Saturday, December 19, 2009

Notes on Religious Socialism - 01

My socialism arose originally from two biblical texts:

First: Matthew 25:31ff: "When the son of man starts his revolution with all his band around him, then he will assume authority. And all the nations will be assembled before him, and he will sort them out, like a farmer separating his cows from his hogs, penning the cows on the right and the hogs on the left. Then the Leader of the Movement will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you pride of my Father, share in the Movement that was set up for you since creation; for I was hungry and you shared your food with me; I was thirsty and you shared your water with me; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ragged and you clothed me, sick and you nursed me; I was in jail, and you stood by me." (Cotton Patch Version)

Second, Acts 32-35: "Now a single heart and soul was in the body of believers. Not one of them considered his property to be private, but all things were shared by them. With mighty power the apostles were giving the evidence of Jesus' aliveness, and upon them all was a spirit of abounding goodwill. You know, there wasn't a person in the group in need. For owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds and placing them at the disposal of the apostles. Distribution was then made to everyone on the basis of his need." (CPV)

I haven't figured out why most Christians don't read these texts and immediately see that capitalism has nothing in common with the economic principles of Jesus and the first Christians.

Of course, one could call this something other than socialism. It took me years to personally feel comfortable with the word. At times, I called it communism or communalism. I never saw this as something centered in the State like the bureaucracies of Communist nations. One idea that made a lot of sense to me was a global network of church-based communes, forming a counter-economy that would grow in time to displace capitalism. I still think something like that would be very cool, even if it couldn't be socialism for everyone. After all, socialism can be diverse, with several different forms of implementation, just like capitalism.

(Note: I intend to do a series of these, tracing the evolution of my socialist thought.)

Peace! Charley

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Critical Integrative Theory #1: Pathological Social Evolution

I apologize up-front for the character of this posting. It is jargon-laden and opaque. However, it has come to represent for me something of a break-through, so I want to "save" it by posting it as a blog. You may disregard entirely.


Ken Wilber has repeatedly said that most of the world is at the level of Nazis in their development, most notably in his recent book, Integral Spirituality. This statement has troubling prejudices within it, as it seems to not ask why this might be so. Even further, is it even really true?

I will propose here that the under-used concept of "pathology" proposed in Wilber's Integral Psychology has the potential to re-shape and advance a critical understanding of social evolution. I am calling this project of rethinking, "Critical Integrative Theory." It is integrative, rather than integral, as that term is becoming a trademark of the Wilberian movement, and I wish to cast a wider net. It is called 'critical' after the Frankfurt School's tradition of "critical theory," of whom Jurgen Habermas is one of the leading thinkers.

Critical Theory is a "social theory oriented toward critiquing and changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional theory oriented only to understanding or explaining it." I know that Wilber does wish to change and critique society, but in these blogs I will pursue a line of social analysis that Wilber seems to neglect, though I do not charge him with intentional neglect.

Frankfurt School critical theory began as an attempt to address the political crises of pre-war Europe. Frankfurt school theorists were troubled by the implications of burgeoning fascism for Marxist (and Liberal) theories of social change and revolution. Many Marxists expected that the working masses in Europe would align themselves with Russia against German and Italian Fascism and overthrow those regimes. However, in both nations the working masses substantially supported Fascism. It is clear that working-class fascism was utterly against the objective interests of the working masses, and yet, millions of workers seem to have swallowed it whole. How do Marxists and progressives account for such a self-defeating situation?

Marxism theorizes that the collectivization of industrial labor leads to the unification of working-class interests and culture, guided by the Communist movement into a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. What happened in Nazi Germany was the unification of the society by appeals to religion, patriotism, sexual repression, and scorn for intellectuals. To this day, working masses around the world are often easily drawn into alliances with the rich and powerful at the expense of their own emancipatory interests. Critical Theory sought to explain this and to do so, it sought resources that lay outside those typically considered politically acceptable to Marxists, namely, Freud, Kant, Weber, among others.

