Sunday, July 8, 2018

More Bible Radicalism, Radical Equal Justice

Here is another recent speech given by Walter Brueggemann that I listened to while catching up on some house work.  I'll warn you that the introduction is overlong, but what is said in the speech makes holding out for it worthwhile.

A point which he made at about 27:50 struck me.

And then they went on to Mount Sinai and, as I said to some of you this morning, there they got the Ten Commandments, and I didn't make anything of it this morning but the 10th Commandment, is Thou shall not covet, thou shall not act like Pharaoh.  And the tenth . . . it's just a little snippet of a Commandment but it uses the word "neighbor" three times.  You shall not covet thy neighbor's wife, you shall not covet thy neighbor's field, you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor, neighbor, neighbor, neighbor, neighbor . . . So I think that the Bible is the introduction of the notion of neighbor into the political economy.   Or to say it another way, Neighbor is the great gift of Judaism to our world. Because in Pharaoh's Egypt there were no neighbors.  There were only extractors and debt slaves.  And until the pattern of extractor is broken up, there cannot be any neighbors.

You can contrast that with the infamous statement of modern market-based political theory by Margaret Thatcher

And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no governments can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

Of course, Thatcher and her party held power long enough so we know that there was no "then, also" time when they looked after "our neighbours".   It's a fact of experience that the rich will never find that time has arrived, as can be seen in how their first duty, to "look after ourselves" inevitably turns into how to amass billions and billions of dollars which no person living the most decadent of lives could use up in a thousand lifetimes and they still won't foresee a time when they will get to "our neighbors".   That's obvious in how Thatcher's idea is used by people writing in such organs of conventional thought like the Financial Times, like Samuel Brittan, extending it into a truism of the establishment - for the record, Brittan's brother Leon was Home Secretary under Thatcher.   I believe both were knighted under the  British Class system so admired by America's elite.   When their greedy "first duty" extends as far as their families, what you get is essentially the moral world of organized crime families, as can be seen, perhaps in the Brittan family members just mentioned, certainly in the Bush family, the Trump family, in other wealthy families and in some not so wealthy ones where the circle of that duty closes on the narrowest of groups. 

The passage I typed out in Brueggemann's speech is in a wider context of contrasting his often elucidated theme contrasting the worldly Pharonic system with The Law and the part that Joseph played in the narrative of that at the end of Genesis when he becomes Pharaoh's food czar.  It all began with Pharaoh's dream about the fat cattle being eaten by the lean cattle, the same with ears of wheat and Joseph's interpretation of the dream.   Marilynne Robinson made the same point using the same metaphor of Pharaoh's anxious dream about the intellectual culture of Britain in her book Mother Country, in which even the alleged social welfare system is based on a similar vision of the poor as a continual danger, that they will eat up the rich and so must be kept in check. What has passed as British radicalism in the 19th and early 20th century was often extremely cruel and exacting attempts to figure out how to manage the British poor, to reduce them as far as possible without, perhaps, killing them.  Though many a Fabian was quite explicit in their readiness to do that, too, even by massive gas chambers.

That is the basis of modern American conservatism, as well.  One of Samuel Brittan's teachers was the putrid American Milton Friedman. as sold here on PBS as Reagan was ascending to the presidency. 

The myth of rugged individualism, as promoted in movies and TV shows has always been a lie, there has never been anyone who has become rich on their own, no one can possibly amass a fortune without taking some of it from someone else and corrupting the law and the courts to make that theft legal.  The most radical of the ideas contained in Brueggemann's speech is one he takes from David Graeber's book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, that the only solution to the ever worse and already unacceptably grotesque injustice and inequality here and around the world is a debt jubilee in which all debts, certainly those imposed on the unaffluent, have to be wiped off the slate.  Or, rather, an idea Brueggemann points out Graeber was forced to find in the Mosaic Law, where it has laid in plain sight since the Torah was first written down.

I think that's the case.  I think, short of that,  there will never be enough ability of us to overcome the political and, even worse, judicial power that those who keep the world in debt slavery on top.  We are going to have to do it by radical and simple means.  It would, of course, make the paper and law wealth of many of our billionaires disappear, overnight, not to mention the ever invented ever more larcenous and extractive "financial instruments" based on manipulating debt that have made so many others billionaires.   Those are things that should have been abolished by law as a matter of honesty, not to mention justice.   I think any serious proposal to do that will meet the most massive fear campaign in the prostituted free press to sucker people into fearing the freedom from debt that will so obviously revolutionize and equalize things.   They will use their "free speech-free press" to sucker the large majority of The People into being afraid of freedom, to go back to Pharaoh's slavery, as happened among the Children of Israel.   The Bible really is the most remarkable set of writings I've ever encountered.

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