Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Beliefs (Or, the Ghost of Christmas Present)

    So, in my last post, I talked more specifically about my Christian beliefs than is my blogging habit. I doubt I'll do it more often; I don't think that you should believe something just because I do, and so I try to write from the assumption that you don't. But I did mention my own beliefs, and it's Christmas, so let me come clean a bit, because it's an important holiday for me, and because it's such a bitter season:

    I believe in the basic dignity of human being. I believe that other people's suffering is real, and deserves our attention. I believe that everyone deserves protection from hunger, illness, and the killing December cold.

    To make it more doctrinally specific, I was raised to believe that everyone is Jesus, and should be treated accordingly. Throw a homeless person off a steam grate, throw Jesus off that steam grate. Give a homeless man a blanket, give Jesus a blanket. The Gospels are very specific about this point; these are Jesus's explicit instructions to his followers.

    This is a belief: it is not testable. It cannot be confirmed or debunked. It is a basic set of assumptions about the world. And it should not be vulgarized into a belief that all people are nice, or friendly and kind. That is obviously not true. But Christianity does not teach me that my fellow human beings deserve food, shelter, medicine and human comfort as a reward for good behavior. It teaches me that they deserve those things, period. The question isn't whether that homeless man is personally virtuous, any more than the question was whether the Prodigal Son was personally virtuous. The point is that he might starve or freeze in the streets. How could there be any other questions?

    But I freely admit that this is simply my belief. "Everyone must be treated as if they were Jesus," is not the kind of thing you can prove. It is my starting place for every question of public policy, but I understand that not everyone else starts there, or even accepts my proposition. That's okay.

    But while I'm willing to accept that my beliefs are just beliefs, I insist that other people's beliefs, whether religious or secular, be treated in the same way. There are many popular beliefs in our country that have nothing to do with reality, and obviously contradict it, but masquerade as "realism." They are not. I refuse to give them that undeserved credit, or to accept the human suffering inflicted because of them.

    The belief that the free market always provides the best possible result is only a belief. It purports not to be a religious belief, because if it were actually a religion it would be mocked and reviled almost as widely as it deserves. But it does posit an implacable omnipotent god who demands sacrifices. Indeed, some its loudest proponents are publicly calling for "sacrifice," by which they mean increased human suffering by the poor. This is how the worst of religions operate. And the "free market knows best" belief has no grounding in reality.

    My belief cannot be proved or disproved. The beliefs that excuse the abuse of America's poor not only cannot be proved; they persist in the face of contradictory evidence that should be obvious to every rational adult.

    The idea that the poor in America are poor primarily (or, to certain narrow-minded fanatics, solely) because of their own behavior is merely a belief. It is a fairy tale that people tell themselves to reconcile themselves to the unnecessary ugliness of our world. Believing that the distribution of wealth in our scoiety is primarily correlated with merit, effort, or "hard work" requires more than an act of faith. It requires strenuous acts of self-delusion. The belief that the poor are poor because they don't work hard enough, or because they lack "character," demands that the believer work hard every day to avoid obvious facts about how the world operates. That is not realism. That is a bedtime story for mean-spirited children.

    There is absolutely no reason to condone human misery out of deference to anyone's belief in the Free Market Fairy. Nor should the believers who demand such misery and sacrifice be accorded any respect. The notion that such believers somehow have the moral authority to declare someone else unworthy of food, shelter, or basic dignity is also just a belief, irrational and ugly. No one has such authority, and no one who claims to do so should be taken seriously. Such beliefs are the rankest of superstitions: justifying real suffering in the name of imaginary entities, even when the evidence of our daily life demonstrates that those entities are not real.

    If you start with a belief in Jesus, our world appears much as it is: manifestly flawed and full of flagrant injustice. From the viewpoint of the Wall Street Journal and the Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs and CNBC, it looks like the best of the possible worlds. All I can say in response is: Pollyannas. Why not throw in Santa Claus, too?

    My beliefs cannot be proved, but they could never be as silly as the primitive superstitions and delusions that govern the minds of the great and powerful. And my beliefs, whatever their source, attempt to move the world toward kindness and mercy. That's all I can say on my own account this December.

    Merry Christmas, all. And let's try to keep it through the coming year.


    A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you even read the Christian Bible?"

    "No, read it to me," said Gasan.

