Preparation for a Communist Revolution: Communist Manifesto, part 5

Global Solidarity

The last sections of the Communist Manifesto pamphlet involve Marx’s analysis and critique of his present-day socialisms. In part 3, he lists the shortcomings of 5 distinct socialisms: feudal socialism, petty-bourgeois socialism, German “true” socialism, conservative/bourgeois socialism, and critical-utopian socialism. Then in part 4, Marx lists who he agrees with (with caveats) among the various workers parties. The sections involve the preparation work for revolution.

While these sections are wonderful historical fodder, on their surface they aren’t that valuable for praxis. Engels admitted the antiquity of these sections a mere 30 years later. Most of these groups no longer exist. We simply live in a different political situation. Socialist experiments have occurred where Marx least expected: outside Europe. What is valuable from this section is the notion of critique. Critique is preparation for revolution that involves three elements: taking stock of one’s situation (assessment), identifying allies (identification), and moving forward toward mass mobilization (mobilization).

Critique Element 1: Assessment

Part 3 comprises the stock-taking element I call assessment. I know this is dangerous ground, but let’s try to illustrate Marx’s socialisms with 21st century American examples. Of the five groups he lists, Republicans wouldn’t factor in at all as socialist. They would be the bourgeois enemy, plain and simple. Democrats would probably fit most nicely in conservative/bourgeois socialism. This group attempted to sidestep the fissures of capitalism with social welfare, rather than deal with capitalism as the root cause of modern oppression. They would go after reforms rather than radical transformation (revolution). And this makes sense. They benefited from the way things are. If you ever hear people call Democrats socialist or communist, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Democrats, as Lance Selfa put it, are capitalist lite.

Socialist groups do exist in the United States and abroad. Though I know of some like Podemos (Spain), Die Linke (Germany), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL, United States), and Minjung Party (South Korea), I don’t know enough about them to categorize them or identify them as allies.

Assessment is preparation. The Black Panthers wanted their leaders to read at least 2 hours daily to keep abreast of current affairs. This is a tall order, but necessary, since the rules in place are set by the bourgeoisie and taken for granted by a majority of the populace.

Critique Element 2: Identification

Part 4 involves two elements, but the first involves identifying allies. Here Marx lists various parties of Europe (and only Europe; he wasn’t exactly a forward thinker when it came to naming non-European groups “barbarian,” unless one takes this to refer merely to their modes of production), but only really names one. In France he states that the communists ally with the Social-Democrats. The other “parties” (if you can call them that) he lists by their actions: Radicals (Switzerland), agrarian revolutionaries (Poland), or anyone fighting against monarchy and the bourgeoisie (Germany). The fact is they really don’t list that many parties at all, perhaps because the workers movement was so young then. Again, this part of preparation takes a lot of reading, conversation, and time.

Critique Element 3: Mobilization

Marx then finishes on the practical question. What are we to do? He hedges all his bets on Germany as the ripest place for revolution (sadly, Germany hasn’t had a great track record with socialism). Communists must push political and social conditions to benefit the working class. They must push the property question (that is, that private property must be abolished). Finally, they must push for union between the democratic parties of all countries.

Preparation in the Present Moment

How does this fit the American present?

  1. The awakened worker must exacerbate the distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This comes through conversations, reading various socialist literature, and meeting with like-minded people to strategize.
  2. In each country, communists must ally themselves with the most radically democratic forces locally and nationally. They must push a clear, concise agenda that accentuates the dueling interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat. One way of doing this is pushing abolition of private property more consistently. In the United States, this would be the PSL, Worker’s World Party (PSL and WWP used to be one group), and to a lesser extent, the Democratic Socialists of America (which isn’t a party, but an educational organization).
  3. The journey toward international communist solidarity is hard when workers from various countries literally can’t understand each other. Marx and friends knew enough different languages to forge solidarity in at least the European nations. If one wanted to think more globally, and if one has the time, I think it would be best to learn one of the official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin I assume), English, French, Russian, or Spanish. Doing so allows one to read literature and converse with workers outside one’s life situation. Since I’m in the United States, the most practical language in this endeavor would be Spanish. If I lived in India, Arabic or Chinese might be a worthwhile second language.

This is my final post in my series on the Communist Manifesto. Next I will review Engels’ Principles of Communism, a catechism of sorts and precursor to the Communist Manifesto.

Communist Manifesto, part 1: Prolegomena, Preface, and Preamble

Communist ManifestoKarl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto [1848]. Authorized English Translation. Translated by Samuel Moore. New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1948.

 

 

Prolegomena, or Intro stuff

This entry is a (part of a 4-5 part series) review that covers Engels’ 1888 preface to the authorized English translation of the manifesto, as well as the “preamble.” Thus begins my foray into reviewing the major works of Marxism and socialism (way down the road I will probably do this with anarchism).

In this most (in)famous of texts, The Communist Manifesto (CM), Marx and Engels lay out the program for the overthrow of the bourgeois (those who own the means of production) by the working people (proletariat). Its pace is fast, its metaphors strident. I have read the work maybe twice before, but never in so much detail as now. For example, I went so far as to number the paragraphs and summarize each in my own words. My life situation also makes this reading more memorable.

The CM text I review divides into seven sections, but four primary parts. Engels’ preface covers the reception of the CM following the revolutions of 1848. The second section, or preamble, lists communism as a bogeyman that requires definition and subsequent defense. The main argument of the book (and how the work is structured) consists of four parts: “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” “Proletarians and Communists,” “Socialist and Communist Literature,” and “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties.” The final section concludes with Engels’ notes.

The Preface: The Communist League and Growing Working-Class Movement

What is now available online for free, and has been read and used by many revolutionaries since its publication, was once the agenda of a secret group called the “Communist League.” They quickly translated it from German into the major languages of Europe. However, Engels remarks on the vulnerability of the group. After the 1848 Paris revolt, and its subsequent repression, many of the League were imprisoned, until they quickly dissolved the group of their own volition.

It is common now to see the left a splintered mess: egoists, anarchists, communists, social democrats, democratic socialists, Maoists, Marxist-Leninists, Marxists, Luxemburgests, situationists, and habitual circle-jerkers. Apparently this sectarianism was present in the 1850s, too, for Engels refers to Marx’s grating success of uniting followers of Proudhon, LaSalle, and English unionists into the International Workingmen’s Association (First International).

