I just read a thoughtful plea posted by a friend on Facebook recommending that now is the time to move into opposition. Well, frankly, I think that both he and I, along with most of the subscribers to this blog, have been in opposition from the moment we spilled out into the light of day. But, I think that what John means is that Ms Clinton is so patently, transparently, and vocally committed to principles and policies that we oppose that, whether or not she is elected, it will not make a big difference, whether in the long run or short. It is 1932 again and nothing is going to prevent the NSDAP from implementing its program, either through proxies or directly; so, why not stand up and be counted?


 In 1932, however, the SPD was the strongest party in Germany. Standing with the SPD against the Fascists was a no-brainer. Everyone we know and love was there already. Which raises the very interesting question in the US, in 2015, where does the opposition go? Last I looked, there were around 250,000 members of the Green Party (USA); the CPUSA can claim 1% of this number; the DSA is not a party.

The way most of us handle the dismal electoral scene in the US is by separating our activist work — with workers, for the environment, for civil liberties, for the undocumented, for minorities — from our electoral practices. We work assiduously in whatever vocation or avocation we can afford, hoping that our activism will push the electorate a hair’s breadth closer to emancipation, but then come election season, we either opt out or opt sideways.

Analytically, however, the question we ought to be asking is how any of our decisions or actions influence the margin. How will a Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush presidency — which, remember, will in all likelihood be combined with an all-red Congress — transform the context of political action and advocacy? Will it create the kind of critical mass in the opposition that will successfully overcome the police actions that will unquestionably be deployed against it? Will the empowerment of poor, white, male Christians arising from a Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush or Scott Walker presidency, call up an opposition sufficiently robust and well-defined to successfully contest this coup d’etat? Or will it instead hasten the present day equivalent of 6M deaths of innocents?

We have all followed the debates that revolved around these questions — Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt, et al. — in the 1920s and 30s. So it is not as though the landscape is unclear.

So we can ask whether a Clinton presidency simply moves in this same direction at a slower speed. (Does it save the present day equivalent of 2 or 3M of these 6M? In the short run? Is it worth it?) Or might more resources devoted to public education, public health, and infrastructure actually prove capable of tipping the scales? And what scales, exactly, are we talking about?

Here too we are not without a compass. We will recall Lord Keynes prophetic article in the August 1932 issue of Atlantic Monthly asking why we cannot spend sufficient resources on society in the absence of war that we will no doubt spend in the case of war. Well, we didn’t. Instead, we spent those resources on war: the largest state-coordinated demand-side shock in all of history, still. Economic historians (G Arrighi, J Frieden, B Jessop, R Brenner, J Lough, et al.) point out that this huge demand-side shock, combined with the destruction of Japan and Germany, placed the US economy in good standing well into the 1960s. But it did something else as well. Under the premise that money and wealth (not the same thing) give rise to knowledge, leisure, learning and freedom (Aristotle, GWF Hegel, K Marx), this huge demand-side boost also decanted hundreds of thousands of young minds (with lots of free time) into the newly envigorated Fordist universities that were springing up all over.

Indeed, if we look at the standard right-wing critique of the “closing of the American mind” (L Strauss, A Bloom, et al.), its principle object of critique is the democratization of knowledge and of the American university. Well, nothing solved that problem more effectively than neoliberalism and the rise of the post-Fordist university. Mr Wallerstein: 1968 was not the beginning; it was the end.

So, let us say that, wittingly or not, a Clinton presidency grants more free time, more knowledge, more access to education to the public. Could such a reversal of post-Fordist policies, even though by a hair’s breadth, help create a critical mass?

We know where T Cruz, J Bush, or S Walker’s policies will lead. Look at Wisconsin. Now imagine Wisconsin everywhere. So, where is the margin? Which direction will opposing Ms Clinton move this margin? How fast will it move? With what result?

The tragedy of the unorganized

Organizers might assume that organizing among highly-educated and critical university lecturers and librarians would be a piece of cake. Most lecturers and librarians know that the production of educational and cultural goods, while central to any university, does not insulate the producers of these goods from gross inefficiencies. As in any under- or unregulated business, efficiencies tend to migrate up the income hierarchy. Those who produce these efficiencies — those at the bottom — are rarely these same individuals who enjoy their benefits; in large measure because policy-making is left to those, relatively speaking, at the top of the income hierarchy.

And, for the most part, organizing among highly-educated and critical university lecturers and librarians is a piece of cake. And, yet, occasionally — more often than you would think — you run into individuals who, “on philosophical grounds” will not join the union.

