somewhat like Antarctica. What could be more important?

Such distinctions are already possible. We live in “socialized spaces” we consider “public” and cultivate intimacy in our “private spaces” and anything that is outside of “socialized space” is considered “wild”. The problem we face in the 21st century however, is that such “wilds” are no longer wild and are hardly self-sustaining.

A “wild commons” is needed to protect biodiversity, much as zoological establishments (“zoos” in plain English) today are focused on preserving and cultivating biodiversity. Such establishments for the promotion of biodiversity could not exist without agreement of the “socialized commons”, which is to say, without comity and collective authority.

Would a new authority be required to implement a “wild commons”?

I think not. Yet, if man has learned anything from his history it should be that authority cannot exist without enforcement and that the first requirement of enforcement is submission to a rule.

Submission entails surrendering the will to resist but it can also be understood as a negotiation whereby some rights are surrendered in exchange for the preservation of others. This is the art of compromise and it is more than ever necessary in promoting the stewardship of our public spaces. Acknowledging the necessity of a “wild commons” implies diversity and long term sustainability.

In order to return to the idea that enclosures are systems which produce “commons objects” (sic), perhaps what we need is to rethink the commons not as a space of shared activity but as a regulated space of non-activity.

If you are interested in exploring this further, you might have a look at the classic economics text The Tragedy of the Commons. Alternatively, a great deal of literature is currently being generated with respect to the strategy of developing networks of Marine Protected Areas. These are an absolutely indispensable first step toward the preservation of marine diversity and the safeguard of trophic marine systems.

Defending and promoting the commons in a globalized world

All of life is local.

One might be forgiven for quickly passing over such a banality. And yet, the local is at the very heart of our system of values and the “globalization” debate.

Vital goods (organic matter, oxygen and drinking water) and the biological communities that evolved under these conditions are the quintessence of “localness”. As biological communities grow and become more dense–somewhat like the mega cities of the 21st century–they become more specialized and diversified. Historically that which was produced locally was consumed locally and, according to the first law of thermodynamics, the total energy in an isolated system tended to remain unchanged and in the system. (This of course, raises the issue of scale and interoperability between systems, matter for another debate and discussion.)

The Mediterranean biotope is such a “closed system”, naturally defined as a subtropical marine system conditioned by the earth’s orbit around the sun, producing warm dry summers and mild rainy winters. Within the Mediterranean biotope there are a number of micro-environments formed by mountain systems (Alps, Atlas, Pyrenees), river and estuarine systems (Nile, Rhone, Danube) and a marine topography dominated by coastal systems, continental shelves and deep water environments.

At some point in the evolutionary process, Man’s penchant for socializing led to the creation of local commons as specialized communities producing regular surpluses. Such surpluses were traded as a reliable means toward increasing the material well-being of the commons. Such local surplus led to the development of a class of professional merchant traders and then, to entire societies specialized in colonial settlement.

The expansive colonial settlement practiced by the Romans eventually proved unsustainable and gave way to a system of competing city-states and then to nation-states whose purpose was to serve an ever greater collective interest more or less democratically defined. Individual will was subordinated to the collective weal (the commonwealth) and predatory colonization once again became the order-of-the-day.

In the latest transformation, mechanized transportation, telecommunications and rights enforcement once again threaten the commons (sedentary communities locally nourished) and a new collective ideal is called into existence. But the question precisely, is what can be the validity of such a collective ideal? Who will negotiate it and, under what authority?

My participation in and adherence to a local commons is welcome and indisputable: my existence as a human and the greatness of anything I might accomplish depends on the commons and the nature of relations with distant commons. Such a system is disrupted when relations between commons become unequal and the self-sufficiency of one is threatened by the predatory practices of another.

In the end, why would I want to “harvest” my fish, my wheat or olives beyond the limits of local sustainability? Why would I want to pollute my rivers or disfigure my landscapes when the surpluses acquired are non-sustainable or when market practices predatory? And, what should we do about biological species (such as ourselves) that are not by nature sedentary and thus defy assignment to one or another geographic locality?

Defending and promoting the commons in a globalized world is perhaps the highest calling.