In the decades since the Frankfurt School first coalesced in the 1930s, critical theorists have continued to seek out and extend a critical understanding of political and social development. In the 1960s, Feminism came into the picture to challenge the gender biases of both Marx and Freud. Other challenges to critical thought have come from environmentalist, anarchist, anti-racist, and anti-heterosexist movements and thinkers. Addressing all of these critiques and their relevance to an integrative theory of social evolution is obviously a massive undertaking, but some beginning is vitally important.

One beginning point is class-consciousness. This is a fundamental component of Marxism, though it is not confined to Marxism. Class-consciousness is simply a recognition of the division of power in society that is perpetuated by our contemporary economic system. In all of the things I have read by Wilber, he nowhere acknowledges that the evolution of consciousness might be impacted by economic factors such as poverty, lack of education, or hierarchical workplace conditions. If Wilber has in fact considered this possibility, it's lack in his major works, such as Sex, Ecology, and Spiritualityor A Brief Theory of Everything suggests that at best he considers it only weakly relevant or at worst that he considers it has no relevance.

Another element of Critical Theory that addresses the prevalence of fascist mindsets is psychoanalysis. Freud's theory of the unconscious proposed that we do not always act rationally because we are emotionally deformed, often in our infantile development. Frankfurt theorist Theodor Adorno collaborated with American psychologists to produce the seminal work The Authoritarian Personality which proposed a model for measuring authoritarian tendencies in individuals, as well as a theory of how such authoritarian tendencies become part of the personality. The chief culprit in TAP is harsh parental discipline and abuse.

Here is where Wilber's concept of pathology in Integral Psychology becomes relevant. Ideally, the development of consciousness involves a wider and wider social world, beginning with infantile egoism and advancing through stages of transcending and including the lower stages in a higher awareness that takes in the interests of others in growing circles of affinity. When something obstructs the ideal stage progression, the personality clings to a lower stage of awareness in an attempt to save the self from a perceived threat. The result is a pathological - neurotic or psychotic - disconnection from healthy awareness and agency.

The combination of class-consciousness and psychoanalysis led critical theorists to the ingenious, though perhaps by now obvious, conclusion that the working masses' propensity for self-defeat and acquienscence to authoritarianism originated in developmental malformations in childhood, i.e. psychological trauma. Instead of seeing potential "Nazis" everywhere, critical theory offers a sympathetic account of human woundedness that underlies the fearsome threat of mass fascism.

The rise of fascism in Germany was explained by Critical theory as the result of harsh parental discipline that was widespread in the pre-War era. Mothers who had to work due to poverty, could not attend their infants with the sort of indulgent parenting that middle-class mothers could. Even if a working mother was inclined to indulgence, the conditions of poverty and stress would frustrate such aspirations. The conclusion is that poverty psychologically traumatizes infants, obstructing the ideal developmental sequence so prized by Ken Wilber and other integral thinkers. Much, much more could be said here, for example, taking in feminist accounts of how predominantly female mothering leads to sexist attitudes in boys and girls. For the time being, hopefully, what I have written persuades some in the integral/integrative development movement to consider constructive changes in their approach.

The project of a "Critical Integrative Theory" would pursue many of the worthy aims of Wilber's Integral theory, but subject them to a wide range of radical rethinking that draws on the continuing work of critical theorists. Wilber's concern about billions of potential Nazis is worrying, but understanding the psychoanalytic and class determinants on human agency reveals that Nazism is not a "natural" stage of development, but rather a pathological aberration. The challenge to integral activists is to use the evitability of pathology as an opening to rethink the project of changing the world. To this point, Wilber's mode has been to groom a middle-class cadre of enlightened mystics. The elitism of that approach seems self-evident, but also understandable from a critical theory perspective. The psychological development of middle-class infants has its own set of neurotic and pathological pitfalls.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Anarchism has always had an appeal for me. However, so has Marxism. This is a bit of a problem if one defines anarchism as the abolition of the State and Capitalism, and, Marxism as the abolition of Capitalism via the State.