    The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

    Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider and enlightened man."

    The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, is shall be opened."

    Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.

    Not far from Buddhahood


    While Seietsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umeza Seibei a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.

    Seisetsu said: "All right. I will take it."

    Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher. One might live a whole year on three ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.

    "In that sack are five hundred ryo," hinted Umeza.

    "You told me that before," replied Seisetsu.

    "Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money," said Umezu.

    "Do you want me to thank you for it?" asked Seisetsi.

    "You ought to," replied Umeza.

    "Why should I?" inquired Seisetsu. "The giver should be thankful."

    The Giver Should be Thankful

    Thanks, Doctor Cleveland.  It seems that deep down we all want to be rewarded and punished and to give rewards and to mete out punishment.  We do whatever we can to ascribe a sense of justice to a world that doesn't seem to abide the concept.

    You say:

    But Christianity does not teach me that my fellow human beings deserve food, shelter, medicine and human comfort as a reward for good behavior. It teaches me that they deserve those things, period.

    For people to reach that understanding, whether of Christianity or just life in general, they have to accept the very disappointing fact that hard work and good deeds are also not always rewarded and that, in fact, they are usually not rewarded.  People need some way out of the reward and punishment cycle but it's not only hard to remove yourself from (so much of society is morally invested in the notion that people get what they deserve) it's sometimes hard to want to remove yourself (at least when times are good, we all want to believe we deserve what we have... and more!)

    A lot to think about.  Well done Doctor.

    There was an essay I once saved and since lost in which the author began in part talking about how he, as a Jew, had grown up listening to the jokes around the dinner table from all the adults which dealt with personal suffereing, bad things happening to good people.  At the end of the essay, as he was weaving his themes and plot lines together, he related a time he was in Ireland and heard a joke that was identical to one of the ones he had heard growing up, except of course it was told from the Irish Catholic experience rather than Jewish. It wrnt something like this:

    Seamus went into Church one day and knelled down in prayer.  "Oh God," he said "Why is it that I who am I dutiful servant, who attends Mass every time, who works hard at my job every day so I can support my family, who never drinks, nor fools around, who nevers uses your name in vain, why Lord do I have not two coins to rub together, while my brother Patrick runs around drinking and lays with prostitutes while his wife waits at home with the kids, and uses your name in vain, and gambles and runs with the most despicable crowd, he is successful with a business that showers him wealth and is seen as a great leader of our community, why Lord, why is this so?"

    And then suddenly there was a great rumbling in the sky and great fist came crashing through the roof of the church, straight down to Seamus, pinning him back against the pew, and a deep thunderous voice declared: "Because I fuckin' hate ya, that's why."

    Awesome.  I guess the Jewish faith has a short book length fable about that, too. :)  Also, Neil Simon's "God's Favorite."

    And then there's Christopher Durang who wrote that God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.


    Or: God punishes us by answering our prayers.  Which is another way of saying be careful what you wish for.  A little thought for the holiday season. 

    I have to admit that this blog causes a multiple of reactions.  Now if I just look at one of the basic premises -- There is absolutely no reason to condone human misery out of deference to anyone's belief in the Free Market Fairy -- then I have to just sit back and say "I agree." 

    Which is what I guess it seems you want us to do.  Basically let's all just get together and say aren't all those people at the Wall Street Journal and the Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs and CNBC are just plain awful.  How can one disagree with that? 

    I applaud anyone who wants to assert the basic fundamental dignity of human beings (although the debater in me wants to ask why you leave out of the equation all other living beings).  And if you wish to explain that you came to this conclusion based on your belief that all are Jesus, that is cool. 

    But as your title suggests, this is about beliefs, some of which are specific like all are Jesus, which, in all their multitudes inside each of our head, in their totality, lead us to behave in this world this way or that way.  You don't stop at just 'this is how I see it' but go after others in the way they see it. And one thing that comes to my mind as I read your blog was that it was a group of people who believed in Jesus who came to this country and brought with them the idea of Predestination.  That belief that God had already chosen the "winners" and the "losers," and that the way one's life unfolded revealed the details of that decision.  Whether they are Christians or not, the folks at the Wall Street Journal and the Federal Reserve and Goldman Sachs and CNBC emerged from a culture that has unfolded with this particular thread of thought, among others, and which wove it in and around free market beliefs, among other beliefs.

