Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Great Pause Week 45: Theocracy Rising

"Capitalism is a system that centers capital and wealth. Socialism is a system that centers society and people. Theocracy centers God."

In a long string of investigative reports for The New York Times, Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, explained why so much of the money and manpower used to storm the Capitol on January 6 came from churches:

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, [Senator Josh] Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.
The line of thought here is starkly binary and nihilistic. It says that human existence in an inevitably pluralistic, modern society committed to equality is inherently worthless. It comes with the idea that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness. At the heart of Mr. Hawley’s condemnation of our terrifyingly Pelagian world lies a dark conclusion about the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies.

Much of the 20th century was spent in a global battle between two opposing ideologies: Socialism/Communism and Capitalism/Mercantilism. Whether systems were democratic, monarchic, autocratic, or class-based was largely irrelevant because both socialism and capitalism came in various flavors.


For much of the nation’s history, the US right wing has whipped up anti-socialist fervor, conflating care for public welfare and egalitarian apportionment of public assets with tyranny; drilling red fear and racial anger into the skull of every child; and then either overtly or covertly subverting any democratically-elected government that dared to promote universal health care, a basic income, education, or other survival requirements for their people. “Compassionate capitalism” is an oxymoron.

One need only look at a US foreign policy tilting away from boots on the ground (repeatedly disastrous at home and abroad) in favor of economic embargo a la the Cuban template, or bankrupting Venezuela, being used to bludgeon foes like Russia and China with currency and trade sanctions. Alternatively, the US pays surrogates without actually appearing to hire mercenaries, by stepping aside for the Saudis in Yemen, the Turks in Syria, and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Call it weaponized capitalism, in the sense that “capital” gets directed the same way cruise missiles once were.

For the past half century trade unions in the US and elsewhere (ironically the same kind that toppled the Soviet Union from the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk) have been undercut and marginalized. Essential infrastructure like water systems, power grids, energy supply, national forests, and even defense have been privatized. The exercise of power has been gravitating towards the dictionary definition of fascism — corporate control of government.

With the conversion of the USSR and PRC to free-access consumerism (markets require masses), there came a moment when it seemed Adam Smith would emerge a clear winner in his century long duel with Karl Marx. That moment was short-lived.

“There are as many definitions of capitalism as Heinz has pickles.” — Hyman Minski

It was little noticed while all of this was going on that capitalism and socialism did not exist as a balanced opposing pair, as the economic hawks would have it. Instead, they are parts of a triangle with theocracy. When Soviet hegemony began to crumble, the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan. When the United States pushed unorthodox pro-Israel policies on the Middle East, Iran elected an Ayatollah, restored Shariah, and students seized the US Embassy in Tehran. Lacking aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons, Arab militants resorted to asymmetrical strategies like blowing up the barracks of the foreign invaders, in the old style of warfare, or hijacking airliners and crashing them into financial trading centers in the new.

It was politically advantageous to label these responses “terrorism” and use that brand to fatten the larders of multinational contractors, even at the cost of ignoring genuine threats faced at home and abroad from climate change, resource destruction, plastic Armageddon in the ocean, or latent zoonosis. But “terrorism” is a poor choice of words when one tries to apply it to the third point of the triangle, which enjoys widespread (genetically-embedded) popularity (and legal protection except where Tibetians, Uighurs, Armenian Kurds, and Yemeni tribes are concerned).


And so it came to be that right wing Christian churches flying the tax-exempt banners of Alliance Defending Freedom, American Renewal Project, Conservative Action Project, Council for National Policy, The Leadership Institute, Family Research Council, Judicial Watch, and similar theocratic advance guards could raise millions to bus kevlar’d neo-Nazi minions to Washington to stop Congress from certifying the electoral college vote on January 6.

At a rally in Washington on Jan. 5, on the eve of Electoral College certification, the right-wing pastor Greg Locke said that God is raising up “an army of patriots.” Another pastor, Brian Gibson, put it this way: “The church of the Lord Jesus Christ started America,” and added, “We’re going to take our nation back!”

— Katherine Stewart

Preliminary data suggest 28 percent of voters in the US 2020 election identified as either white evangelical or white born-again Christian, and of these, 76 percent voted for Mr. Trump, a singularly poor example of Christian values if not the Antichrist Himself. Why? Under all that halo of righteousness, they were realists. Mr. Trump’s success in packing some 220 God-fearing, Bible-thumping federal judges and three Supreme Court justices onto the courts will have lasting impact on religious affairs in coming decades. The legacies of Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich — and what Stewart termed “politics of total obstruction” — are merely preparation for the return of what the Hawleys and other antipelagians know to be the only “legitimate” ruler — the Prince of Princes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

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Ian G said...

Good piece, had to chuckle several times as I read down your decision tree; totally politically incorrect iconoclastic parody.
But you really drank the coolaid on airliners into towers. everybody knows it was an inside job, not arab or muslim patriots.

Ian Graham said...

We should encourage all these theocrats rising to rest in yeast!




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