What I really want to find is a middle-ground philosophy, one that rejects what is most dangerous and oppressive about the existing State, while saving the aspects of government and collective power that might actually create progress.

If you are strict Anarchist, you have probably already stopped listening. If you haven't stopped, hear me out.

In libertarian capitalist circles there are roughly speaking two approaches to the state, anarchist and minarchist. Anarcho-capitalists share with leftist anarchists a political commitment to abolishing the State. Minarcho-Capitalists share with other conservatives the view that the State is necessary for collective institutions like armies and police.

Minarchism is a funny little word. It was coined by a theorist, Samuel Konkin III from the "agorist" left-wing of the Libertarian capitalist movement. Konkin meant the term as a label with which to distance his more strictly anarchist views from those who defended voting, armies, and police.

Most socialists in theory seem to defend a massive State apparatus that manages the economy, guarantees full employment, and acts to redistribute wealth. In addition, most socialists consider armies, police, and other coercive functions of the State as continuing under a socialist administration.

While I've been anti-capitalist for most of my life, I have also been anti-war and advocated nonviolent policing. At one point, I did call my view anarchist, but as I have thought it through further, I think it might be better use that funny little word for my position. While I may not be original, I certainly may be one of the few minarcho-socialists on the planet.

In fact, a google search reveals usages of minarcho-socialist back as far as 2006. The most interesting page is here.

Peace! Charley

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Schema of Radical Progress

An outline aimed at breadth and depth, but not exhaustive

1) Domains of reality :



Social Movement






2) Developmental Stages (from narrow to broad):

Primal Self


Simple relations

Complex relations

Tribal Identification




3) Categorical Trajectories (in reverse alphabetical order):









Friday, October 2, 2009

My Love Affair With "Capitalism"

Tonight, I went to see "Capitalism: A Love Story" (hereafter CALS) by Michael Moore. I rarely go see movies on their opening night, but I had to see this one.

I call this movie a "four-star tear-jerker." Moore certainly knows how to dig deep into human pain and misery and make us ask ourselves why our world is so messed up. I was a fan of Faherenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, too, but this one moves me at levels those others did not.

One of my conservative friends accused Moore of being a hypocrite because he has made millions from his movies. I find this charge disingenuous. Moore became rich by making movies that people want to see. If I could design the perfect economic system, it wouldn't be possible to get rich that way or any way, but he could still make the best movies possible.

It's not hypocrisy that his movies are popular. His movies are not nearly the highest-grossing ones ever made. The premise of CALS is that 1% of the US population owns over 90% of its wealth, an obscene disparity. Michael Moore is nowhere near that kind of wealth.

I won't give a movie review, just encourage everyone to see it. Moore's solution to capitalism isn't radical enough, but he is basically on the right track.

Now, about that radical solution to the problem of capitalism's obscence wealth disparities....

I consider myself a libertarian socialist, combining a radical critique of capitalism with a passionate commitment to freedom. One of the failings of classical socialism was that it was not committed to freedom. I don't believe we have to follow capitalism to defend and extend radical freedom. In fact, capitalism denies basic freedoms. We are told what to do almost every minute of every day. Sometimes it's work we hate, sometimes it's work we like or even love, but it is work that is making somebody else much richer than it is making us.

Once upon a time, unions were the best way to organize resistance to capitalism. We are a long way from those days, and CALS covers some of the story of how Reaganomics initiated a decades-long battle by capitalism to overthrow unions and social programs. It may be that our society can find the will to rebuild a new economic justice movement, but I suspect that it won't be carried out by unions.

Perhaps we could start something like an "Alliance for Economic Justice" that could attract millions of people to organized resistance to capitalism, outside of the weak labor unions.

Peace! Charley

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What Kind of Revolution?

A local Marxist organization hosted a panel discussion on Marxism vs. Anarchism. As someone with sympathies with both philosophies, I wanted to see if I would learn anything new by listening to what each side had to say. The panelists were all younger folks than myself, so I thought maybe some newer ideas had come into the discussions since I studied these ideas in depth over a decade and half ago.

