Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Blog: RadicalProgress.Info


I have a new blog that will eventually hold most of my writings. I may continue to update this blog from time to time when a posting doesn't yet fit into the more systematic orientation of .

You welcome to view that blog.

Peace! Charley

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Progressive Turn

As I've been considering the passage of the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" this past week, it strikes me how this is the latest in a series of mobilizations of progressive movement energy. That trend seemed to me to first emerge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That event showed just how bankrupt the Bush administration was on domestic issues. By the mid-term election of 2006, a mass discontent had developed that won both houses of Congress for the Democrats, an historic upset.

A Democratic party victory is not in itself a progressive victory. The Democrats are tightly wedded to corporate money and the powers that be. A progressive movement that is worthy of the name will always have to work primarily outside the two-party system on behalf of working people and the poor. However, the Democratic Party has been, for better and usually for worse, the party of "the left" in the USA since FDR. Social movement energy is the key, not electoral politics.

The specific provisions of PP&AC legislation could turn out to be either good or bad or really bad. Really good seems unlikely. However, what really seems good is that the ideological trend begun by Ronald Reagan of government slashing of social services has been dealt a serious blow. For the first time since maybe the ill-fated "windfall profits tax" of Jimmy Carter, a social program expansion has been legislated that swims against the tide of "free market" dogma.

Skepticism still seems in order. This thing is so multi-valent that its actual impact will be complex and seems unlikely to be primarily positive. For those of us on the left who favor a universal healthcare system that provides solid support for everyone, this bill is a far cry from even the weakest of existing universal programs.

But, taking a longer view offers real evidence to be hopeful. The winners in this legislative victory are the forces of the working majority and the poor of this country. We now have the wind at our backs at a level not seen since the early 1960s. I won't be so foolish to predict that the coming era will surpass that era for social innovation. However, as a congenital malcontent, I've never been as glad to be an American as I have been the past year.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

If Christians Were More Quaker: An Open Letter to Christian Friends by a Post-Christian Quaker

(This post is something of a response to Theo Hobson's Guardian article, "If Quakers were more Christian".)

Theo Hobson's article is a very direct personal testimony of one Christian's first reaction to the experience of waiting worship, as practiced by liberal Quakers. He emphasizes the absence of any Christian messages, "It strikes me that Quakerism has over-reacted against the dangers of institutional Christianity. It has got rid of priests, dogmas, rules – and whoops! – there goes a rather important baby along with all that bathwater. If Quakerism could somehow be re-rooted in reference to Jesus Christ, and be the minimalist, anti-authoritarian form of this particular religion, I think it might be for me."

A lengthy comment page has developed since the original publication on March 18. In typical intelligent and witty British fashion, Quakerism is alternately pilloried and admired. It is quite impressive to me that Quakerism in Britian has moved to such a prominent place in the cultural scene, with a national "Quaker Day" and a successful outreach program entitled "Quaker Quest" (which is in the early stages of an American debut).

I hope Theo Hobson finds his way to a Quaker Christian faith. I know that resources for such a faith are even more scarce in Britain than in the U.S.A. Here in the colonies we have four major divisions of Quakers, three of which are explicitly Christian, and the fourth not so much. In Britain, the main body of Quakerism is substantially unorthodox, and at best, only culturally Christian. Not that this is a bad thing, except for Christians like Hobson. As a post-Christian Quaker, I do hope he finds what he's seeking.

And, just to state my priorities here, I desire a vocal, impassioned, inspired revival of Christian Quakerism across the entire world. In a world wracked by warfare, domination, and oppressive banality, a vibrant Christian Quakerism is sorely needed as an alternative to Right-Wing establishment Christianity. That was what George Fox, the most influential early Quaker preacher, fought for his entire adult life.

As you may expect, there is more to my story. While I avidly support and encourage the advancement of the ministry of Christian Friends, I just as avidly disapprove of attempts by Christian Friends to undermine the theological diversity that has become normative within both Britain Yearly Meeting and the U.S.A.'s Friends General Conference. I firmly hold that there are multiple valid ways of being a Quaker and it is a waste of resources and source of disharmony to urge any sort of definitively Christian faith stance upon Britain YM and FGC.

