Friday, January 28, 2022

New blog!

Jim Eisenbrauns has started a blog! It's called The Almond Branch. The first post is a review of the first two chapters of the book that I'm reading right now and posting excerpts from (and he's the one who gave me the book).

Add it to your RSS feeder or subscribe via email. Having know Jim for nearly twenty years now, I know it will be worth your time.

Thursday, January 27, 2022


Capitalism has been premised on the assumption of infinite growth and ever-rising consumption. In a clearly finite and much-exhausted world, this assumption no longer makes sense. For many, it is clear that we should seek a less heedless, more modest, and sustainable way of life—one that does not simply exploit and plunder nature but recognizes that we are all a part of a web of life that includes the atmosphere, soil, plants, animals, and humans. Neoliberalism, only and always revving for more market rapaciousness and expansion, has nothing to offer in this regard.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 56

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

It's coming, as sure as sunrise, just ask Amos

If these conditions leave us pitted against coworkers, neoliberal capitalism will certainly allow for little amity between white-collar workers and employers: “Across the board, measures taken by finance-disciplined corporations to maximize profitability prevent workers and employers from profiting together. Thus, even when making outsized profits, corporations cannot risk sharing them with employees by raising wages. Doing so would only cut into company profit margins and thereby threaten the price of company stock.” (Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit, 178–79, cited in Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 51)

<idle musing>
Of course the irony of this situation is that they don't hesitate to hand out multimillion dollar bonuses and raises to the people at the top—usually white males.

Take those bonuses and that ridiculous salary and divide it among the people who actually do the work. Read James 5 and all of Amos—especially Amos 5:24—and then act accordingly.

Every employee should receive the same benefit package that the CEO does; every American should receive the same healthcare package that a Congress person does. Until that time, any claims at equality are just theater.

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Are you a loser?

And what to do with the “losers”? They are deemed disposables (and remember, we are all ultimately disposable under neoliberalism). And so we see poor folk—especially poor folk of color—killed by police without consequence. We see postindustrial communities no longer deemed valuable by state governments and left without clean, safe drinking water, as in Flint, Michigan. We see poor youth abandoned without affordable and excellent education. We see refugees forced to flee their homes by war or social and economic collapse but rejected at the border or forced to languish in refugee camps. We see undocumented workers exploited but reviled for supposedly taking away jobs from “real” and “good” citizens.

And we see millions of people—again, disproportionately poor and of color—confronted by (increasingly militarized) police forces and flung into (increasingly privatized) prisons. Given historical and structural racism, poor people of color start the neoliberal race with the least advantage and so are likely to fall behind fastest and furthest. To cope with the armies of the most dramatically dispossessed, neoliberalism has developed a “criminal industrial complex.” The War on Drugs, for example, has been waged especially vigorously against poor people of color. Initiated by President Richard Nixon, the War on Drugs was rooted in the soil of racism. H. R. Haldeman, onetime assistant to Nixon,commented that the president “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem really is the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while appearing not to.”(Duggan, Twilight of Equality?, 18)— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 49–50

Friday, January 21, 2022

Call it what it is!

More darkly, this acting easily blurs into con artistry. For example, service workers are coached and trained to cunningly deploy their own pleasant affect to maximize sales (and tips). Any “real” feeling that remains is often distant and diluted. In on the game as we all are, we become suspicious of those treating us with respect and affection; they may only be conducting a scam, we may only or mainly be objects of manipulation and exploitation. So the already frayed social fabric suffers further tears.

More darkly yet, when entrepreneurialism becomes the essence (such as it is) of the self and is always in the service of selling itself, we come perilously close to something that may most honestly—and realistically—be called prostitution. What, after all, is prostitution except the successful presentation of an attractive body for sale? And what is the entrepreneurial self if not body and soul totally enlisted in an unending hustle, the next sale?— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 47

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The real cause

Excessive inequality erodes democracy and strains to bursting the social fabric. It raises stressful questions about injustice and does violence to any notion of shared citizenship. It batters all sense of common belonging or that there might be any such thing as a common good. The competitiveness of the marketplace, unchecked, pits Americans against Americans and goes a long way toward explaining why the country is now so divided and riven. Unfortunately, division and hostility are often misidentified or misdirected against immigrants or those of other races. What goes unnamed is the neoliberal framework that entraps us all.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 43

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

This is not something to be proud of!

