Well, there’s a lot of candidates for this prognostication! One of these items below is what I am really pointing to–the others are an extra bonus!
So, is it…..
Killer asteroids? Hey, they are out there…they have hit us real bad in the deep past and who is to say what the future holds…. And the really important thing is that if we spot one of these big guys, there is nothing really that we can do about it.
So, is it…
Drought? Some folks in the southwest and in California are saying that the drought is over. Wrong, folks! So far we have had only Intro to Drought, next comes Drought 101, and then comes Advanced Drought. A bit of wet weather during the past few months can fool you. During a long-range drought there will be a blip occasionally of wet weather even as the trend moves toward an ever-drier condition. So….the snowpack is only so-so in the Sierras–even with this supposedly mega El Nino; Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two great reservoirs of water for Vegas, Phoenix, LA, etc., both are at historically low points even this Spring. Edward Abbey cursed the Glen Canyon Dam when it was built, creating Lake Powell and covering over a canyon that rivaled the Grand Canyon for wildness and beauty. Well, the curse is working…the water is going down so fast that there are predictions you will be able to hike the canyon in 10 years. The long term view is ominous.
Climate change? It’s happening folks; things are warming up, no doubt about it. Global political leaders are either faking it or are self-deluded that what they are offering is substantial and will stop this warming. In any case it is not even clear that this warming is not just human-made but may also be a cyclical thing with the sun and the atmosphere. If that is the case we are really cooked.
Elections? Ugggghhhh! Don’t think that voting the “right way” will save us! As Rosa Luxumberg said about a century ago: If elections could change things, THEY would make them illegal. Ok, so you believe you have this choice between the abysmally, godawfully bad and the less bad. So you vote for the less bad and breathe a sigh of relief. You think you have stopped a catastrophe. But here’s the sad truth: the really really bad is still coming–you have not closed the door; in fact you have put out the welcome mat! And here we come to my prime candidate for what I refer to in the title of this piece. The fact is that we are suffering from a very deep and pervasive incoherence and dysfunctionality as a culture and a people. Sounds kind of abstract and not very exciting, but it is this kind of thing that brings down empires and whole civilizations. The rot, the disease starts deep inside the culture within our very fundamental communication, our language. Words begin to be used in a very deceptive way. The novel 1984 gives a small illustration of this. We begin to live in a culture of lies and deception and even self-deception. We not only lie to each other; we lie to ourselves. And here we are not just referring to the traditional untruth but more to a deceptive use of language where we don’t really mean and act on what we say. We live in a make-believe, a pretense, an incoherence in the meaning of our communication. This leads to certain spiritual death, and then to a very real moral confusion where we can no longer tell what is the right thing to do. The end result is social and cultural collapse.
It is interesting that people as diverse as James Joyce and Gandhi stressed the importance of language in the moral life of a people. Merton picked up on this and noted the intoxication with violence and self-deception that the media and the political leaders of his time exuded. Clarity in language and truthfulness are the building blocks of a healthy morality and a robust spirituality. But as I have said, we are moving in the opposite direction and I would like to illustrate this with some concrete examples of a manifestation of this problem. We will begin with a rather bland, seemingly innocuous example of political “shape-shifting”:
“ President Obama took office promising to usher in an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability in the federal government. Back in 2009, when he said federal agencies “should take affirmative steps to make information public,” he promised that the administration would make openness a centerpiece of its agenda. But as the curtain closes on Obama’s second term, many of his lofty promises remain unfulfilled. For example, despite signing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which was supposed to usher in a new era of protections for officials who speak out against waste and fraud, the Obama White House has brought more cases against whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. In other areas — such as a plan to improve the Freedom of Information Act, or a proposal to shine a light on federal spending — the administration hasn’t only fallen short, but sometimes undermined reforms that would make the ways of Washington more open to public scrutiny. Consider the short-lived office of the “ethics czar,” a position President Obama created to crack down on government corruption and malfeasance. It was a good idea, but one that didn’t last long — the position has been vacant since 2011.” (quoted from an article by Elizabeth Hempowicz of the Project on Government Oversight)
A lot of people pay no attention to this rather arcane, Washington-insider kind of stuff, but it is a symptom of a much larger problem. We are so used to “Washington promises” not being fulfilled that we think nothing of it. Not thinking of the far larger implications of this kind of deception and pretending. Here’s a more serious example:
There’s a lot of politically liberal people who decry gun-violence in this country, and the prevalence of guns all over our society. Ok. But you will hardly hear anything from these same folk about the problem that the good ole’ USA is the number one weapons dealer in the world, selling all kinds of weapons to all kinds of people–as long as they “promote our interests.” This was done not only under right-wing presidents but very much under Clinton and Obama also. If we facilitate violence all over the globe, we shouldn’t be surprised if that violence comes home to roost!
