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.