Overall, what we can now boast of is an economy that in its inequality compares to that of ancient Rome. It has been estimated that the top four hundred taxpayers in the United States exercise ten thousand times the material power of the average citizen in the bottom 90 percent. This differs little from the gap between Roman senators and the slaves and farm laborers who comprised most of the population.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 43

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Really? How can you justify this?

Dwell for a moment on the take-home of American CEOs compared to that of rank-and-file employees. In 2018, the average chief executive of an S&P 500 company earned 287 times more than their median employee. Elon Musk made 40,668 times more money than the median Tesla employee. But we need not focus on the extreme of the extremes. Since so many employees are found in retail and food service, we might consider the pay ratios of executives to that of their median worker of Gap clothing (3,566 to l) or McDonald’s (2,124 to 1). Does a Gap executive, however brilliant or hardworking, really do 3,566 times the work of a median-level employee? What wonders must the McDonald’s CEO work to genuinely earn (i.e., deserve) 2,124 times his frontline cooks and cashiers? And has the CEOs’ reasonable value actually increased nearly tenfold since 1970, when the median ratio of executive compensation was 30 to 1.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 42

<idle musing>
Let's call it what it is: Sinful greed. Let's put that into a bit more perspective: The CEO of McDonalds makes as much in an hour as the line worker makes in a year—provided they are given 40 hours/week, which may or may not be the case. And the CEO has a full benefits package of retirement, insurance, and all the other perks. The line worker? Right! Fat chance.

James, the brother of Jesus has a word for them:

"Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter. (James 5:1–5 CEB)
</idle musing>

Monday, January 17, 2022

No longer social

On the Christian account, sinful self-interest is strong enough without being anointed and isolated as the only effective human motivator. Liberalism has shorn us of higher commitments as social animals. It has concentrated on the individual and left individuals to their own devices to determine what they are free for—to what end or project they should devote their lives. In Hauerwas’s pithy formulation, “We have made ‘freedom of the individual’ an end in itself and have ignored the fact that most of us do not have the slightest idea of what we should do with our freedom.” (Hauerwas, "The Church and Liberal Democracy," 79)— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 18

Friday, January 14, 2022

The wrong half

After [Adam] Smith, we have grabbed and retained only bits of his teaching, the invisible hand being the most famous. But Smith actually had a great deal to say about the importance of morality constraining and supplementing the market. Many historians argue that The Wealth of Nations should be interpreted in the light of Smith’s earlier book, Theory of Moral Sentiments, which “can be read as a text in psychology or theology or ethics, or all of these” (Cox, Market as God, 158).— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 17 n. 35

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The erosion of the common good

Through the magical ministrations of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the market amalgamates the various individual self-interests into the mutual self—interest of all. The desire—even greed—of individuals singly, blended in the free market, results in the greatest good for all. If Christianity had formerly looked on limitless material acquisition with great suspicion, and always with a watchful eye to the welfare of the poor, liberalism said, “Let it be. Even if individuals enter the marketplace solely with their self-interest in mind, the market will combine and transform these interests so that as a whole, they will most effectively benefit all (or most).”— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 17

<idle musing>:
And if ever there was a pernicious lie, that is it. Unrestrained greed will lift up the most unscrupulous and they will exploit the poor and weak to get whatever they can. Only unwillingly and under pressure will they grudgingly offer a sop to the worker and the poor. There's a reason that scripture warns against the desire for riches and wealth—it is deadly to the soul. In the words of 1 John, "Children, flee from idolatry!" And the idol in the US is wealth and the attendant power that goes with it.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Not so innocent!