While each panelist was serious and worked at sharing their view without hostility (not always a given at these sort of things), I found myself unable to embrace either viewpoint. One of the anarchists spoke affirmatively about the anarchist militias of 1930s Spain. The Marxists spoke approvingly of Lenin's 1917 revolution. As a lifelong pacifist, one reason I have never bought into either viewpoint entirely is that I can't see any scenario where an armed revolution would have any positive role in the United States or other modern nation. I might allow for some small-scale revolution in a very repressive nation, but even in many of those situations, nonviolent rebellions have won important victories.

Each side in the panel could recount a history of armed revolutions that they considered important events in their respective traditions. Pacifist radicals can point to another stream of uprisings which showed unarmed nonviolent tactics could win victories with less onerous consequences. Gandhi's campaigns for Indian independence, Dr. King's civil rights campaigns, the Phillipine People Power Revolution, and several others. None of these uprisings resulted in an entirely new society as pacifist radicals, anarchists, and Marxists desire, but that is also true of all, repeat that, all anarchist and Marxist uprisings.

Of course, what makes a nonviolent uprising different is that it never creates a cadre of armed fighters who become a power to themselves should the revolution actually topple the government. For anarchists and Marxists who each claim to be abolishing either classes or hierarchies, armed cadres are both of these things. One of the panelists tried to describe the anarchist militias of Spain as non-hierarchical, but I remain unconvinced. Militias have guns while the majority do not. Militias are trained in deadly weaponry, the majority are not so trained. Unless we want to mimic the National Rifle Association and put a gun in every household, lethal weaponry, by its very character as a commodity, product of unjust social production, specialized training requirements, and moral ambiguity cannot be an integral component of a democratic, classless, egalitarian revolution.

That does not mean that a pacifist radical can't learn anything from the history of anarchist and Marxist revolutions. All of these uprisings had constructive aspects and did introduce into history important new possibilities. As I mentioned earlier, I don't rule out every single armed revolution. Some political regimes are so repressive and inhumane that there is almost zero chance of a nonviolent uprising doing much good. Cambodia's Khmer Rouge seems to have been one such regime, and they were ostensibly Marxist.

Politics ain't beanbag, and violence always accompanies social change. However, just as anarchists desire to put an end to the persistent presence of social hierarchies, and Marxists desire to put an end to the persistent presence of economic exploitation, so do radical pacifists seek to put an end to the persistent violence that underlies hierarchies and economic exploitation.

Peace! Charley

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Radical Soul

For years, I have been somewhat obsessed with trying to understand social change. I was born in 1963 and in the 4 and a half decades since then, I have seen lots of changes, good and bad. Sometimes it seems more bad than good.

I'm a radical by nature. In kindergarten I remember some teacher scolding me for something I thought was dumb. I looked around the room, realized that there were more of us (students) than her, and fantasized briefly about trying to get the class to push her out of the room, so we could play the way we wanted to play.

Yes, that's pretty silly, or cute depending on how you look at it. Staging a rebellion of 5-year olds is quite a different matter than bringing about social revolution. Just how different is what has fueled this decades long obsession.

I started out on a more serious radical path in 1986, when I moved from Texas to Illinois, just to join a Christian commune. Who does that anymore? I gather it was quite popular in the 70s, but I was over a decade behind the times. That decision was the culmination of my disenchantment with our society and the churches I'd grown up with. I believed that Jesus was not just a sacrificial lamb who let the evil world kill him, but also a rebel who set in motion a radical impulse for freedom, justice, peace, and love that could make this world into heaven, if we just followed him.

This radical Christology began way back, maybe before the kindergarten incident. I remember a vivid conversation with my Pentecostal preacher father about war and wanting to become president to end all of them. This might have been 1968, when I was 5 or 1972, when I was 9. I'm pretty sure it was an election year. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, so that meant war was wrong, right?

In my teens, I learned that some Christians were so radical for Jesus that they had moved into communes, like in the book of Acts. This sounded exactly like what Jesus wanted me to do. It took a few years, but I did eventually act on this leading.