    We can see a little of it everytime a football player pounds his chest and then points to the sky each time they score a touchdown.  In that gesture we do see the ghosts of our ancestors, just as we see the ghosts in every gesture, every thought and notion we have. 

    I guess what I'm saying is that if we are really serious about facilitating a paradigm shift in our nation (and beyond), one in which sees the dignity of the poor (or whatever outcast group) then I think we need to avoid reducing the paradigms, those totalities of beliefs, down to something like 'it is just a belief in the Free Market Fairy.'  Of course, this reduction makes things appear more clear, reduces our doubts and contradictions, enables us to act without hestitation.  Which can be a good thing.  But is my belief that it is also a path to making the other side stronger (just as my reduction of this into two camps does the same thing) by avoiding the complex dynamic and history (all those ghosts, goshdangit) which are at play in how we manifest ourselves and with each other.

    Yeah, these are loaded ideas.  I was kind of wondering where Calvinism fits in and also the notion that your works don't get you into heaven, only your faith does, which could be taken to mean that great humanitarians who don't believe wind up in Hell while monsters who do get nicer afterlives.

    Or maybe the real answer there is "life's unfair, get used to it.

    As for the Market Fairy, I definitely think people have deified the concept.  They do believe that the market, combined with luck, deals in just outcomes.  Or, they ignore the concept of justice all together.  Those of us who believe that markets should serve us, not the other way around, face an uphill argument.

    I agree that the Market Fairy has been diefied, as have many other things. Another one that just pops up into mind is Competition.  I remember once in a college class on adolescents and education, me and another fellow made of the mistake of putting forth the notion that kids would be better off if we just removed competitive sports and replaced them with games that were built on cooperation.  Success was determined if we could all achieve the determine end.  I have never seen (let alone the brunt of) a class slowly quickly turn on someone making a point.  Even the professor joined in.  It was as if we a theology course at Liberty University and had said "God is dead."

    I think on one hand most people just don't really think that deeply about it.  They don't delve into the consistency and origins of their beliefs or conclusion they derive from their beliefs.  They don't have to deal with inconsistencies etc because those won't pop up unless one delve.  In the end, we do delve, we are like Rosencratz and Guilderstern trying to figure out what it is that has befallen Hamlet.

    That the Market is just a word we place upon a whole bunch of things we give names to, which are made up and part of other things we give names to, doesn't occur to them. The "market" is the Market.

    We'd all be better off if at the least people would delve into systems theory, and try to reconcile their deity to the notion of complex adaptive systems.

    A Magic Man in the sky and a Free Market Fairy. An all this time I had though that western man had risen above such pagan beliefs. Apparently I was in error.

    HA! You've been punk'd by Loki.

    Weber thought capitalism was Calvinism absent the religion.  Like others here, I think it is itself a religion.  It is certainly compatible with the predestination of Calvinism and Augustine of Hippo as well as with every cult worshipping a god or goddess of fate going back to the beginning of time.

    Just a thought.

    But isn't capitalism defended on meritocratic grounds--to those who exert greater effort come greater rewards?  Isn't that in contradiction, or at least major tension, with an underlying premise of predestination?

    Not really.  Predestination would say that God revealed that you were one of the chosen ones by providing you with the will to give greater effort.  Your greater effort and the success that came from it were the signs.

    I don't find that persuasive as a reconciliation of those ideas.  Predestination would seem as though it entails determinism.  If one is predestined to a certain fate, isn't that fate in some sense determined?  And if it is determined, then what of choice, personal responsibility, free will?  And the very high premium placed on individual effort, hard work, and an assumption of justice in the sense that one is deemed to have deserved one's fate?

    Predestination doesn't just entail determinism, it is determinism.  But in your previous post you did not mention free will. You mention meritocracy - that you advance based on your merits of achievements, talents, and skills (as opposed to other factors like who you know or what family you were born into).  In the world of determinism, the talents one has, the skills one acquires, the achievements one is able to accomplish which allows one to "move up in the world" can be a product of fate (as can be such things as being born into the right family so one is able to get into the best colleges, etc).  Or they can you say be seen as a product of free will and choice.

    In predestination, the virtuous make virtuous choices because it is their fate.  In a world of free will, they make it through choice.  Lookinng at them from the outside, they would look exactly the same.  Both made a decision to act and the act resulted in what was seen as a positive outcome.