Engels claims that the emerging working-class movement followed the translation of the CM into various languages. Though he admits the words “socialism” and “communism” could be used roughly interchangeably by 1888, they definitely could not be used synonymously in 1848. Then, socialists were those who wished to improve the welfare of people without challenging capital; communists were working class people who wanted the benefits that derived from owning capital themselves (more on Marx’s definition of “capital” in upcoming posts). Or to quote Engels: “Whatever portion of the working class had become convinced of the insufficiency of mere political revolutions, and had proclaimed the necessity of a total social change, called itself Communist” (5).

Engels is rather self-effacing when it comes to the origins of the manifesto. He attributes the nucleus of the work to Marx (though he would say they came to similar conclusions independently): social organization being invariably linked to economic production, class struggle, and proletarian emancipation from the bourgeoisie.

I find Engels’s historicizing remarks in the concluding paragraphs of his preface quite striking. He (and Marx for that matter) did not take their words as sacred scripture to be taken without criticism. For example, one of the most famous passages occurs at the end of part two, a ten-point program of sorts (from which The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would pen its own ten-point program). Engels states that some of these aims simply don’t match the historical conditions of 1888 and so remain an artifact of 1848. He also remarks that the socialist literature reviewed in part three only goes up to 1848 and that some of the parties mentioned in part four no longer existed.

That is Engels’ preface. Now to the preamble.

Preamble: “A specter is haunting Europe–the specter of Communism.”

The Communist League saw their mere existence as a threat so severe as to elicit a unified response from parties as diverse as pope, emperors, financiers, and police-spies. The writers took this to mean that they were a power, but one which deserved a hearing of its aims and demands. It was internationalist from its beginnings. In other words, there’s was not a nationalist situation, but a union of members from England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Internationalism would play a huge part in communist revolutions globally.

Concluding Thoughts

Is the CM mere antiquities, a literary piece for hobbyists? One could use it that way, I suppose, but to do so would forfeit the document’s power. Even if one does not agree with all of Marx and Engels’ assertions, they should at least give one pause. What does it mean if people are grouped into antagonistic classes? What would it mean for working people to unite as a class, overthrow bourgeois hegemony, and obtain political power (the aims of the Communist League on p. 22)? Do the revolutions of Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the various Bolivarian revolutions speak to the truth or falsehood of this document? Or how do those revolutions compare to the ideas Marx and Engels put forth?

My life situation makes this reading more poignant this time. I had written toward the end of last year a massive reading goal of 22 non-fiction works and 10 fiction works. Surely with school being done I would have nothing to do. It turned out that working 40+ hours a week in manual labor plus 10+ hours a week in commute time make for a tired and ragged Monte. It’s hard enough being a parent who is present and getting chores done; what little time I have is devoted to reading for this blog, and I don’t exactly feel great about my efforts.

I don’t know how the miners of yesteryear worked 12-16 hour days by candlelight and still made time to organize for better conditions. They are inspiring. They inspire while I feel the pressure of student debt, tired muscles, anxiety and desperation to use my mental skill, little time for my wife and children, and even less time to just read. So is the working class life. We work just to survive, while those who own capital make money off the labor of those who work. This is no a c’est la vie, or “it is what it is” statement; such is the outlook of those who share precarious conditions (like trying to find affordable healthcare), but through some obfuscation see this way of things as natural, unalterable, divinely-inspired, deserved. Recognize the power of your own activity. The way things are are not the way things have to be. Far from it.

Non-Fiction Book 1: The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa. The Democrats: A Critical History. Updated edition. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012. 296pp. $16US

Last year I made a list of nonfiction works I wanted to read this year. I just finished my first book from that list.

Lance Selfa details in eight chapters that any hope for American leftists (and he would argue, the average person in the U.S.) does not lie with the Democratic Party. His argument is not against the Democratic base (i.e., African-Americans, women, LGBT, poor, labor), but against its party leaders. Chapter one argues that Democrats are essentially capitalism lite. Chapter two chronicles the shift from Democrats being the “party of slavery” to the “party of the people.” Chapter three summarizes the rise of the “New Democrats,” or those organized after Carter’s fantastic defeat. Chapter four goes through Obama’s promises for change during his first term. Chapter five argues that Democrats, rather than leading progressive change, coopt and corral social movements. Chapter six shows Democrats to be just as beholden to American empire as Republicans, though with humanitarian justification. Chapter seven lists the many failed attempts of progressives to move the Democrats leftward. Selfa finishes chapter eight with an answer to the question of why there is no left alternative to the Democratic Party. Selfa pays primary attention to Democratic failures concerning labor, civil rights, and militarism. Let’s look at the indictments Selfa brings against the party by topic:

Poor (not a whole lot said about the poor or poverty):

  • the Social Security Administration gave retirement benefits to everyone (including the rich who didn’t need it) though workers subsidized it: it came out of payroll tax instead of taxes on wealth (51)
  • Clinton was the first president since the New Deal to cut one of its programs (welfare) (75-76)
  • Clinton didn’t move to raise the minimum wage when he had a Democratic congress (78)
  • Obama extended Bush tax cuts 2 years, even offering to end entitlement spending (107-08)
  • Obama offered a jobs bill in September 2011, long after having a Democratic congress for 2 years (108-09)

Ties to Capital Interests:

  • FDR ran in 1932 on platform of a balanced budget, 25% cut in federal spending, with no mention of unions or labor (126)
  • Carter cut capital gains taxes and boosted the social security tax on paychecks (66)
  • elections take a lot of money. House seats cost $1.3M in 2006 compared to $193K in 1986, and Senate almost $9M in 2006 from $1.4M in 1986. Democratic Party fundraising only saw a quarter of its contributions from labor while the majority from business (24-26). In the most expensive political seat, the presidency, Obama received $0.5M from unions but $42M from Wall Street during the 2008 election (10)
  • despite rhetoric, Obama was tied to big business: he led McCain in 8 out of 11 industrial sectors in the 2008 election (91-92)
  • Obama’s initial stimulus bill didn’t focus on job creation which ended up increasing unemployment (98)

Health care:

  • “Hillarycare” in 1994 sought input from insurance companies and large employers far more than health care advocates (30)
  • the ACA was so compromised, Selfa claims few Dems were happy with it; it was a boon to insurance companies since everyone was required to have insurance (102)
  • industry stakeholders were involved in writing the ACA, not the persons whose health would be affected by it (103)
  • ACA didn’t renegotiate big pharma down (104)
  • Howard Dean said lack of single payer made ACA worthless, though he eventually voted for it (105)

Environment (not much in the book):

  • Clinton used his influence with environmental groups to gain their support for NAFTA, even as the legislation opened up the northwest to logging efforts (34, 73) (Selfa didn’t pay much attention to environment in the book)