In the U.S.A. our four traditions of Quakerism - Liberal, Evangelical, Pastoral, and Conservative - each have their unique charism. Each stream deserves unmitigated support in their distinctive missions in the wider world and their distinctive internal integrity. This is not to say that a Quaker of one sort may not criticize a Quaker of another sort. In fact, I expect that it will be impossible to prevent such inter-Quaker disagreement. In a wider perspective, Quakerism's diversity mirrors and reflects back the diversity and divisions of Western civilization, despite some naive illusions each tradition harbors about being "set apart" from the system of the world.

For example, I do try to influence Evangelical Friends to become more tolerant toward same-sex relationships. What I don't try to do is to convince Evangelical Friends to stop being Evangelicals. There is a growing movement within Evangelicalism, going back to the '70s, that promotes an lgbtq-affirmative reading of Scripture. While I personally disagree with Evangelicals' view of scripture, I don't believe it is a worthwhile endeavor to focus much energy on debunking inerrancy. As a leftist Quaker, I got bigger fish to fry than biblical literalism. I'd much rather try and get Evangelicals, Friends and otherwise, to take seriously the traditions of Christian pacifism and get onboard with anti-war activism. Keep your inerrancy, just lose your militarism and heterosexism.

So, what has really got me up on this soap-box? What's really bugging me, you may ask? Well, here it is. Embedded in the comment pages of Hobson's article is an all-too typical attitude among Christian Friends that violates all of the inter-Quaker respect that I am trying to champion. I am going to post it in full, but if you want to know who said it, you'll have to go to back to the Hobson article's comment pages.

One Quaker there, A.L., writes, "I think Theo, you intuitively identified the malaise that is essentially liberal Quakerism. Over the last 30 years in order to appear to appear "reasonable" to wider society, Britain Yearly Meeting's (BYM) central bodies have connived to whittle away the core elements of the Quaker faith in order to make itself more attractive to the general public. The justification for the de-Christianisation was 'we will put people off if we're too dogmatic...'. The end result is that liberal Quakerism has ended up with very little spiritual content, standing for actually very little, and you seemed to picked that up yourself. Ah yes, the truth is a last out... The liberal swing has just gone too far."

This is an seriously wrong-headed comment on liberal Quakerism. It betrays all sorts of ignorance about liberal Quakerism's pedigree and trajectory within the modern world. First of all, it implies that "de-Christianisation" is a recent phenomena going back a mere 30 years. To the contrary, various studies of the last two centuries of FGC and BYM have unearthed a much lengthier process of internal debate and liberalization going back to before the Hicksite schism of 1827. The Hicksite Quakers – forerunners of today's Liberals - were largely Christian, but a subset of them were in fact heading towards Unitarian ideas, most notably Lucretia Mott. Just as today's Quakerism isn't uniform, even among Evangelicals, Hicksite Quakers were diverse, and the seeds of today's developments are discernible within the schism itself. Lucretia Mott was so controversial that attempts were made to disown her, but failed. Reading her correspondence, many of which were published in 2002's Selected Letters volume, leaves no doubt that she was wholly within the liberal tradition.

As a passionate partisan of the liberal tradition, I take offense at the notion that liberal Quakerism “malaise” has “very little spiritual content” and “gone too far.” Friend A.L., you ain't seen nothin' yet! Liberal Quakers have a solid basis in history and a bright and sunny future. We may never be as big as Evangelical or Pastoral Quakerism, but we ain't going away either.

Here's a suggestion to my disgruntled Christian Quaker Friends (If you ain't disgruntled, I ain't talking to you). Start your own revival. Start moving in on other Christians, like George Fox did. We liberal Quakers aren't interested (OK, some liberal Quakers are actually interested!), most of us are committed to a pluralistic, open form of Quakerism.

Why would you want to win over some fraction of liberal Quakerism to the true faith once delivered? There ain't enough of us for that to be any sort of victory for Christian Quakerism. A real victory for Christian Quakerism would be for you to have a real impact on wider Christian churches. Imagine that, rather than trying to take apart liberal Quakerism, why not try building a truly authentic independent Christian Quaker movement?