    I would say that much of what is talked about in conservative circles these days revolve around free choice (the poor are poor because they want to be poor).  And with the rise of science, the differences in standards of living are generally attributed through a mix of pseudo-hard science (we're just wired differently than them) and misunderstanding of soft sciences (it's just a culture of poverty that keeps them where they are).  Free will and the concepts of freedom are more widely embrace and diefied than fate.  But there is still that strain which flows mostly in the undercurrents, but is reinforced in the notion, which I hear all the time from wealthy donors, "i give back because my family has been blessed more," (most recently by a banker as he was cutting a check), as if their rise to economic well-being was out of their hands.  Or just listen to sports or entertainment star talk about their "god-given talents." 

    That may have been old-style thinking about capitalism, but now it seems people look at the wealthy and say, "See; they were smart enough and clecer enough to get rich; they deserve our respect; let them do the thinking (see: Obama's directors of finance); they make money to give us jobs."  American Royalty are the uber-wealthy, we must pay them obeisance.  And tithe to them.  ;o)


    I'm certainly open to a more nuanced description of how American belief systems work. And you're right: some ideas, such as the "prosperity Gospel" come out of Christian theological traditions. I deliberately chose to side-step the intramural battles between Christians about what Christianity is. As I've said in other posts, I view certain nominal Christians as people who are in fact following an entirely different religion underneath a Christian veneer. But of course, many Christians would view me as only nominal Christian.

    Christianity is by no means a unified set of beliefs. One of the reasons that Christianity is not, and could not be, the official American religion is that there is not one Christianity. I am from a strand that has never taught predestination, for example, so the temptation to view worldly success as a sign of divine favor has never been presented to me from the pulpit.

    If this means, in the end, that I feel I have more in common with non-Christians who are focused on helping the poor and downtrodden then with self-described Christians who are interested in justifying the existing social order ... well, yes. Of course it does.

    I didn't mean to come across as you were unaware of such nuances.  I had just come off stardusts' thread where I had slipped into my post-structuralist mode, one in which I have been in much lately, and in such tend to view the nuances as of critical importance.  I find it worrisome, and something I, too, can so easily slip into, the reduction of those who do not have the poor and downtrodden interests at heart as the Oligarchs and their minions.  There is a corresponding reduction of those opposed to them.  It is this same path of thought which leads people to utter such phrases "either you're with us or you're against us," with no irony, no nuance, no sense of gray.  Not that I believe this describes you.  Just that your blog was there at the moment upon which I could direct such thoughts.

    One element that makes the free market fairy so compelling is that it is depicted as a force of nature. Instead of being part of an arbitrary social arrangement, the market allocates value to where it belongs without the interference of human agency. Since it is seen to draw upon a dynamic outside of culture, it doesn't have to make sense culturally. If it made sense, it wouldn't be free.

    The condition can be compared to the difference between Hobbes' vision of the state of nature being one where every man is at war with other men and Rousseau's idea of the Noble Savage. The free market would seem to permit the actions and impulses of instinct that Hobbes says must be sacrificed so that individuals can lay down their weapons.

    The free market idea celebrates competition but also regulates it. There are outcomes of pursuits inside the game and those outside. An authority is created that doesn't have to explain itself. Only value allocated inside the game is real. Any challenge to the authority must have value before there can be a struggle. The game is nature itself so what is not the game is nothing until it has value. Nothing comes from nothing.

    Excellent points.  I would add that nature had been diefied into Nature, a entity, against which Man (with all not so subtle implications for the Patriarchy) is pitted against.  The meme that Man is supposed to tame Nature, it is indeed his role, is, of course, at odds with this notion that when it comes to the Market, we are suppose to allow it to just run wild.  But as usual, humans are consistently inconsistent.  Or at least possessing of some sort lesser Keatsian negative capability which gets us through the day. 

    "Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put into this world to rise above."

     -Rose Sayer, The African Queen-


    "Love, everyone, is what we are put into this world to try to spread." - LisB


    I thought my quote illustrated the previous point while giving me a chance to use it.  Katherine Hepburn as Rose Sayer in The African Queen reminded me so much of my great aunts and their worldview. do I find my way back to that chat thing.  I have tried to make my way back a couple of time but since I do not know how I got there the first time I failed.