Labor:

  • everyday unionists in 1933 wanted a labor party separate from the Democrats and Republicans, especially since their strikes were suppressed by state militias, the majority of which led by Democratic governors (130)
  • FDR was actually anti-union until 1935 (the year before the election)àthe creation of Social Security and the National Labor Rights Act sealed his 1936 win (129)
  • CIO leaders had warned an FDR loss would bring a fascist reign; contrarily, his election did nothing to stem a recession or decline in union power (50)
  • in a 1937 steel strike, strikebreakers with the national guard killed workers and ransacked homes; courts ruled sit down strikes illegal in 1938 (50-51)
  • Smith-Connally Act of 1943 allowed the president to break strikes in war industries (133)
  • Dixiecrats dominated the Democrats even after the New Deal. This is part of why labor could not gain ground: Dixiecrats collaborated with conservative Republicans against labor. Labor never tried to organize the South, even in the 21st century. Northern companies could thus threaten to move their operations to the non-union South (136-38)
  • the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act banned wildcat strikes, solidarity strikes, secondary boycotts, mass pickets, and legislated anti-communism pledges (54)
  • new union leaders in 1948 election sought to break from Dems/Reps, but Truman pledged to veto Taft-Hartley; unions supported him, forgetting his antiunion record, and on his first year in his second term to break twelve strikes (134-35)
  • real median income peaked in 1973: Democrats controlled congress and most legislatures since 1973 without helping the falling real income of workers afterward (10, 64)
  • 1932-80, Dems held the presidency 32 of 48 years and both chambers of Congress for 46 years with repeal of Taft-Hartley (well, not before its existence in 1947) and national health insurance on platforms: they never passed (57)
  • Senator Hubert Humphrey (VP under Johnson) proposed placing communists in concentration camps in 1954 (57)
  • Communist Control Act of 1954 allowed government to remove union leaders or deny bargaining rights to “communist” unions (138)
  • Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 allowed government to take over unions (138)
  • Carter used Taft-Hartley to force settlements (66)
  • Clinton pursued NAFTA despite outcry from labor and environment (73)
  • Clinton pushed OSHA to partner with (rather than give oversight of) business and only seek voluntary compliance (78)
  • while Obama bailed out banks, he restructured Chrysler and GM (100)
  • Obama attempted to co-opt Occupy rhetoric even as his Department of Homeland Security fought this movement with military police effort (119)
  • CIO has been involved in the main organizing, financing, and electoral support for Democrats since 1948, even though none of their broad aims have been met (138)

Women:

  • activist groups of the 1960s divided along lines of grassroots activists and lobbying, the latter being pulled to the Democrats; the ERA’s failure was partly due to the National Organization of Women’s denial of its radical arm (including banning lesbians and radicals from ERA marches), in favor of lobbying (150, 152)
  • Democrats agreed to remove gender from hate crimes legislation (152)

Civil Rights:

  • civil rights was not carried out at first because of the Democratic need for the Dixiecrat coalition (58-59)
  • Robert Kennedy initially criticized the Freedom Riders as propaganda for America’s Cold War enemies (140)
  • JFK had promised to end housing discrimination by executive order in his campaign, but shelved the idea in office (141)
  • Kennedy brothers worked to make sure the March on Washington didn’t criticize the government too much, including coercing speakers to modify their speeches (142)
  • Johnson’s Great Society was to replace Dixiecrats with blacks while undercutting black militants (60)àwar on poverty empowered middle class black leaders (who hadn’t supported civil rights), thus betraying the rest of the community (61)
  • LBJ supported the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, but also supported afterward their segregationist opponents so he could win in 1964. Civil rights leaders created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as a delegation supporting racial integration. LBJ worked to have this group subverted (143-44)
  • Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Control Act saw highest executions in 1999 in four decades and prison increased by 1.3M to 2M inmates between 1994 and 1999 (79)
  • Clinton’s HUD one strike policy evicted whole families if one member was even suspected of drugs (80)
  • Clinton’s administration refused to alter crack laws that discriminated against blacks (81)
  • Obama increased war on drugs and decreased funding for drug treatment (111)
  • Obama increased deportations by 71% over Bush’s final year, increasing border patrol as well (113)

Gay rights:

  • LGBT meetings with Clinton “demonstrated the administration’s symbolic willingness to listen backed by an intransigent refusal to act” (155, referring to a lack of action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”)
  • Kerry himself was publicly against gay marriage, and Democrats actively tried to suppress grassroots activism in the 2004 election (156)
  • Obama could have ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when he had a majority in Congress, but waited until 2011 to mobilize the base (157)

War:

  • every major military conflict in the 20th century was begun by Democratic presidents (162)
  • Wilson deployed troops in “Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala.” He deployed troops in Haiti in 1914 that stayed until 1934, but leaving behind a U.S. trained military that ruled Haiti for the rest of the century (166)
  • Wilson ran in 1916 on an antiwar platform only to enter the war a year later (167)
  • German submarine attacks on U.S. ships was due in part to Morgan House bank loans to the Allies. Wilson admitted the U.S. would have gone to war with Germany even without the sub attacks (167-68)
  • Russia, as part of the Allies, underwent a revolution in 1917. Wilson supplied the counterrevolutionary White Armies in 1918-20 and sent in an invasion force in 1918 (168)
  • unlike before WW2, the U.S. didn’t demobilize the military; Truman’s administration oversaw the creation of the Defense Department and the CIA (53)
  • the post-war economy was fueled (up to 50% of the federal budget) by defense contracts that created, and made possible, the American dream (53-54)
  • Truman sought to intervene anywhere he saw “communism” (162)
  • FDR’s “freedom” rhetoric during WWII was at odds with his domestic policy, including Japanese internment and racial segregation in the military (172)
  • FDR’s claim of fighting Germany over anti-Semitism was at odds with the coast guard turning away literal boat loads of Jews (172)
  • FDR’s brother considered halving the Japanese population acceptable, and Truman dropped the atomic bomb, something Eisenhower didn’t see as necessary for Japanese surrender (173)
  • George Kennan called NATO the insurance “against an attack no one was planning” (174)
  • JFK, while creating the Peace Corps, also created the Green Berets (165)
  • JFK’s actions did not diminish the U.S. role in Vietnam since he increased military presence from 800 at his inauguration to 16.7K two years later (178)
  • running on a peace platform, Johnson sent 25K troops in 1965 almost immediately after his inauguration; there were 540K troops by 1969 (178)
  • money spent on Johnson’s broken promise of deescalating Vietnam couldn’t be spent on the Great Society (224)
  • Carter initiated war policies furthered by Reagan- increased military budget, reinstitution of the draft, the Rapid Deployment Force for the Middle East, and a “strike first” nuke policy (67)
  • U.S. anticommunist interventions in Asia was to give a demilitarized Japan viable trading partners to prevent the loss of Japan were countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia fall like dominos to communism, outside the U.S. sphere of influence (177)
  • Carter reinstituted the draft, built up the military that Reagan would run with, and developed a first strike policy for a limited nuclear engagement (179)
  • Carter’s interventionism took place on the rhetoric of humanitarianism, while supporting the dictators of Iran and Romania (179-80)
  • Carter’s CENTCOM was an occupying force in friendly states in the Gulf to hold things together until a full U.S. force could show up; it worked in Desert Storm (181)
  • after the fall of the Soviet Union, Clinton inherited a military with no superpower opposition; instead of decreasing military spending and spending it on social programs, Clinton boosted the military budget (182)
  • a Reagan era Pentagon official defended Clinton against George W. Bush’s attacks, stating that Clinton’s military budget was 40% higher per uniform than ever under his father (182)
  • Clinton dispatched troops worldwide 46 times, compared to 26 times for Ford, Carter, Reagan, and H. W. Bush combined (182)
  • Clinton invaded Somalia and Haiti, and bombed Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq throughout his administration (182)
  • 2006 saw Democrats retake congress with a mandate to get out of Iraq: 71% of Americans wanted U.S. out in a year. However, Democrats approved more war spending in 2007 than Bush even asked for (14)
  • Obama’s “change” showed itself as mere rhetoric when he reappointed Bush’s defense secretary Robert Gates (193)
  • Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo, only to reverse course and claim its policies as his own roughly half a year later because of hard opposition including the Democrats (194)
  • though Obama critiqued Bush on the use of torture, he refused to try any of those involved in torturing (194)
  • Obama’s use of drone strikes denied Americans due process; these strikes also went into allied territory (195)
  • amid the Arab Spring, Selfa contends that the U.S. maintained support of those such as Mubarak until almost the end (196)
  • Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 still left the world’s largest U.S. embassy there with tens of thousands of mercenaries (unrestrained by Geneva Conventions), but also essentially redeployed forces to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to keep presence in the region (197)

Cooptation:

  • Populists formed the People’s Party in 1892 with platform of progressive income tax, public railroads/utilities, and labor organizing support. Democrats changed their rhetoric in response and coopted the Populist platforms (123-24)
  • Democrats pushed for voting rights to quell radical civil rights activists and get them in their camp (144)
  • LBJ’s War on Poverty and Great Society were copycats of the Black Panthers program, in order to divert their power, taking these leaders and plugging them in to the federal program (144-45)
  • The Progressive Democrats of America in 2004 claimed that if they could take over the party, they could institute progressive change (199)
  • for PDA’s grassroots rhetoric, it was completely organized and spearheaded by Dem leaders within the Dem party (202)
  • PDA had an inside/outside strategy: work inside, but also outside by lobbying, press conferences, rallies, and alliances with leftists, particularly the Green Party (202-03). However, “None of PDA’s leading ‘election reformers’ denounced the Democrat-funded campaign to force Nader-Camejo off 2004 ballots” (205)
  • progressives had a chance to do something progressive in the 2006 and 2008 elections when everyone was fed up with Iraq and Bush: in 2007, Democrats gave Bush $120B to continue Afghanistan and Iraq (207-08)
  • inside/outside strategists argue that it is more efficient to effect social change through the ballot (since it only takes a few seconds), though I agree with Selfa that change comes from a populace invested in change for themselves (218). Democrats use leftist groups like the Green Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, and labor for get out the vote work, but then give nothing to these groups (219, 222)

Selfa’s aim is not to critique Democrats as if the solution is to follow after Republican leaders. He goes off the assumption that the Republican Party is a no go; this work assesses whether the Democratic Party is a viable left alternative. I share with him that it is not as leftist as it seems, though it moved more in that direction post-1965 (the shifting of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party). I also agree that the American people need to develop viable third parties (particularly leftist ones), but agree with Michelle Goldberg that this will not happen until our voting system changes: the two-party system is essentially guaranteed by the 12th Amendment.

To be fair, the ACA did get more people insurance. This is indisputable. He was right, though, in that it hasn’t helped as much as it could. Is possessing insurance itself the solution to ridiculous medical and pharmaceutical pricing? That’s not so much an insurance problem as much as a capitalism-run-wild problem.

I think more needs to be said about the non-voting bloc of the U.S. While Clinton won the popular vote, she only won among those who voted. Voter turnout was roughly 55.3%, meaning roughly 44.7% of the voting public didn’t vote. So out of the total eligible voting public, Clinton garnered 26.65% of the total voting population (48.2% of 55.3) and Trump 25.49% (46.1% of 55.3). Discussion of the electoral college vs. popular vote aside, neither can be said to have a mandate at that abysmal of a rate. Selfa cited Walter Dean Burnham who argued that the non-voter bloc dwarfs Democratic and Republican voting blocs, and if they had a labor/people’s party to choose from, it would have a good chance of winning (36). Selfa also cited that the U.S. “regularly leads among advanced Western countries in rates of voter abstention” (221). Take the numbers into account: 44.7% of non-voters far outweighs Clinton’s 26.65% or Trump’s 25.49%. Think of the potential turnout if we had more representative parties.

I am curious to see if Selfa revises this work again after the 2016 election. A lot happened since 2012. Gay rights, which he barely mentions in his work, won a huge victory in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. He also hardly mentions the environment—he doesn’t even mention climate change—and doesn’t talk much about women. He doesn’t mention that the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 occurred under Clinton’s watch. It does read as a one-sided smack down of the Democratic Party. I do not think, however, that the strides gained under the New Deal and Great Society should be used as smokescreens for real injustices perpetrated under the Democrats. Change needs to happen; lasting change comes from below, when the people are invested.

I would like some real engagement on this. As you can see, I come at this book with a sympathetic ear to Marxism, but recognize that the vast majority of my friends and family do not share this view. I want to hear your thoughts on what I presented here. Are there shortcomings you see in some of the charges Selfa brings? Do you think he left anything out? Do you wish we had more than a two-party system in the United States?

 

Next I will be reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I have found recently that talks of morals and ethics tend to reference faith domains too much with not enough attention paid to what I guess I would call a public ethic, or a public forum. I am under no illusion that a neutral ethic exists. However, I wonder if there are other wells to draw from if we are to live in a multicultural state that is ostensibly secular (i.e., the Constitution is the highest law in the land, not one group’s sacred text) that would not benefit one group too much at the expense of others.