(Afterthought: I held this post up for half a day to see if the anger that drove it settled, doing what Quakers call "seasoning." I still agree with what I wrote, so I'm letting it stand mostly unedited. I know that I have left out a lot of complexities, but, hey, this is just one little blog post, you can read some of my others here if you'd like more of how I approach this topic.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Philosophical Fragment

While I often write about activism and social change, I tend to approach the topics as a philosopher. The philosophical temperament that I seem to have no doubt finds it genesis in my unusual childhood. I was raised Pentecostal by a father who was incredibly intelligent, but also emotionally damaged. He visited his own emotional wounds upon his children in various ways, cementing our allegiance to a dogmatic religious enthusiasm that was at odds with even his own intellectual tendencies. He rejected those tendencies as some sort of thorn in the flesh that fought against his true desire to be a perfectly obedient follower of Jesus.

I turned first to philosophy when I was around 18 years old, though I had a keen interest in theology and comparative religion from an earlier age, which doubtless set the stage for my later departure from Pentecostalism. At 18, I read a book entitled The God Who is There by Frances Schaeffer. I remember its serious engagement with modern society without the simplistic condemnation so typical of most Christian writings. I was hooked on the idea that philosophy had a crucial role to play in life.

Fast forward about 7 years and I am married, a college drop-out, and father of a precious little girl. I am still fighting those inner demons from my abusive childhood, and struggling with the latest in a series of episodic unemployments. I decide to return to college and immediately enroll in philosophy courses, in part because they are the only courses that engage religion at all at the state-run University of Illinois of Chicago.

It was in those two fabulous life-changing years at UIC that I encountered the amazing ideas that would catapult me beyond the limits of my Christian upbringing. I read feminist, anarchist, Marxist, and postmodern books that expanded my horizons and nourished my starving intellect. While I was forced to drop out again after the birth of my son, I would never be the same.

Philosophy has held me spell-bound ever since. I still dream of becoming that professor of philosophy that I aspired to in those years at UIC. I might still return to that path, though I cannot say for certain as I approach my fifth decade how much I can invest in such a major change of direction.

Peace! Charley

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Politics (and Love?)

In 1984, I got involved with a Mennonite Church in Dallas, TX., at the age of 22. I had been raised a Pentecostal, but became a pacifist at an early age due to the Sermon on the Mount. Mennonites were one of a handful of denominations that took pacifism seriously. While involved with the Dallas Mennonite Fellowship, I moved into an east Dallas neighborhood to be close to a couple of families and we started a small group with the intent of becoming a house church. My experiences with this group set the stage for my eventual relocation and involvement with Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional community that was part of the Mennonites. Tim Rapson was one of the 3 men in the Dallas group, including myself. This blog is a response to his blog about his political ideas and how they've changed in the years since we lived in the same neighborhood.

Tim writes that he finds it "painful" to see the "good intentions" of his "far left" friends so "misplaced." He says his views are based solely on love for people.

I will cop to being a far leftist, unapologetically. As a pacifist, I would never sanction the use of violence to achieve leftist goals, though I disagree with Libertarians like Tim who view taxation as violence.

It's interesting to me that while Tim makes a great deal out of pacifism keeping him aligned with Democrats, as I have never seen them as a "peace party." I support a few select Democrats, like Kucinich, but have voted Green since 2000. I boycotted the elections of '92 and '96. Before that, I held my nose to vote Democratic.

As a libertarian socialist, the meager under-funded efforts of the Democrats to address social needs are simply inadequate. Even the current health-care reform legislation is just Big Government caving in to Big Business yet again.

In essence I agree with Tim that Big Government will never really oppose Big Business, but I can't see why Tim thinks that Libertarianism is any cure for that problem. He lauds Ronald Reagan, the master of Big Government market intervention, also known as deficit-driven defense spending. That's right, the Gipper never balanced a single federal budget. Clinton did.

I am not as strict a pacifist nowadays as I once was, but from my Christian faith I gleaned a radical view of the economy. The Bible rails from one end to the other against the evils of wealth and in defence of the poor. I can't see how anyone can claim to take the Bible literally and not be a socialist, maybe even advocate central planning on behalf of the poor. I don't exactly advocate that, but it seems to me indisputable to me that the Bible is anti-capitalist.

Tim cites some things that the "free market" supposedly has given us like the "automobile, the plane, the suburban house, clothes, and more food." All of these things depended on government grants and state education, not one of them was purely a creation of a private entrepreneur.