President Obama, the “progressive” president, called dropping the bomb on Hiroshima evil and he has forced a cutback on a nuclear program in Iran; yet he is updating and upgrading our own nuclear arsenal. Wish we could ask Dan Berrigan what he thought of that. And here’s the thing: these “liberal,” “progressive” folk do offer us a bit of economic candy, they put a lot of sugar in the toxic brew that is our economic system, so most people just swallow this and are really afraid of radical change. Insecurity of sorts. But what happens is that we become tolerant of more and more outrageous pretense and deception. Like this “war on terror.” The drone killings. Etc. As long as we get our little piece of the American pie, what do we care about what happens elsewhere. If we bomb a hospital, the President says, Oops! Sorry about that. But no accountability; just as with the banksters and the people who lied us into a war costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. But we are awash in a sea of lies, a mirage of self-righteousness, a fantasy of American exceptionalism, the home of Special Ops and Special Forces. Think of this last example: the President authorized the sale of arms to Vietnam. He opens a door to Cuba, hooray, and then opens a door to death and destruction in SE Asia. Why not? Our excuse is basically that of the corner drug dealer: hey, if we don’t sell it to them, someone else will. Here’s a more succinct and artistic presentation of the problem:
But lest you think that our problem is primarily political and economic, I would like to remind you that our churches are totally implicated in the lies and deception. Of course they do not protest at the deceptions of the government or the economy—did not hear a peep of protest as we invaded Iraq. The churches seem to be there only to “hold the hands” of the faithful and help them enter the next world. If that were the only problem, I could even excuse them. But the situation is much more serious. Some of them are active pushers of this drug of deception. Make it look like it’s one thing that they are about when it’s really something quite different that they are doing. Consider this story from the New York Daily News:
“Not leaving it to divine chance, the state Catholic Conference has turned in recent years to some of Albany’s most well-connected and influential lobby firms to help block a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice. The Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has used Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications to lobby against the Child Victims Act as well as for or against other measures.
All told, the conference spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying from 2007 through the end of 2015, state records show. That does not include the conference’s own internal lobbying team. Filings show the lobbyists were retained, in part, to work on issues associated with ‘statute of limitations’ and ‘timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.’ Other issues included parochial school funding and investment tax credits. ‘They are willing to spend limitless money in order to basically keep bad guys from being accountable for their actions,’ said Melanie Blow, chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign. ‘I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.’
“Timothy Cardinal Dolan heads the state’s Catholic Conference, which in recent years hired major lobby firms to block legislation designed to help child abuse victims seek justice. Added Kathryn Robb, an advocate and survivor: ‘If they need to spend that much money on lobbying, clearly, then, they have some pretty big secrets to hide.’ While a far cry from the millions in lobbying top special interests spend in Albany each year, advocates for child sex abuse survivors say the $2.1 million spent likely represents a worthwhile investment to the Catholic Conference if it can continue to block legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases and open a one-year window to bring lawsuits for victims who can no longer sue under current law.”