Yesterday, I donated a few hours to organizing lecturers and librarians for the California Federation of Teachers. This entails working through a list of names that shows the room where they are teaching, their department, and when they are scheduled to finish their teaching. Armed with literature and a sign-up form, organizers let as yet unorganized lecturers or librarians know what the union has done for them — which is substantial — and let them know that fees are already being deducted from their wages to support this work. Since the union is currently in contract negotiations, it would strengthen the union’s hand to have every fee-paying lecturer and librarian be counted among the union members. All the lecturer or librarian needs to do is sign up and instantly their fees are transformed into dues. Its that simple.

But yesterday for the first time I ran into a lecturer who was positively hostile to the union. “Let me make this short. I appreciate what you are doing, but, on philosophical grounds, I cannot let someone else represent my interests. Therefore I will never become a member of either of the unions that claim to be representing me.”

When you run into someone who is openly hostile to collective bargaining, there is little to say. “Thank you for your candor. I appreciate you giving me your time. Have a nice day.”

And, yet, judged analytically, the hostile response of this lecturer is a tragedy since, in matter of fact, he is represented; but his voice is muted. He is represented by the CFT/AFL-CIO, which accounts for why he enjoys a contract superior to the contracts endured by non-represented lecturers and librarians on other campuses; and he is represented by university management, which has no other goal than to increase efficiencies by reducing the costs of the factors of their production, chiefly labor. These two parties — his union and his employer — are negotiating; and they will negotiate whether he is a member of the union or not. Moreover, the CFT will use his fees to support their efforts at improving his contract whether he is a member or not. All that changes is that he will not play an active role shaping the union’s goals.

Analytically, the hostile response is a tragedy. Which makes me curious about the “philosophical grounds” informing his hostility: I refuse to be represented by another agent. Of course, he is represented; and not simply as a lecturer at UC Berkeley. He is represented in the City of Berkeley by School Board and City of Council members; he is represented in Sacramento by Assembly and Senate members; and he is represented in Washington, DC, presumably by Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and Barbara Lee. And he is represented by the union to whom he currently pays fees (not dues) and by his employer’s representatives who are trolling for that sweet spot sufficient to attract quality lecturers at as low a cost as possible.

But, since he is represented in all of these ways, what can it possibly mean for him to refuse to be represented by another agent? After giving it some thought, I think I know the answer. I think what this union-hostile lecturer was in fact telling me was: I feel that I have no voice. I feel that other people are speaking for me and are silencing my voice. I don’t want other people to speak or act for me. I want to speak and act for myself, in my own defense, in my own interests.

Perhaps it is now clearer why I consider this a tragedy. Philosophically, in the best of all possible worlds, each of us would independently represent ourselves under only conditions we ourselves have created and chosen. Yes, there is much hostility, misanthropy, and anger in this wish: I wish that I were alone. And, yes, there is a lot of fear; fear of being controlled, used, duped. How tragic. But there is also a fundamental failure to grasp how human society works.

I don’t think it is revealing too much to say that this particular lecturer is in the sciences. Does he believe that quarks and muons behave as they do in complete isolation from one another? Or does he believe that their rigid adherence to fixed (although dynamic) laws of physics relieves them (as it should relieve us) of choice in the matter? How very annoying that we must wrestle with these matters. How very troublesome that we must engage one another and resolve conflict in this messy, less than fully lawful, manner. How much better were it all automatic — like supply and demand, like neoliberal price theory, like the market mechanism, like quantum mechanics.

But it is not.

Easter, the Cross, and Resurrection

I am not a big fan of Easter. I am sorry. But when the Son of God is raised from the dead, I want more than fanfare. I want the lame to walk, the hungry filled, the blind to see. I want the powers of this age to become nothing and the poor to be empowered. I want swords made into plowshares. I want orphans to find their families. I want the world to be healed.
wpid-MemlingResurrection-2015-04-4-11-18.jpgThere he is. The Lord of the Universe is risen; but notice how the guards are oblivious to his rising. Rome does not care. Its soldiers do not care. They will continue their military campaigns on the Empire’s northern and western borderlands. The women are there. They see him. But the Apostles? Well, they have all gone home. We have gone home. The Kingdom is at hand. Where? Christ is risen! But the world is unmoved and unchanged.

Easter makes me feel cheated. But could it be that I have missed the point? What does the world look like after the King of Glory rises? What kind of a King is this anyway?

There are some — whether post- or pre-millennialists, it doesn’t matter — who have parried this question by pointing (and pointing, and pointing, and pointing . . .) to the future. God is building the Kingdom through us. Really? Or, God will come like a thief in the night and — zap, bang, pow — all will be made new. Like Captain America. Like Desert Storm. And everyone will be filled with shock and awe. Really?