I’ve also started a video project with Sarah Neau Harris called 7M Connect on YouTube. Come check that out here. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarahneauharris or me at @MonteHarrisSMO.

Monte’s 2017 Fiction Reading List

One of my friends noted that my 2017 reading list had no fiction. This had been deliberate at first because I thought that there were more urgent items to read. Without fiction, however, it is harder to dream. Literature showcases possible worlds, highlighting things that aren’t practical in the present because the present only encases its own possibilities. Reality has to change to make room for different possibilities. I also find that it is draining to constantly focus on what needs fixing. While there is a definite need to reform or revolutionize, and my other list will address that, recreation cannot be overlooked in such struggle.

So here are ten works I want to tackle:

  1. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. This was a tough choice. I was caught between this, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. However, this is a classic in African-American literature that also features religious institutions.
  2. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This is one of those alternative futures where the Axis powers (Germany and Japan) had won World War II and now occupy the US.
  3. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. A classic from the Russian master of the novel, this has been on my want-to-read list for over ten years. I had made it about 50pp in previously, but I am super-duper motivated to finish it this time. Just started this epic this afternoon. Whew, he can paint some characters.
  4. Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is a feminist utopian novel that was published before women’s suffrage even existed. I’ve read some blurbs that many feminists have rediscovered the work as one to reflect on.
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. This fascinating story is about an ambassador who comes to a world where the beings exist without gender and the prejudices that usually accompany beings with gender.
  6. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It’s one of those big sci-fi books all sci-fi fans need to encounter.
  7. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. This one feels pretty appropriate at a time when half the American population wonders what is going to happen with the Great Orange. The blurb on Amazon has to do with fascism taking hold in the United States through democratic means.
  8. The Iron Heel by Jack London. The author of Call of the Wild here presents dystopia, socialism, and all that fun.
  9. Utopia by Thomas More. The beginning of utopian fiction, More explores tons of basic political questions for an ideal society. Much for me to ponder in these times.
  10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. George R. R. Martin and Ursula Le Guin like it, but my friends recommended it first, so I’m going to tackle it.

If anyone wants to tackle some fiction with me, message me.

Monte’s 2017 Reading List

Heyo. 2016 has been an incredible year for me as well as a depressing one (I write this the day after I turned 34). I feel I’ve come into my own voice, confident in myself, have things to offer, and no longer feel that my thinking and values are in conflict. I feel my marriage is the strongest it’s ever been. We’ve even started a YouTube channel together. I also feel like my kids have someone to look up to.

That’s me.

The world seems to be going bananas (though it probably just seems worse). There is an incompetent, petty demagogue in the White House who also has Republican majorities in the House and Senate, as well as a majority of state houses and governorships controlled by Republicans. The Syrian civil war has become a potential proxy war between the US and Russia. It has created a crisis not only within Syrian borders, but also an immigration crisis as families try to find safe haven all the while they are suspected of terrorism.

While Trump at least seems like he will deescalate relations with Russia, he seems to be ramping up tension with China. His cabinet picks are atrocious. They show his popular appeal for the sham it was. His reckless speech against minorities of all sorts mobilized the alt-right into a viable political force. A glimmer of hope shines in that workers at Facebook (Facebook finally issued a statement) and Google, and Twitter (as a company) will not comply with creating a Muslim registry.

I like to read. Upon looking at these events, they have given me criteria to narrow down my reading list. I had made a list of over 200 books to read in 2017, which for me would not have been possible. I, therefore, narrowed in on works that would help me sort through current events. With the help of a good friend, I narrowed it down to these:

  1. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. Nationalism has become a central feature of the political climate in the US and in Europe.
  2. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Many fear the signs pointing to totalitarianism in Trump, and so I want to hear Arendt’s analysis of how Hitler and Stalin came to power.
  3. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. I have begun to see the inseparability of ethics and politics and so want to delve into this classic.
  4. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls by David Boucher and Paul Kelly. Social contract theory is the lens through which I understand politics, though admittedly I haven’t read much on the subject. I’m looking here for fodder on developing stronger communities.
  5. A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski. Bronski begins his history in 1492, long before Obergefell v. Hodges.
  6. Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle. As the USSR fell, many saw Marxism “proven” to have failed. A resurgence happened as Bernie Sanders declared himself to be a Democratic Socialist in the 2016 election cycle. Knowing a little about figures like Eugene Debs, I want to see how these leftists fared in a hostile environment.
  7. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. Media consumption is a prime topic since the headlines of “fake news” popped up in the autumn of 2016. The authors caution readers to be just as critical of legitimate(d?) news sources.
  8. A History of the Birth Control Movement in America by Peter C. Engelman. I’m interested to see how birth control went from an almost uniformly disparaged practice to the presumption of normalcy it enjoys today.
  9. The Black Panthers Speak by Philip Foner. I’ve become interested in radical groups of various stripes in the past year. The more I find out about them, the more I like the Panthers.
  10. Church and State in America: The First Two Centuries by James Hutson. This work doesn’t start at the American Revolution, but with the establishment of Virginia and continues up to Jackson’s presidency. Interested to see how this relationship has changed since Jackson.
  11. Theorizing War: From Hobbes to Badiou by Nick Mansfield. I have held diverse positions on war since I was a boy, ranging from preemptive strikes, to just war, to pacifism, to pro local violence but anti large scale violence. Eager to see what these thinkers propose.
  12. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. This is my foray into feminism beyond the Anglo kind.
  13. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. Again on ethics, I’m looking at how people develop ethical systems without appeal to dogma or foundationalism.
  14. On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s thoughts on the origins of morality.
  15. Marx on Religion by John Raines. While not all of what Marx has to say on religion (see that big list here), I want to move beyond that “opiate” statement for a fuller picture of Marx’s thought, particularly since the Communist Party USA had this to say about religionists: “The Communist Party USA encourages people of faith to join our Party.”
  16. Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader by Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston. The ideology of neoliberalism is largely shared by Democrats and Republicans in the United States, but I don’t know much more about it than that democratic socialists, communists, and Marxists of various stripes largely consider it the ill of modern times.
  17. Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa. This work seeks to make the case that the Democratic Party lost its pedigree as the party of the working class. I suspect it will be similar to Saad-Filho and Johnston.
  18. Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism by Victoria Clark. I’ve become increasingly critical of the state of Israel since I began to see it not as a theocracy or an institution in continuity with biblical Israel, but a colonial state backed uncritically by American foreign policy.
  19. The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations by R. S. Sugirtharajah. Through my reading I have seen the Bible used as justification in all kinds of colonial endeavors, but not organized in one volume. I’m excited to explore this study in an Indian (India, not indigenous Americans) context.
  20. A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. While I used to entertain the (hidden) normative claim of the Enlightenment that the West exists in a largely post-religious epoch as a statement of fact, I now find the claim dubious. However, religion as a concept has indeed changed in the past few centuries and I find it worth my while to finally tackle this book.
  21. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. This book is high on the list because of significant women in my life have struggled after the mist that is beauty. Rather than just rest in my own opinion, I want to see how a female scholar tackles the issue.
  22. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism by Richard Wolff. While I appreciate that the American Revolution sought political freedom, I have found more of my freedom curtailed in the workplace because of the power owners and managers hold over employees. I’m interested to see what Wolff proposes.

