Friday, March 5, 2010

Thomas H. Naylor: Rebellion

by Thomas H. Naylor article link
December 1, 2009

Although it may be possible to isolate oneself from the world of technofascism and find solace through one’s creations, one’s personal relationships, one’s spirituality, and one’s experience with pain, suffering, and eventually death, so what? How meaningful is it to retreat to a small farm, a village, an island, or a commune, doing our own thing, separated from the rest of the world which is going to hell in a handbasket? How can we deny the economic, environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual effects of cipherspace? For how much longer can we pretend that we don’t notice our government’s use of the war on terrorism to restrict civil liberties at home and to expand our influence and control over the rest of the world? Do we really have any other alternative than to rebél against the money, power, speed, greed and size of the icons of cipherspace—the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Internet, Fox News, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s, as well as the churches, schools, and universities which suck up to our government, the military, and big business?

A word of caution. We summarily reject all forms of killing of human beings, because killing is grounded in nihilism. It makes no sense to attack the nihilism of cipherspace with just another form of nihilism. As Albert Camus said in The Rebel, “To kill men leads to nothing but killing more men.”

“Rebellion,” according to Albert Camus, “is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition. It protests, it demands, it insists that the outrage be brought to an end, and that what has up to now been built upon shifting sands should henceforth be founded on rock.”

To rebél is to confront the human condition head on, to face down separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death. The problem said Camus is that, “The rebel refuses to approve the condition which he finds himself.” And, “he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of a common good which he considers more important than his destiny.” That’s a lot.

Although not usually thought of as a rebel, nineteenth century Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy was indeed such a person. “Instead of blind and calm submission to the incipient or advanced stages of disease, rise in rebellion against them,” said Mrs. Eddy. She was a rebel against the conventional health care system—physicians, surgeons, hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Whether one is a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, Eddy’s mind-body paradigm for healing is not without merit.

Fear is the fountain of sickness, and you master fear and sin through divine Mind; hence it is through divine Mind that you overcome disease.

The physical affirmation of disease should always be met with the mental negation.

By conceding power to discord, a large majority of doctors depress mental energy, which is the only recuperating power.

Mental practice, which holds disease as a reality, fastens disease on the patient, and it may appear in more alarming form.

Suffering is no less a mental condition than is enjoyment.

Imagine the effect on total national health care spending, if every medical student was required to read Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health.

In November of 1932, radical economist and political dissident Scott Nearing and his partner Helen Knothe moved to the Pikes Falls region in the southern Green Mountains of Vermont. Near the town of Jamaica they organized an intentional community known as the Forest Farm experiment which was committed to simple living, self-sufficiency, sustainable agriculture, cooperation, mutual aid, and an ascetic lifestyle. The Forest Farm complex included eight stone houses and a 4000-tap sugar bush which the Nearings transformed into a self-sustaining maple candy business.

Nearing was fired from teaching positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Toledo University for his political views. He was strongly opposed to American participation in World War I. Indeed, he wrote an entire book, The Great Madness, devoted to that subject. Although Nearing called himself a pacifist, a more accurate portrayal of his stance on war would be that of one radically committed to nonviolence. He was hardly a shrinking violet when it came to expressing his opposition to American imperialism. Not only was Nearing an active communist sympathizer for over a half century, but he was a nonsmoking, vegetarian, teetotaler. Above all, Scott Nearing was a rebel.

On 6 August 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Scott Nearing wrote to President Harry S. Truman that “your government is no longer mine.” A few years later in his book The Conscience of a Radical, he said, “My conscience is aroused, outraged, and anguished by the dangerous drift of mankind toward self-destruction, and by the satanic role which the United States is playing in the fateful drama. I have no choice in the matter – I must speak out.” And speak out he did.

What differentiated Scott and Helen Nearing from contemporary environmentalists, simple living proponents, and back-to-the-land advocates was their commitment to radical politics aimed squarely at the American Empire. All too many downshifters and newly minted agrarians overlook the fact that the American Empire is currently engaged in the implementation of a series of military horrors including full spectrum dominance, nuclear primacy, the right of pre-emptive strike, the militarization of space, and imperial overstretch. Simple living may make one feel good but it really doesn’t do a whole lot to curtail the influence of the Empire and its use of high-tech death machines.

Nearing’s biographer John Saltmarsh described him as “a complete secessionist from capitalist cultural hegemony.” Saltmarsh opined that “Nearing moved through a series of secessions—from Christianity, from politics, and finally from American society itself. The secessions in his life were progressive repudiations of American canons of moral conduct as well as indications of Nearing’s perception of the fragmented, segmented, discontinuous nature of American society. Only in the isolated private sphere provided by homesteading could a radical resistance and constructive challenge to capitalist culture be nurtured.”

In 1952, after twenty years in Vermont, the Nearings moved to Harborside, Maine. There they started a new homestead and continued practicing simple living, self-sufficiency, and sustainable agriculture until Scott’s death in 1983 and Helen’s in 1995. In 1954 they self-published Living the Good Life which became the Bible for the hundred thousand or so people who moved to Vermont between 1967 and 1973 searching for the good life. As a result of this mass in-migration, Vermont was transformed from the most Republican state in America to the most left-wing state.