    That's how, Emma.  And yes, your quote illustrated the point beautifully.  I just wanted to give an alternate point of view to Mr. Allnut.  ;)


    Any special time to char?

    Usually, we open it up around 7 to 8 PM EST every night.  Next Friday, of course, it's open as long as people stay :).



    If you'd like to try it out, I have it open at the moment, even though I'd planned to go to bed.  Feel free to test the waters, if you'd like.

    I'll hang out for another half hour or so.


    Thanks but I am ready to call it a night as well.  Another time. Okay?

    Removing duplicate.  Second time tonight I got a double post.

    Another time.  I'd like that.  G'night, Emma.


    I think most people just find it easier to believe in simple narratives. Once one sees and embraces the complexities of the world they become open to examining things and embracing the messiness that makes up our lives instead of needing to stick everything neatly in a box.

    Moving the world toward kindness and mercy...sounds like a great idea to me.

    Tonight I got home from work and found a UPS truck blocking my driveway, delivering something to my doorstep.  And I waited patiently for the UPS truck to move on, but the driver apparently had to stay parked there and do this thing with his paperwork.  And I honked at him, trying to let him know my little car was trying to edge into the driveway, but he paid me no attention.  And, not feeling the Christmas spirit at all, I sort of started cussing him out under my breath. 

    Eventually, he moved on and his truck was out of my way and so I could park my car in my driveway.  And I got my grocery bags out of my car and made my way to the front stoop where, lo and behold, there was a box from sitting there with my name on it.

    I got all excited, thinking I had gotten a gift from someone, and I suddenly regretted cussing out the UPS man under my breath and ran upstairs with my grocery bags and my box.  And I opened the box once I got all the way upstairs, and I found.....

    ....books about religion.  No gift tags.  One on Buddha, and one on Fundamentalism.

    And then suddenly I remembered that I had ordered these two books just a month or so ago, myself, while talking with friends about religion.

    I'd forgotten I had ordered them.  And now, thanks to the cussed out UPS man, here they are.

    There's a parable here somewhere, I'm sure. 


    Indeed. There is also an old saying that goes well with this situation: Don't bite the hand that brings you books.

    And don't honk your horn at it either.  ;)


    It was a couple of months ago in the fall.  I remember because we chatted about it.  Hmm...Christmas reading. 

    Karen Armstrong books.  Thanks for reminding me, Momoe.  Yes, good reading coming my way.

    Better late than never.


     (Matthew 24:3) 3 While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?. . .

    Our current SYSTEM things; the religious, political and commercial elements, needs to come to a conclusion. 

    Only then, will mankind truly be happy.

    (Matthew 6:9-13) . . .“‘Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. 10 Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth. 11 Give us today our bread for this day; 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.. . .”

     the wicked ones SYSTEM, has to many supporters. 

    My belief is based upon evidence. The signs point to a collapse, a conclusion.   

    A wicked system, that lulls the unsuspecting, to view the Christ as a powerless babe in a manger.   

    A wicked system, more concerned about material possessions than about the needs of fellow humans. 

    Liars and hypocrites, is what the supporters of this SYSTEM OF THINGS are, and soon to be WERE.  

     (Luke 21:25-28) . . .and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and [its] agitation, 26 while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift YOUR heads up, because YOUR deliverance is getting near.”

    Thought-provoking blog and thread.

    I haven't fully thought this stuff through. But a couple of objections: your beliefs you place beyond confirmation or disconfirmation by argument or empirical evidence. Yet you don't grant that immunity to the beliefs of your (our) opponents on the right. You charge them with contradicting the evidence of reality. Seems a bit unfair/pointless if you're in the business of trying to persuade people to adopt your point of view and drop the opposing pt of view. You present your own position as an unreasoned - brainwashed ('I was brought up to see..') .- position. Hardly a recommendation. Presumably there are reasons - moral and self-interested - to adopt that attitude. And if you accept the idea of unreasoned core principles of action like your own, then you have to accept that others might regard their own position on the question of social relations as similarly exempt from criticism. Anyhow, later you actually offer such reasons for your own position: it makes the world a better place.

    Also as some seem to suggest in different ways in the thread, it is unhelpful to see your opponents' view as 'superstition', or as 'religious' faith in markets or such. The Godfather of the contemporary right wing view - Nozick - is anything but 'religious' or superstitious, and his view is in any case much more coherent than his counterpart on the left - Rawls. Beyond that I don't think there is any singular doctrinal foundation for the free-markets 'life-as-a-competition' view.