This is going to be a great year. If anyone wants to join me in the reading adventure, let’s plan on it. To make it through these in a year, it will take about 15-20 pages of reading a day. I feel it will be more rewarding than having the bulk of my reading consist of news consumption.

Should Joe Citizen Get to Spend as Much on a Candidate as Richie Rich? Vote Yes on Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2

What is it?

Amendment 2 would limit personal and corporate campaign contributions.

Why is this on the November 8, 2016 ballot?

There had initially been campaign donation limits approved in 1994 by Missouri at near 74% of the vote. Former governor Matt Blunt and the Missouri Legislature overturned this “Proposition A” in 2006 and 2008 with the explanation that the identity of contributors would be public knowledge. Chris Koster, who as a state senator voted to repeal the limits (but now disavows it…while not refunding yuge donations toward his gubernatorial campaign), had the same reasoning. To see how campaign spending has gotten out of hand, two individuals have together donated roughly $15 million. Current Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Eric Greitens, has received the state’s largest single donation in history at close to $2 million.

 

What reasons are people giving for and against this amendment?

 

Pro

Con

1. Allows greater civic participation 5. Does not limit the already wealthy from self-funding
2. Provides transparency 6. Doesn’t address lobbying
3. Limits corruption 7. Doesn’t set limits on city or county donations
4. Legislatures can’t overturn people’s voice…easily 8. Does not affect super-PACS
9. Limits freedom of speech and association (Allegation 25)

 

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

  1. Greater civic participation: Fred Sauer gives this argument and he is the initiator of the amendment. He also lost appallingly in his 2012 gubernatorial bid, and I wonder if that has something to do with his motivation to fight money in politics. I honestly don’t care about his motivation; this proposal would partially (get to that in a moment) decenter large contributors from drowning out the voice of the common person regardless of his intent. It is somewhat odd that a proposal to limit campaign donations is currently almost entirely funded by Sauer himself. However, as Senator Claire McCaskill has said (with a little paraphrase), sometimes you have to punch a bully really, really incessantly hard before he stops picking on you. Well, while she didn’t put it quite like that, she likes it that he’s using a lot of his money to fight other people using a lot of their money in order to help everyone else be able to use what little money they have.

 

  1. Provides transparency: Missouri Attorney General, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Chris Koster makes this one. He states that there is too much money in this election. Which is true. Notwithstanding his recent conversion to donation caps (remember he voted to repealing that earlier?) and his current acceptance of large campaign donations, his current position on donation caps shouldn’t need a defense. If a murderer says murder is wrong, I’m not going to question the wrongness of murder just so I can say I disagree with that bad man. That would be like saying you don’t like Springfield Cashew Chicken because Hitler liked it. Sometimes good people and princes of darkness prefer the same food.

 

  1. Limits corruption: I’m going to keep coming back to this in a massive post on the unpersonhood of corporations, but for now I like how Todd Jones, the penmaster of the amendment, put it: “If you give a million dollars to a candidate, whose call are you going to take? Are you going to take mine? Or are you going to take the donor’s?” The majority opinion for Citizens United v. FEC contained a stupidly narrow understanding of how quid pro quoness goes down. Justice Stevens in his dissent asserted that there is a fine line between buying votes and buying preposterously easy proximity and influence. Or his actual words, “But the difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind” (p. 57(144)). This was empirically shown in a multivariate study where it was demonstrated that Joe Citizen has essentially “non-significant, near-zero” influence on public policy when compared to elites and organized interest groups (571-72 of that study). So yah: less money, less corruption potential.

 

  1. Legislatures can’t overturn people’s voice: this assertion comes from the League of Women Voters of Missouri. The exact words are “This amendment is probably the only way to enact contribution limits that then cannot be overturned by the legislature.” An amendment is pretty hard to overturn. Article 12 Section 2(b) of Missouri’s Constitution lists the parameters for how amendments can be submitted. Here is the restriction on further emendation: “No such proposed amendment shall contain more than one amended and revised article of this constitution, or one new article which shall not contain more than one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” So this could be a double-edged sword. What is a very potential con part of this pro is that augmenting it would take some work, especially after the inevitable court battle that will ensue after Amendment 2 passes. More on this on argument 9.

 

  • Arguments 5-7 are really variations on the theme that this proposed amendment “does not go far enough.” A spokesperson for Eric Greitens notes that it does not limit already wealthy people from self-funding. The editorial board for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch addresses that the proposal doesn’t speak to lobbying restrictions. The fact that this proposal doesn’t put caps on local and county elections further adds to its weaknesses. However, a weak proposal is better than the current crap we have. Senator McCaskill essentially says as much. As she says, this proposal is “a great first step,” I assume toward broader campaign finance reform, but I’m not her, so I ain’t sure.

 

  1. Does not affect super-PACS: Jason Rosenbaum has highlighted the following: “it would not place limits on contributions to any third-party committee (one that is not set up by a candidate).” You and I, dear reader, can thank the bonehead majority justices in Citizens United v. FEC for that. In their bonehead reasoning, corporations are people, too. As I just mentioned, I will be writing on that at length. Speaking of corporate peoples…

 

  1. Limits freedom of speech and association: this was the problem Missouri Electric Cooperatives and Legends Bank had before Missouri’s higher courts told them to take a hike until after the election. They think the measure is “neither reasonably related nor narrowly tailored to address any interest of the State of Missouri.” A conservative think-tank sees this at best as a curb against non-existent hypothetical corruption, but definitely a violation of constitutional rights of those poor, downtrodden corporations. I’d like to punch a corporation in the jaw to teach it some manners, but alas its personhood is amorphous. Maybe corporations are like ghosts: they have personalities, but don’t have bodies and pester the living. I wonder if you can marry a corporation or adopt a baby with it. I wonder if you can commit involuntary manslaughter against it. I’ll pick a more detailed fight with this ridiculous personhood argument later, but for now, I cavalierly dismiss any notion of rights pertaining to a corporation.