I see several huge staggering problems. First, humankind is divided into haves and have-nots. I have always been closer to poverty than not, so I find it hard to care when some millionaire whines about higher taxes. Second, I believe that we are fast out-stripping the planet's capacity to support us. We have to redesign our cities, towns, transportation, agriculture, and other systems to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. Capitalism wants us to consume until we drop dead, how is that even remotely a Christian value? We also have to slow down our population explosion. Third, we have decided that war is some kind of solution to political conflict, which is insane.

Yeah, I am leftist because I love people, too, Tim, but that means I want everyone on the earth to have enough to eat, a creative education, healthcare, and rich natural environment. Is that too much to ask?

Peace! Charley

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dynamics of Radical Progress 2: Capitalism and The State, Re-Considered

In the first post of this series (ever notice that I've promised more than one series? Story of my life...), I proposed that eight social movements are candidates for a new reformulation of radical left politics, in the aftermath of the 60s and the New Left. Of course, this isn't an entirely new idea.

I first came up with a version of this idea around 1989. At that time, I had begun to incorporate the core agendas of pacifism, feminism, environmentalism, progressive religion, and socialism. There were hybrid social movement theories in play as well, such as socialist-feminism. I discovered somewhat later one of the more stable attempts at the synthesis I desired in the book Liberating Theory, (hereafter referenced as 'LT') published by South End Press (from which would come Z Magazine, a leading publication of the the left, in the lineage of Noam Chomsky's libertarian socialism, yet another hybrid, but from the Old Left).

This book formulated a fairly rudimentary proposal of combining feminism (which it broadened to call kinship), anarchism (broadened to politics), Marxism (broadened to economy), and Black nationalism (broadened to community) into a single new theory, thus taking Libertarian Socialism (or Anarcho-Syndicalism, a synonym), in a new direction.

My own modification of this model was to "split off" four additional social movements from the four proposed by LT. From Marxism's economic theory, I distinguished two domains of economy, the ecological and industrial; Two domains of kinship, gender and sexuality; two domains of community, race/ethnicity and religion/irreligion; and two domains of politics, legal/governance and martial.

This elaboration raised the question of whether LT's four "spheres" were adequate. I had concluded that ecology could not be subsumed under economy, and came to see that Murray Bookchin's proposal that radical theory be renamed "social ecology" was in many ways an advance over all previous theories. However, I couldn't simply dilute economic struggle into a subset of ecological realities.

From Marxism I had gleaned the principle that social struggles are always concrete, not abstract and require a collective mass base. In other words, a movement capable of changing the world needed to have the interests of a substantial percentage of that world at its core. While ecology ideally was "everybody's" interest, it seemed to me that subordinating economic struggles - as well as all the other domains I'd distinguished - to an overarching ecological paradigm left something to be desired. That 'something' was a unifying radicalizing potential within the mass of humanity. My eight-fold revolution - and even LT's four-fold agenda - seemed to lack a coherent social base.

It was the coherent social base of Marxism in the early 1900s that propelled it into national and international power. Focusing its principled militancy on the working masses of the industrialized world, Marxism began to advance beyond the more modest gains of its chief rivals on the left, namely, liberalism and anarchism. Liberalism was committed to the interests of the educated middle-classes, while anarchism was committed to interests of a variety of sectors of society, especially workers, peasants, and artisans.

Marxism was committed to creating a revolutionary force exclusively devoted to industrial workers. Since industry of this sort controlled a major portion of the wealth of society, Marxism succeeded where Anarchism failed because it understood how capitalism really worked. Of course, Marxists then proceeded to create societies that were more authoritarian and class-exploiting than liberal Democracies. It is not an accident that the Cold War was won by liberal Democracy against Stalinism and Marxism.

Can a class-based mass struggle perspective as championed by Marxism be combined with Anarchism? This has been tried repeatedly in history with mixed results. The Industrial Workers of the World are explicitly committed to Anarcho-Syndicalism to this day after almost 100 years. However, it seems to me that just as the mass of humanity hates economic exploitation and authoritarian government, they nevertheless embrace the ideals of a democratic state and an economy that upholds individual freedom, as well as cooperation and justice.

While I am a passionate champion of workers, I find that the Marxist idea of abolishing capitalism using the State and the Anarchist idea of abolishing the State in order to abolish capitalism both fail. The State isn't going away and, for a long time to come, neither will capitalism. Radical politics today has to build itself on the real potential of the broad mass of humanity.