But, really, what kind of a King is this? What should I expect upon his resurrection from the dead?

wpid-375px-Thetriumphofdeath-2015-04-4-11-18.jpgThere is a painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder dated some time around 1562. Its title in English is simply “Triumph of Death.” It depicts the world as it is after the resurrection, after Easter. Death reigns. It still reigns.

Therefore this Easter I am focusing my attention on First Corinthians 1-2, on a set of propositions, observations, attributed (I believe rightly) to Saint Paul that describe a very different resurrection than the erect, victorious Christ emerging from the tomb.




Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” . . . Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Co 1:26-31; 2:6-8).

The Gospel of Victory over Death? The Gospel of martial conflict and battle, of  power and force and might? Go ahead. See what that does for you. This Easter I am taking my place alongside those who by human standards are not wise, not powerful, not of noble birth. I am taking my place alongside the foolish, the weak, and the despised. Not because I believe that God wants us all to end up that way, but because it is these whom God had has chosen in order to bring to nothing the wise, powerful, and well-placed persons of the present age.

Paul is wrong, however. It is not the Cross that the rulers of this age don’t get. It is the resurrection. The Cross they know all too well. They built it. And every day they slap body after body after body up on that Cross because they believe that this illustrates their power, their superiority, their wisdom. Power is not God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is secret and hidden. None of the rulers of this age understand it; otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

So, when I see so-called Christians strutting about praising the weapons and tools and means of this present age, waging war against working families, waging war against the poor and powerless, when I look at Bruegel’s “Triumph of Death,” I remind myself that the kind of Easter I am celebrating differs not simply in degree, but in kind, from the Easter that they — sleeping soldiers all — will celebrate tomorrow. Christ’s victory over death looks different than the victory I wanted. But there it is.

Jesus in Indiana

No one is born a bigot. And while at birth we are all vulnerable, caring communities help us to distinguish between the monsters under our beds and the very real dangers posed by high places, sharp corners, or automobiles whose drivers are not on the look-out for toddlers.


As I prepare for Good Friday services at Saint Mark’s this evening, I am weighed down, as I know Jesus is weighed down, by the very real dangers posed by people in Indiana (and throughout the US) who believe that their religious rights have been infringed upon. Here is just one example from FB:

wpid-ScreenShot2015-04-03at09.05.55-2015-04-3-14-08.pngThe comment appeared among hundreds of comments posted in response to a post by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, defending his signing of Indiana’s new “Freedom of Religion” law. The post has been shared by over 17,000 individuals, not a FB record by any means, but surely significant.

Am I wrong to think that Jesus is bearing this poor woman’s fears to the Cross with him? She thinks that her faith is the target of government agents and operatives, evidently operatives who sympathize with Muslims, in the IRS, NSA, and FBI. She believes that Christians are being silenced, prohibited from mentioning the name of Jesus at funerals; that they are being targeted by homosexuals in the military; that they cannot even mention his name in government buildings or schools. How very terrified this woman must be. How afraid. How vulnerable.

On a personal level, it is tragic that apparently no one ever held this woman and told her that there are no monsters in the closet. For this woman it is clear that monsters lurk around every corner. Yet, rather than comforting her, turning on the light, and showing her that there are no monsters, members of her community have evidently validated her fears, reinforced them, heightened them, cultivated them.

As a former biblical scholar, seminarian, and church historian, I want to sit her down, help her to appreciate the social, historical, and anthropological contexts in which biblical authors wrote about interpersonal sins. I want to help her to appreciate that her grasp of the Word of God was invented quite recently by well-intentioned Christians eager to square the Bible with their Cartesian experience of the world. I want to help restore her wonder and amazement not with a dead orthographic letter, but with the Living Word to which these texts unequally and unevenly bear witness. I want to take her hand and show her how the Spirit Who descended on Pentecost has continued to reshape a community and a world in Her image, to show her why everything cannot happen and be finished all at once; to show her why it takes time.

But, of course, I know that this kind of demon is difficult to exorcise; that it is not susceptible to reasoning or evidence because it was shaped in the fires fanned by fear and terror.

When I see this kind of fear my mind leaps back to the 17th century and to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. How terrifying it must have been during those times either to be a Protestant among Catholics or a Catholic among Protestants: compelled to live a secret life, to fear for one’s livelihood should one’s deepest beliefs and experiences come to light. Leaders within both Protestant and Catholic communities had cast the leaders and members of the other community as bearers of demonic bile who, should they be permitted to express their beliefs publicly, would surely poison the entire body politic. Each community demonized the other so that it only made sense for each community to exclude the other. Surely this is an experience with which closeted members of the GLBT+ community can identify.