 

Verdict?

I give a measured YES. We need this as a start, but come on, we cannot let this legislature get away from us. There are way more average Missourians (in a modal sense; as an arithmetic mean that statement lacks any coherence) than there are millionaire Missourians, and we want impact. Too much money from one sector poisons the well.

 

So vote YES on November 8, but don’t stop there. Push to shore up the limitations of this proposal: on lobbying, local/county elections, the 28th constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and perhaps flat limits on total campaign spending (like where there are individual donation limits, but overall donation limits as well; e.g., each campaign has a $10 million maximum limit to do with as they please). Share your ideas to see how we can further campaign finance reform in Missouri and in the US of A.

Give Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1 a Yes

In the upcoming election, there will be six ballot initiatives in Missouri. I plan on writing a post on each of them. Consider with me Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1.

Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1 is actually a renewal of an already existing tax authorized by the Missouri Constitution.

What is it all about?

It continues a 1/10 cent sales/use tax for conservation, state parks, and other sites. Other funding comes from “camping fees, concessions and souvenir sales.”

If it doesn’t pass, Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks, states that “A hundred percent of the soil and water program is funded by the sales tax … so essentially, it goes away”

Who proposed it?

Some Missourians in 1984. According to ballotpedia, no formal group stands opposed to this measure.

When is it on the ballot?

This, along with the other issues, will be on the November 8, 2016 ballot.

Why is it on the ballot?

The amendment language requires that the measure be renewed every 10 years or dropped.

Concerns:

  • I don’t have many. The unfortunate part is that the constitutional language has renewal in it. I wish it just stated that it would remain in force until someone had problem with it enough to want to appeal. Alas, my clear thinking did not sway Missouri voters in 1984. For one reason, I was two years old, and another I was not a Missouri resident. Blerg on formalities.
  • Former state senator Joan Bray (D) wanted to see more of the funds available for soil/water projects in urban areas; this might be worth pursuing, but only if she spelled out what she intended.

This seems to be a pretty cut and dried measure. It carries bipartisan support and no opposition. Vote YES with me on Missouri Constitutional Amendment 1.

Rhetoric of the Adjective “Biblical”

When you see titles such as “The Biblical Case for…” or “The Biblical Case against…” both assume a univocality of the Bible, a book that contains one voice.

(Edit: I will explain how the New Testament came into being in a later post)

How does the “biblical” adjective work? I see it working in two ways:

  • a stamp on one’s own position
  • a foil to be trampled in light of one’s own position

The same book that contains this passage: “If you do not diligently observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, fearing this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you. Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will inflict on you until you are destroyed.“(Deuteronomy 28:58-61)

also contains this:

“In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)

Lest it be construed that I don’t know what I’m doing in juxtaposing texts outside a context, let me note that I am highlighting the danger of prooftexting without respect to context (or the rhetoric particular biblical authors used).

Next time you see someone say “The Biblical Case for,” think of it in these terms: this is my perspective with some Bible verses thrown in to bolster my case.

How can one know what the Bible says? There are tons of free resources easily available in the digital age. One of the best is biblegateway.com which allows you to read straight text from multiple translations. It also allows you to do word searches.

One of the greatest antidotes for terrible Bible teaching is simple familiarity with biblical literature. Read it through 3-6 (edit: times) and you should feel pretty comfortable holding your own in a conversation.

Just please, please don’t take authors at their word that they know what the Bible says, especially in an election cycle. There’s too much reason to present one’s own position as the Bible’s in such a time…if the Bible presents one voice on an issue. Cursory reading reveals that the Bible doesn’t have a unified voice on all things and that’s why we have theology: attempts at explaining “seeming” paradoxes/contradictions/”difficulties” in the text.

Link Wednesday 5: SCOTUS Ruled; Now What?

It’s amazing what a few days away from the office can do to clear your mind. I just got back from Wisconsin this Sunday after visiting family. Wow did a lot happen since I wrote last. SCOTUS delivered their big decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. There was much despair. And there was much rejoicing.

In Evangelicalism, conversations moved to what needs to happen in its community regarding the decision. Amidst this background, I came across two very interesting sets of questions from very different points of view. They arise from the same tradition and use the same text.

Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung of The Gospel Coalition issued “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” Here are some of the questions he asked:

  • “3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?”
  • “7. When Jesus spoke against porneia* what sins do you think he was forbidding?”
  • “11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?”
  • “12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?”

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project, issued a rejoinder, similarly titled: “40 questions for Christians who oppose marriage equality.” He asked such questions as:

  • “3. How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?”
  • “12. Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?”
  • “17. Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?”
  • “18. Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?”

Each set of questions demarcates communities. I won’t comment on the virtues and vices of either. I assume my readers are educated. I will reiterate something, though: one faith, one text, very different questions.

Amanullah De SondyAfter I read these, I was listening to a podcast with Amanullah De Sondy. He was discussing his book, The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, on the New Books Network. There he made some keen observations about religious communities.

One of these has to do with the appropriation of texts. He asked what a text looked like outside the perspective of hegemony. In other words, if you are not part of a dominant class—whatever social marker that is—how does that affect how you envision a text or sayings? Both DeYoung and Vines are speaking from a place that may or may not be wrong. Which is in a more privileged position? Does privilege vary from situation to situation? If texts had as stable of meanings as we might like them to, there probably wouldn’t be as many interpretive traditions (=denominations, sects, religions) as we have today.

De Sondy’s comments had me thinking how much theology and legal reasoning try to make sense of native ambiguity in texts: ambiguity they recognize and wish to elide or naturalize into a preferred reading for their community. This ambiguity, however, is what I find so inviting and exciting about religious studies.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
To illustrate interpretation outside hegemony, my friend and classmate, Samantha Nichols, wrote a post about the 4th of July. She included a speech by Frederick Douglass (delivered in 1852, before the Civil War) on the discourse surrounding the holiday:

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

What I am highlighting is that you cannot escape your life circumstance and how that colors your interaction with texts (among other things). Sometimes my circumstances prompt me to ask certain questions that people with other social markers ignore, and vice versa. Part of your life circumstances is the groups to which you belong and the groups you reject (for more on this, see my post on community).