I rehearse the stories of enclosure, the game laws, and US slavery to indicate that liberalism and its concomitant capitalism did not arise naturally and benignly. Human intentionality and, more specifically, state oversight and (sometimes nakedly violent) force were crucial to capitalism’s inception and growth. I made that explicit in recounting enclosure and the game laws. It hardly needs to be added that government was essential to the institution of and policing on behalf of slavery: making it legal, implementing and enabling the slave market, brutally punishing runaway slaves and their allies, and declaring, from the highest court in the land, that African American slaves were only three-fifths human.— Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 9

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The source

The massive theft that was slavery is the tainted wellspring of American capitalism. In the United States, capital—accrued for the wealthiest over generations—was built on the lacerated backs of Black people. To appreciate the magnitude of this, we must remember that cotton was the material center of the maturing Industrial Revolution. What oil and computerization are to our current economy, cotton was to the nineteenth-century industrial economy." target="_blank"> Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, 7

Monday, January 10, 2022

What is real?

I recently received a book from Jim Eisenbraun (thanks, Jim!) entitled Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, by Rodney Clapp. I started reading it over the weekend and will be posting excerpts from it here. It doesn't lend itself well to excerpting in many cases, but I'll do what I can to make them understandable without the context of the book.

Here's the first one, just before the title page of the book, to give you a taste of it:

We mean to suggest that the conflict between the neoliberal market and the Trinitarian God is over what reality is at ‘the fundamental level. If reality is inconstant, inscrutable, with no discernible connection to justice (other rules), then a neoliberal order of class warfare, diminished substan- tial freedom, de-democratization, theaters of cruelty, accel- erated environmental destruction, slum proliferation, mass incarceration, and mass deportation, at the very least, makes some sense. However, if reality is fundamentally love, mercy, and steadfast kindness, the crises of neoliberalism to which we have just pointed make no sense, and should be decried as false and, indeed, evil.—Matthew T. Eggemeier and Peter Joseph Fritz, Send Lazarus, quoted in Naming Neoliberalism: Exposing the Spirit of Our Age, by Rodney Clapp

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Dying with grace

We do not know how to die in grace, because we do not know how to grow old gracefully. Growing old must be a process of cleansing the self, a way of getting ready for ultimate confrontation. If life is a pilgrimage, death is an arrival, a celebration. The last word should be neither craving nor bitterness, but peace, gratitude. We have been given so much. Why is the outcome of our lives, the sum of our achievements, so little? Our embarrassment is like an abyss. Whatever we give away is so much less than what we receive. Perhaps this is the meaning of dying: to give one’s whole self away.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 377

<idle musing>
Well, that's the final snippet from this book, and a very appropriate one, too. It's been a long journey through the book from the time I picked it up at a thrift store until today, in fact about eleven months! I hope the few of you who stuck around for it enjoyed it. I highly recommend the book, and basically anything Heschel wrote. I find him a stimulating discussion partner.

I'm not sure what I'll be reading next. Or even if I'll keep posting to the blog with any kind of regularity. I'm planning on continuing the copyediting posts, but beyond that, I don't know. So much of what I'm reading right now doesn't lend itself to small snippets—without the context they make no sense. We'll see. Blogging has changed dramatically since I started in October, 2005, and now over 6000 posts later, I'm not sure if it's worth continuing. My readership has consistently shrunk over the last 5 years, which is understandable, as I'm rarely, if ever, posting anything other than small quotations from books on obscure topics : )
</idle musing>

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Point of view

It is a distortion to characterize the life of man as moving toward death. Death is the end of the road, and while moving along the long road of days and nights, we are really moving toward living, acting, achieving. Death is the end of the road, but not its meaning, not a refutation of living. That every moment of life is a step toward death is a mechanical view. Every moment of life is a new arrival, a new beginning. Those who say that we die every day, that every moment deprives us of a portion of life, look at moments as time past. Looking at moments as time present, every moment is a new arrival, a new beginning.—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 375

<idle musing>
A nice reminder at the beginning of a new year!
</idle musing>

Monday, January 03, 2022

You mean I have to love those people, too?

The basic dignity of man is not made up of his achievements, virtues, or special talents. It is inherent in his very being. The commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18) calls upon us to love not only the virtuous and the wise but also the vicious and the stupid man. The rabbis have, indeed, interpreted the commandment to imply that even a criminal remains our neighbor (Pesahim 7 5a).—Abraham Joshua Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, 370