The path of abolishing capitalism and authoritarianism that seems most hopeful to me involves primarily a renewed struggle at the level of the State for a new program of economic and political reforms and programs. I do not know if these will succeed, and if they fail in my lifetime, a later generation will have to rethink this strategy from the ground up.

My basic economic and political agenda are very similar to those of classical social democracy. I support massive public funding for healthcare, education, childcare, and workers' organizations. Unions are at a crisis point and have been for decades. Whether we can rebuild the existing unions to previous levels of influence, and moreover to surpass previous achievements is an open question, but I can see no alternative to attempting such a rebuilding of organized labor.

In terms of the State, we must also continue to press for electoral and political reform. The unbridled control of political offices and legislative priorities by the wealthy classes must be confronted by principled and militant opposition. In fact, from Anarchism and the advance in our society of greater independence of thought, we can propose that the time has come for profound changes in the nature of our political institutions. Public funding of all elections and multi-party proportional representation seem absolutely critical to advancing beyond the stale two-party system.

As I look back over the previous half-century of struggles since 1955, I am struck by two overwhelming developments, 1) the continued rise of a militant, rapacious capitalism and 2) the parallel rise of a new authoritarianism that closes off public space for political reform and advance in authentic democracy while waging wars abroad, preaching dogmatism domestically, and without any genuine love for either freedom or human community. In the face of dogmatism, militarism, authoritarianism, and capitalism, a new radical politics must call for freedom, economic justice, constructive international relations, and a libertarian socialism.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Climate Gate" Gets a Re-Tread: Daily Mail Distorts

I tend to post articles about human-caused climate change by experts, because I am not one. I am scientifically literate, but not expert enough to feel confident trying to explain the complexity of the earth's climate balance.

However, today's Daily Mail, a London-based yellow journalism rag, has a headline claiming that a scientist at the center of the Climatic Research Unit's controversy “admitted” there has been no global warming since 1995. The CRU has been doing sound research for decades into the issues of human-caused climate change.

CRU recently became a cause celebre among climate change deniers when emails and other electronic documents were stolen from them and subsequently anonymously posted on the internet. The emails in question have led to variety of inquiries into possible data falsification by CRU.

Today the Daily Mail claimed that former CRU director Phil Jones, whose emails and other documents are at the center of the controversy, had admitted that "1995 to now there has been no statistically significant warming."

However, that one line is ripped out of context. The Daily Mail says that Jones "sounds much less ebullient about the basic theory." Compared to what?

Here's the exact quote from a recent BBC interview, which is the basis of the Mail's misreading:

"BBC – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?
Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods."

Notice, "only just" meaning that he considers the apparently "flat" trend to not be statistically significant, nor would he consider a trend that showed a sharper rise to be significant.

The term "statistically significant" is standard science talk when discussing complex data. What he is saying is that if we were to decide if climate change were occurring based on the data since 1995, we couldn't decide either for or against. Climate change is a complex phenomenon, and does not rise or fall sharply, but the overall trend is what matters.

All the reports that I have read continue to say that the "flat" data is actually not that flat. It falls just below the "statistically significant" line but not by much, meaning that when combined with the previous century's data it is consistent with continued - wait for it -


Last year was one of the warmest years on record, and I quote at length below.

"A report by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that the present decade has been the warmest ever observed in the southern hemisphere.

"The NASA report released Jan. 21, said that new analysis of global surface temperatures found that 2009 was the second warmest since 1880. "In the southern hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year on record," it said.

"The report explained that 2008 was the coolest year of the decade in the southern hemisphere due to a strong La Nina phenomenon, which cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean below average temperatures. La Niña (the little girl) is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon similar to El Niño.

"During La Niña, sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean is lower than normal by 0.5 degrees Celsius. In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of La Niña conditions.

"In its report, the NASA said that "2009 saw a return to near-record [high] global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to the new analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York."

"The document also confirmed the trend seen elsewhere, that this decade has been the warmest ever. In the paper, NASA points out that the 2009 average temperatures were a small fraction of a degree lower than 2005, the warmest on record.

"That puts 2009 in a tie with a cluster of other recent years - 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007 - as the second warmest on record."


Peace! Charley