I ask this to my reader: how do you arbitrate between two people who understand themselves as faithful to the same tradition, but have different life circumstances informing their interaction with the tradition? I conjecture that it’s probably whatever person’s views most closely align with your own. These debates, while ostensibly about who is most faithful to an original text, at least lend themselves to drawing battle lines: these sets of questions allow persons and communities to identify and align themselves with these two men to achieve certain aims.


*porneia is a Greek word. While this could simply be regarded as a rhetorical move to dismiss the opinions of people who do not know the language in which the New Testament was written, the fact that the New Testament was written in a language other than English seems to invite attention to what is happening in the original language. However, you could also just as easily say that the vast majority of people do not live out their religion by any reference to exegetical and theological tools like Greek—I think it worthwhile to mention that you would need to decide how much that religion is defined by official/institutional means and how much of it is defined on the ground by living, breathing believers.

Link Wednesday #1- Feminisms, Same-Sex Marriage, and Caitlyn Jenner

1. Rita Alfonso Surveying Feminisms

Dr. Rita Alfonso thinkphilosophy.org
Dr. Rita Alfonso
thinkphilosophy.org

ThinkPhilosophy is a philosophy website run by “Dr. A” (Rita Alfonso), who taught philosophy and gender studies at Grinnell College and U.C. Berkeley before retiring. She is now an independent scholar and professional photographer.

Alfonso’s first few podcasts seem aimed at making a general audience clearer thinkers through reading and writing practices. Her blog is a text-accompaniment to her podcast. (Also neat: if you subscribe to her site, you can get Feminism: A Very Short Introduction as a free download. Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series gives a quick survey of a topic by experts in the field. They run ~100-150pp and ~$10).

I came across Alfonso’s site when looking up gender studies blogs. Her first podcast that I heard was her explanation of three prominent feminist theorists: Simone de Beauvoir (existentialism/Marxism), Luce Irigaray (psychoanalysis), and Judith Butler (post-structuralism/queer theory). De Beauvoir pretty much kicked off Second-Wave Feminism with her The Second Sex. One of her most famous lines is “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” In other words, sex is not identical with gender, but gender has a cultural history. According to Alfonso, Irigaray takes de Beauvoir in an egalitarian direction while Butler takes her in a radical direction.

The audio runs ~38 minutes.

What do you make of de Beauvoir’s quote? Are women reducible to wombs or to what is called “feminine”? Is femininity something that is stable in a person or something that must be constantly maintained? How much is femininity a performance or projected image and how much of it is innate to a woman? Is woman simply the Other of man? How does liberal feminism differ from radical feminism?

How does Irigaray critique de Beauvoir’s “othering” (abbr- where you set up an opposite of yourself or your group to say “I’m not that” and use it as identity reinforcement) of women? Is Irigaray saying de Beauvoir sees women as simply non-actualized men in need of full (male) agency? How different does Irigaray find women and men as subjects?

Butler argues that if we take de Beauvoir’s sex/gender distinction seriously, we have no guarantee that a sex results in a given gender; if you always exists in a culturally expressed gender, do you ever exist solely as your sex? In other words, are bodies and biological sex ever interpreted free of cultural bias? In Alfonso’s questioning, does gender occur as naturally as a falling rock demonstrates gravity (every time)? Alfonso interrogates sex as a natural category: should it not result in a particular gender expression? Is the nature/nurture distinction itself a cultural product?

2. Albert Mohler on Attending Same-Sex Weddings

Albert Mohler is extremely influential in the Southern Baptist Convention and president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His output is prolific. He has an almost daily podcast called “The Briefing” where he analyzes current events from an evangelical perspective.

I started listening to him because I wanted to gauge where real evangelical leaders are coming from and rather than being filtered through various outlets like Salon or other media which focus more on sensational figures (thinking Pat Robertson here) rather than on what broader evangelicals accept.

Albert Mohler albertmohler.com
Albert Mohler
albertmohler.com

If you are unaware, sometimes religious leaders play with a supposed (from an outside perspective) or real party line (again, this is why I think essentialism is unhelpful). While holding to a traditional view of marriage, Mohler also claimed that the church was guilty of homophobia and aggression (rather than redemption) against homosexuals.

The podcast I listened to on Monday was dated. He analyzed Sen. Marco Rubio’s statement on attending a same-sex wedding. Rubio would attend one if he loved the people, even though he doesn’t support same-sex marriage. Mohler argued that based on the phrasing from the Book of Common Prayer (“If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married…”) one’s attendance of a wedding is silent consent to the marriage, and that therefore, Rubio’s statement doesn’t make sense.

The segment on Rubio is the first ~7 min of ~18 min.

What do you make of this? Does Mohler’s assessment work for you? Can one not attend a same-sex wedding, love the people involved, and still disagree with what they are doing? Does attendance or presence equal consent? Does Rubio’s statement conflate loving people regardless of their sin and what people affirm? If a mother-in-law doesn’t like the spouse her child has chosen, and she still attends the wedding, is she affirming their marriage or her child? How does Mohler employ the term “category”? What does Mohler mean by love? Does he define it?

3. “Bruce Jenner Is Not a Hero

Yesterday was a mixed bag on my Facebook feed. There didn’t seem to be much middle ground surrounding Caitlyn Jenner’s reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair. This post was a negative assessment of her coming out. When I tried to find out about the author, she didn’t have an “About” section. Scrolling through her posts, I gathered that she is a mother seeking to explain a Christian worldview in light of cultural (generally sinful) trends. What caught my attention in her post was the following quote: “I never want to shy away from speaking something that needs to be said even if I know it is not something people want to hear.”

What prompts someone to speak to an issue to the point of saying that their words “needs to be said”? I can think of some possibilities: everyone is doing it, your position hasn’t been heard, your position has been maligned, your position has been misunderstood, you like to hear yourself talk, imminent danger, etc. I think in this case she sees a societal danger, but you tell me what you think.

How is Emily Suzanne using gender? Does she buy a distinction between sex and gender, or are these two items even distinct? How is she characterizing arguments in favor of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out? What sources of authority does she use? How and why does she use them? What does she mean by “common sense” when coupled with a Christian worldview? How does Caitlyn coming out as a woman constitute being “lost, sinful, and desperately in need of Jesus” in itself? According to her definition of a hero, has Caitlyn not sacrificed and risked? When Emily Suzanne uses “we,” who is included and who is excluded?


I plan on using Jenner’s case as a launch pad to talk about the biology and politics of sex in an upcoming post, possibly before Saturday. Again, in Saturday’s post I am going to discuss how I relate religion and gender in my studies.