Ironically, the two people most responsible for the change in Vermont’s political character during the last two decades of the twentieth century, Scott and Helen Nearing, had not lived there since 1952.

Although he appeared in only three films in the 1950s before his untimely death at the age of 24, James Dean became, and still is, an icon and symbol of rebellion for angry, discontented young men. Even today, “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without a Cause” are required viewing for any aspiring young rebel. “Rebel Without a Cause” skillfully depicts the state of tension in adolescents between the propensity to rebél and the longing to conform.

From the perspective of a rebel, every word uttered by our media, our government, our business leaders, our educators, our scientists, our healers, and our clergy must be challenged. There can be no escape from a world controlled by ciphers without first confronting their every message.

The targets of French farmer José Bové’s rebellion are globalization, genetically altered food, and McDonald’s. Shortly after he was elected Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero stood down both President George W. Bush and the Vatican by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq and refusing to buckle under to the Holy See’s homophobic mandates.

Ostensibly American political scientists and economists have some responsibility for decrypting our political and economic system respectively. Unfortunately, all too many political analysts are merely cheerleaders for our government while most economists are in bed with Wall Street and Corporate America. No one is rebelling against anything.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and Soviet leader Michail S. Gorbachev were not only rebels but influential social critics—in some cases too influential for their own good. Dr. King rebelled against the ciphers of racial injustice and violence in the American South in the 1960s. Liberation theologian Archbishop Oscar Romero, who ministered to the poor in El Salvador, paid with his life when he challenged the authority of the right-wing military regime El Salvador in 1980. Bishop Tutu helped bring down apartheid nonviolently in South Africa. Walesa, in collaboration with the Catholic Church in Poland, peacefully and democratically took control of the government in Warsaw. And Gorbachev, baptized as a Russian Orthodox Christian, exposed and confronted the ciphers of Soviet communism as well as the Soviet and American Cold War ciphers.

Gorbachev may very well have been the greatest political leader in the twentieth century. His strategies of tension reduction and power sharing changed not only all of the political ground rules within the Soviet Union but the entire basis for U.S.-Soviet relations. He repeatedly employed tension reduction to reduce conflict at home and abroad. He pursued a nonconfrontational problem-solving approach to political problems based on open discussion, negotiation, and mutual trust. Ronald Reagan soon discovered that it wasn’t much fun to pick a fight with someone who didn’t fight back.

The other linchpin of Gorbachev’s leadership style was power sharing. Soviet enterprise managers, labor unions, local government and party officials, ethnic minorities, Soviet republics, religious groups, Eastern European nations, and Third World allies were among the groups with whom Gorbachev shared power. But power sharing is risky business, as Gorbachev learned. The leader can lose complete control, as did he.

For over six years Gorbachev’s radical political and economic reforms were implemented in the Soviet Union with virtually no violence. He repeatedly confronted the all-powerful Soviet nomenklatura — the party leaders, the KGB, and the military. Then in December 1991 the walls of the Soviet Union unexpectedly came crashing down. It split nonviolently into fifteen independent republics.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian Leader Evo Morales are two notable twenty-first century Latin American rebels whose targets include globalization, Corporate America, and the U.S. government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the few leaders in the world who possesses the courage to confront the United States and Israel.

[Note: Chavez and Ahmadinejad are far removed from any moral grounds - both are would-be fascist-demigods in their own right; Ahmadinejad is the Persian Bush - this article though, remains excellent overall (-MMr)]

Duke University Professors Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon have proposed a radical form of disengagement for the Christian church in their bestselling book Resident Aliens. They offer a compelling new vision of how the “Christian church can regain its vitality, battle its malaise, reclaim its capacity to nourish souls, and stand firmly against the illusions, pretension, and eroding values of today’s world.” They envision the church as a colony of resident aliens, “A holy nation, a people, a family standing for sharply focused values in a devalued world.” Even though Hauerwas is a radical pacifist, Resident Aliens is, to put it bluntly, a book about nonviolent Christian rebellion.

When Revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine wrote about the British Empire in Common Sense in 1776, he might very well have been writing about the American Empire at the dawn of the 21st century. “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”

Nonviolent rebellion involves a four-step process which includes denunciation, disengagement, demystification, and defiance:

1. Denunciation. The American Empire, technofascism, and cipherspace, all metaphors for the human condition which we allow to manipulate and control our lives; they are the targets of our outrage.

2. Disengagement. We must disengage personally, professionally, and politically from the scourge of technofascism. It’s the only way to live.

3. Demystification. Who are the ciphers in our lives? What do they do for us? What do they do to us? How do they affect others? How can we rid ourselves of them?

4. Defiance. We must take back our lives back from big government, big business, big markets, big computer networks, big schools, big religion, and big health care systems. To do so we must decentralize all decision-making authority to the lowest possible level in every major institution; downsize to a smaller nation, state, town, employer, school, college, church, shopping center, hospital, home, and car; and peacefully dissolve the American Empire.

“It is those who know how to rebél, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interest,” said Camus.

Thomas H. Naylor

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1 comment:

Robert Beal said...

Naylor: "Most of OWS’s proposals for dealing with the American Empire are neither very radical nor likely to see the light of day."

Isn't that the perpetual conundrum, including with your prescriptions?

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