So the Church is very fond of “talking the talk” with regard for care for the victims of clerical sex abuse; but it hardly can be said to “walking the walk.” For all the talk of addressing the problem and even solving it, actually the Church in a lot of places has spent enormous resources blocking accountability and making it more difficult for victims to get justice. Of course it not only seeks monetary protections but it cherishes its image above all else. Recently the Pope got some headlines because he supposedly expanded Canon Law in order to facilitate the firing of bishops who have hidden priest abusers. But as some organizations have pointed out this is a smokescreen because a real tribunal that was to be formed to examine such cases, specifically sex abuse cases, will not be formed; and furthermore the actual fact is that the Pope could have fired many bishops and cardinals in the recent past, but very very few have been touched in any way–and even if they are “fired” there is no talk of criminal prosecution for these guys. The fact is that neither Church nor State have acted to hold the bigwigs of the Church accountable. Here’s a piece of the story from Truthdig and the Washington Post:
“The Catholic Church has been struggling to remedy internal proceedings ever since it was revealed in 2002 that bishops across the nation shielded pedophile priests from consequences. Last year, Pope Francis looked to hold bishops accountable when he announced the creation of a tribunal with authority to dismiss bishops who played a role in covering up abuse. But now the pope has apparently changed his mind. The pontiff announced Saturday that he was abandoning the tribunal proposal and instead would clarify existing laws regarding the removal of bishops. According to Nicole Winfield’s report in The Washington Post:
‘The new procedures sought to answer long-standing demands by survivors of abuse that the Vatican hold bishops accountable for botching abuse cases. Victims have long accused bishops of covering up for pedophiles, moving rapists from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police — and suffering no consequences. But the new law was immediately criticized by survivors of abuse as essentially window dressing since there were already ways to investigate and dismiss bishops for wrongdoing — they were just rarely used against bishops who failed to protect their flocks from pedophiles.’ Winfield goes on to explain that the changes to the law mean very little. In fact, the only thing worth noting about the pope’s changes is that they make ‘no mention of the original proposal for the tribunal, which would have treated negligence as a crime and prosecuted it as such.’ “
Even the so-called progressive National Catholic Reporter missed this ecclesial sleight-of-hand. Now the Pope seems like a decent fellow overall, but the sad fact is that he is nevertheless also caught up in this web of deception and self-deception where the cost of speaking truly and clearly and then ACTING so is actually very high. Thus I would like to conclude with some examples of those who moved in the other direction, who showed that “wholeness of spirit” alluded to by that Desert Father who said “I am the same inside as I am outside.” In other words, you get what you see. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, too many of our political, economic and religious leaders are like magicians–they are doing one thing with one hand and something quite else with the other. Watch them carefully; the old adage holds: the “hand is quicker than the eye.” And their language is replete with deception, even in cases where explicit deception is not intended.
But like I said, there are counter-examples, and the first one is Gandhi. Here is a famous story to illustrate the point: A mother brings her young son to Gandhi’s ashram and asks Gandhi to tell her son not to eat sugar because it was bad for him. Gandhi agreed to talk to the boy but tells the mother to bring him back in a week or so. She is puzzled but does as told. When she returns, Gandhi takes her son and spends some time talking to him about how bad sugar is for him and not to eat it. After the talk the mother thanks him, but then she asks him why couldn’t he have just said that last week. Gandhi answered, “Last week I was eating sugar myself.”
Another example: recently in the news there was a story of a Unitarian minister, a chaplain in the military, who was stationed in Afghanistan. Every day he would see the drones flying on the way to kill someone and all the so-called “collateral damage.” He got sick of it. He quit; resigned his commission in protest. Never mind the political leaders, religious leaders have been almost totally silent on anything that we do militarily…except for a few like Dan Berrigan and this Unitarian minister. Of course the cost is pretty high for speaking out and few are willing to pay that cost.
Speaking of that, it just came in on the news that Muhammed Ali has died. What a remarkable figure and a counter-example of what I am talking about. On the one hand he was a clown and a comedian who had a lot of fun; on the other he was possibly the greatest athlete of the last half century. But more than all that this young Black had an extraordinary purity of heart that was hardly understandable in the circles in which he moved or in any church circles for that matter. In the early ‘60s, when he was entering his athletic prime, he started hanging out with Malcolm X and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammed Ali, and that scared a lot of white folks who wanted to hero-worship the heavyweight champion. He alienated a lot of people when he joined the Black Muslim movement, a weird sect of Islam here in the U.S. among a small group of Black people. As Ali matured and grew in vision, just like Malcolm, he entered the mainstream of Islam and by 1975 had actually become a Sufi. Hardly anyone in the sports media or the mainstream media understood what he was about.
At the very height of his athletic prowess when he was world champion, Ali spoke out against the Vietnam war with vigor and refused to register for the draft. This was even before Martin Luther King turned against the war. Here’s a quote from Ali:
““I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in taking this stand: either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my Constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end I am confident that justice will come my way for the truth must eventually prevail.”