While living with this commune (for the record, I never actually gave all my money to them, they tended to require a long waiting period), I went back to college (after dropping out when I was 19, discontent with education, as much as church and society). This time, I took classes that explored radical ideas. Marxism, feminism, anarchism, anti-racism, environmentalism - just to name a few. My world expanded, and in a few years time, I was no longer confining my radical impulses to Christian pacifist communal values. I had begun to engage the problem of social change in wider terms, as a global problem.

I think a lot about how truly radical progressive change might happen, what it would look like, how to encourage it, and whether it is possible at all. As I've said, I've seen some changes in my short life that I consider good ones, but have probably seen many more that are pretty dark. Especially, the continuing scourge of war and poverty around the world. One reason I have resumed blogging seriously is to try yet again to envision and understand how the world might be changed for the better, more radically.

I hope some of you will care enough to read long.

Peace! Charley

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Towards a Holistic Radicalism

The world is suffering and oppressed. This suffering and oppression seems so huge, so unmanageable, so saddening. Many people in our society turn away from the suffering and oppression of the world and put all their thought and effort into private security and comfort. For those who suffer, this is not an option. They resist where they can. It is their resistance that forms the hope for a better world. A better world does not come from governments, religions, or violence. It comes from the united efforts of the suffering and oppressed, and their allies, to change the world.

Much of the suffering and oppression in our world is systemic. There are structures, institutions, and ideologies that perpetuate suffering and frustrate liberation from suffering. As I have tried to understand the systemic nature of suffering, I have come to identify eight broad types of systemic suffering and struggle: economics, politics, gender, sexuality, ecology, race, violence, and religion. Economic suffering produces poverty and economic exploitation. Political tyranny, authoritarianism, and elitisms rob us of the power to make effective change. Gender repression prevents women's full participation in human life and traps men in destructive lives. Sexual repression traps us in shame, fear, and hopelessness. Racism degrades and exploits whole communities. Religious domination disempowers and alienates us from ourselves. Ecological exploitation threatens to wipe out our very existence. Underlying many of these systems of suffering and domination is the power of institutionalized violence, warfare, and death.

A unified vision of resistance and liberation will address all of these systems. While many successful struggles against systemic suffering and oppression have been waged throughout history, often only limited changes to the basic dynamics of oppression were ever won. While I am not proposing that I have found the exact perfect understanding of social struggle against suffering, nor that a holistic vision of radical progress is all that is needed, I do hope that this way of trying to look at social struggle comprehensively can contribute the future successs of the human struggle for peace, freedom, justice, and wholeness.

Each of these systemic arenas of suffering and struggle effect the others. Racism leads to economic exploitation, economic exploitation leads to ecological degradation, ecological degradation feeds the cycle of violence, violence leads to political domination, and so on. If we acheive a limited victory in one of these struggles, but fail to apply that success to other areas of struggle, the victory can be wiped out more easily. A comprehensive understanding of systemic interconnections could be a key to acheiving dramatic revolutionary change.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Launching My Leftist Quaker Blog

I have had other blogs before, and have years of internet discussion experience, going back to usenet and BITnet in 1989. Recently, I have become involved with the QuakerQuaker ning group and have begun blogging about Quakerism. Also, Yahoo canceled the "360" pages where I was blogging, and I can't get into the new blogging set-up due to a persistent problem with profiles on Yahoo. So, here I am at blogger.

As the title suggests, I am a political leftist, with involvements in peace, socialist, anarchist, feminist, anti-racist, and other activist concerns and organizations. Most Quakers are pacifists, and some are basically leftist, but many Quakers are quite comfortably middle-class. Although I was born into a preacher's family and my parents were college educated, we were always lower middle or working-class. I have always felt estranged from our society, whether on racism, capitalism, sexism, or militarism.

As a Quaker, I will also blog about religion in various forms. I am involved with FGC's Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee and want to see Quakerism become more aggressively universalist and interfaith. World peace requires that religions get along, so there is more than enough work there.

Peace! Charley