The solution in the 17th century was to stand by your guns, quite literally, ready to kill the monsters that threatened you.

Several of the posts on FB make this very point. They urge Mike Pence on. They praise his masculinity, his manhood, his eagerness to carry the cause forward, his readiness to fight. One post in particular transports me back to 17th century England.

The Supreme Court is not God! The Government is not God! . . . This is an attack on Christianity, and if the Supreme Court, or any court for that matter forces churches to remove sinful homosexuality from their sermons, lessons, or the Word of God, the Holy Bible, and they penalize, or prosecute because of it, it then becomes not just an attack on Religious Freedom, but it becomes religious persecution!

Do you feel the fear? Do you feel the terror? Thomas Hobbes looked at this terror, this fear, the violence and the horrors of civil war, and he saw clearly that the only response was for Leviathan — the Crown, the State — to stand above it. The only solution was for the State to pose a greater threat, armed with greater violence, than the deities of either of the warring parties. Leviathan. Catholics should be free to worship as they choose. Protestants likewise. But if either violates the civil liberty of the others, then they will surely feel the full wrath of the Crown, Leviathan, the monster; not the monster under the bed, but the real Monster, the State, about whose monopoly on the legitimate use of violence Max Weber wrote so eloquently.

But it is precisely here that we encounter a dilemma. Mike Pence is Leviathan, but, instead of standing above the fray, he has taken sides. He has ruled that it is legitimate for citizens in the State of Indiana to discriminate against others. He has said that Leviathan will hold harmless any citizen who, for religious reasons, denies equal treatment under the law to any other citizen. And so Leviathan, rather than using his prowess to enforce civil peace and restore calm, is found instead to be using his monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to promote and fan the flames of civil war. He is Oliver Cromwell, sword in one hand, Bible in the other, an avenging Angel come to crush the Catholic infidels and their Church of England collaborators. “The Supreme Court is not God! The Government is not God!” Well, OK; but if you violate the rights of other citizens, we will have your head on a post. So says Leviathan.

And, yet, the King has taken sides. He is promoting civil war. He is leading it. What now?

In the case of the 17th century, the crown proved competent to sway enough stake-holders that — Catholic or Protestant — civil peace served the better interests of all. So, perhaps the question that we need to raise is who is Leviathan? Who holds sufficient power, sufficient enough to be actually terrifying, to compel the competing parties to back down, or else. Is Jesus Leviathan? Is God?

In the US — which is de facto a plutocracy governing under the extra-judicial authority of a rogue Supreme Court — those who must stand up for Leviathan, for the authority of law and civil peace, are among those least certain of where they stand or even should stand. The business community has pursued a policy of ever expanding profit margins at the expense of the community’s health, education, and welfare; and in so doing it is reaping the whirlwind by creating a citizenry poor, poorly educated, and terribly frightened; and, as in the case of Indiana, it has created a citizenry not too worried about suffering economic loss for the sake of the Kingdom. But it is precisely the business community that needs to step up and assert its horrible powers.

Similarly — see Citizens United and Gore v Florida — the justices of the Supreme Court have, until now, proven constitutionally tone-deaf. Everything, in their judgment, hangs upon the interstate commerce clause. Clearly the Justices, or at least five of them, need to discover their constitutional chops. I suggest they start with Hobbes. Civil leaders do not promote civil war. Civil leaders do not undermine public faith in public institutions. Civil leaders do not choose winners and losers in the public sphere. Civil leaders stand above the civil sphere. But, back to Jesus.

He is nearing his apparent end. He is already in Jerusalem. We are all loudly demanding his execution. He violated the religious codes. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. His followers included prostitutes and criminals. He was a law-breaker. He came to his own and his own received him not.

I think that Jesus has some sense for what is happening in Indiana and in the rest of the United States. I think that is why he went to Jerusalem, to show how it is done and to do it himself. He is bearing in his own flesh all of this hatred, anger, fear, terror. He sees Peter with his sword — with the power wielded by Leviathan — and he is saying to Peter, “Sheath your sword.” Why? I think that in this instance Peter believes that he will defend his religious rights with the help of Leviathan, with the help of the legitimate use of violence; and never before or since has there been a more legitimate cause for violence: defending Jesus from those who would execute him. So what does Jesus say to Mike Pence and to his political supporters who believe that they can use the state to defend their religion and their freedom? “Sheath your sword or you have no share in me.”

But — and this is crucial — Jesus did not take sides. He opened his arms wide upon the cross to welcome all.