And another quote:
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.” (Both quotes as found on Rawstory)
After such words Ali found himself vilified by the white media, lost most of his fans and supporters, held in contempt by white and black politicians, and even criticized by certain Black leaders. He was stripped of his title, forbidden to engage in any boxing activities, and made a pariah in the public forum. From many estimates he lost the best of his athletic life to inactivity, lost millions of dollars in earnings, and had to endure the hatred of many. It was not until 7 or 8 years later when the country itself woke up to the horror of Vietnam and at least a small majority of the country came out of the propagandized fog, that more people began to see Ali as a true prophet. Slowly his stature grew until he became globally a beloved figure.
So there are a few people out there fighting the system of lies today. Next month Chris Hedges and a throng of “truth-seekers” will be giving witness at the Democratic Convention . Here is Hedges in his own words(as found on Truthdig):
“On July 25, opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Cheri Honkala, leader of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, who was denied a permit to march by city authorities, will rally with thousands of protesters outside City Hall. Defying the police, they will march up Broad Street to the convention.
“We will recapture our democracy in the streets of cities such as Philadelphia, not in convention halls such as the aptly named Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic Party elites intend to celebrate the results of the rigged primary elections and the continuity of corporate power.
“Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, other activists and I will march with Honkala. It is not as if we have a choice. No one invited us into the center or to the lavish corporate-sponsored receptions. No one anointed us to be Clinton superdelegates—a privilege that went to corporate lobbyists, rich people and party hacks. No one in the Democratic establishment gives a damn what we think.
The convention is not our party. It is their party. It costs a lot of money to attend. Donate $ 100,000 and you become an “empire” donor, with perks such as “VIP credentials for all convention proceedings,” along with tickets to lavish corporate and Party receptions, photo ops with politicians at the convention podium, four rooms at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel and a suite at a Yankees game, where a “special guest” will be present. Short of $100,000? You can become a “gold” donor for $50,000, a “silver” donor for $25,000 or a “bronze” donor for $10,000.
“We have the best democracy money can buy. The Wells Fargo Center and the fancy hotels in Philadelphia will be swarming with corporate representatives and lobbyists from Comcast, Xerox, Google and dozens of other companies that manage our political theater.
Honkala, who was once homeless—she lived for a while out of cars, in abandoned houses and under bridges—and who was the Green Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, has long defied the elites on behalf of the marginalized and the poor. She led a protest at the 2000 Republican National Convention, (after being denied a permit for that as well), which saw 30,000 people shut down Philadelphia’s center over issues such as racial discrimination, police violence and poverty. She has fought for the homeless, the unemployed and the underemployed for three decades, through acts of civil disobedience —marches, the construction of tent cities and homeless encampments, and sit-ins—that often ended in arrests. She has been arrested more than 200 times.
She will be on the south side of Philadelphia’s City Hall at 3 p.m. on July 25, with or without a permit. And thousands for whom the Democratic Party is another face of the corporate enemy will be there with her……
“The loss of faith in the political system and neoliberal ideology is widespread. The corporate elites are pouring $5 billion into the carnival of presidential electoral politics in a desperate bid to keep us mesmerized and controlled. Democracy is endlessly invoked on the airwaves to legitimize the corporate and political forces that have destroyed it. Congress has an approval rating of 11 percent. Half of qualified voters are not registered to vote, and half of registered voters do not go to the polls. A little more than half of 25 percent—no more than 15 percent—of the electorate determines who becomes president. And this is the way the elites want it.
In our system of inverted totalitarianism, the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin pointed out, the object is to demobilize the citizenry, to render it apathetic, to convince the citizen that all political activity that does not take place within the narrow boundaries defined by the corporate state is futile. This is a message hammered into public consciousness by the corporate media, which serve as highly paid courtiers to the corporate elites. It is championed by the two parties that offer up fear of the other as their primary political platform.”
I will pray for Hedges and his companions, and I hope they do their thing in a Gandhian spirit and not get lured into a violent response. As it is the national media will portray them as rabble-rousers, etc. I think their efforts will be futile–but necessary. As for myself I want to head for the hills and live in a cave–something really really bad is coming. But Mother Nature and the Truth will prevail.