    One factor that I find important is the peculiarly American belief in the individual's autonomy: you determine the outcomes of your life, you control your destiny, and outside circumstances count for less. And there are several facets to this idea. One - as mentionned above - is the belief that those who suffer deserve it.

    Another is that the only valuable material outcomes for the individual are those he himself or she herself has brought about. I.e. the only outcomes that matter are those that you control and have caused. It is a fundamentally non-materialistic view, and inter alia behind Welfare Reform in the '90s (the problem being seen as their dependency, not their absolute level of welfare). And if you dig even further down into that weltanschauung, you get to the even more basic notion that the 'modern', or 'progressive', view of the consumerist, material welfare as a basis for society was an idea that was psychological unsustainable. (I.e. an offshoot of Nietzschian discomfort with Enlightenment values) Poverty elimination may be laudable as a goal, but it can't be all that society is about, and it can't even be the central concern in society. This is certainly a spiritual idea, but it seems counterproductive - or even a profound misunderstanding - to dismiss it as a 'religious' hokus-pokus.

    A third facet to this view is the idea that government-directed redistribution diminishes the autonomy of the members of society in that choice is undermined as taxes replace Charity. The terrain for expressing your Virtue is limited. There is more value to the giving and receiving of charity - a personal relationship - than there is in the paying of taxes and the receiving of benefits, say. The government intervention removes the personal from those actions.

    I could go on. And maybe these features strike you as horseshit talkingpoints of the right - the usual lipstick on a pig type stuff. I think you/we need to take these 'beliefs' or views seriously. The right-wing view, no more or less than the left-wing view, is based on reasons, on deep intuitions about how the world works. And though they may be deep-seated, there is nothing that puts their ideas - or ours - beyond the possibilty of changing them through argument, whether it involve empirical evidence of the importance of external circumstances for the individual's outcomes, whether it be how they view government intervention (as an intrusion rather than as an enabler), or the value that is inherent in collective social action (replacing the strictly 'personal' exchange of charity).

    Sorry if all this is a bit short-hand. I hope some of it makes sense.

    Oh - and Merry Christmas to you Doc, and to the other Dagbloggers and commenters!

    The last few months have been fun and enlightening. Thanks for hosting this get-together of fine minds and big souls.

    Hey, Doc.  I’m glad you shared all of this with us.  As far as your contention that so many Americans treat the free market as a religion, I can never tell whether they believe it, or just pretend to believe it because a) their peers within their social strata or profession do; b) publicly embrace the concept to justify their quests for profit; or c) they have no freaking idea what it means, and just love the word free, and have been led to think that Democracy = Capitalism, so free has to be good since our natures are meant to be competetive and rugged.  Or something. 

    It may be that I found this so appealing because it’s the Christmas season, and I needed to find an antidote for my fear that the Moneychangers are winning so hugely, and the Free Market Monolith (which we often forget is anything but free since the government in fact aids them and their businesses so emphatically) seems poised to swallow many of us wholesale. 

    Tom Englehardt posted a piece written by Rebecca Solnit, to whom he seems to have tasked with finding some measure of hope in our current condition; stepping outside the progressive narrative that all is doom.  The piece is long, needs some editing, but she focuses on the other invisible hand, the shadow parallel economic world of kindness and empathy that many of us lavish on each other and even strangers who fall through the gaping holes left by a government system that so aids the rent-seeking capitalists.  She mentions current experiments that seem to indicate that we’re born as empathetic beings, and even as adults most of our brains despise bulling and abuse.  I don’t know that the experiments hold a lot of value or not, but it’s hard not to want to be encouraged by them as a counterargument to greed and self-interest being at the core of our natures.

    It’s ironic that I’ve been involved in political activism for more decades than I care to remember, but that at the end of the day I think that only wholesale psycho-spiritual change will make any huge difference in how we change our government’s focus and purpose.  And yet it seems I, like so many of us, have to keep on trying, with some extra urgency these days as our futures look more grim.  One bit excerpted by Edger at docudharma, and his graphic: (Yeah; the hippie in me loves it, but only partially believes it)   ;o)


    “Who wouldn't agree that our society is capitalistic, based on competition and selfishness? As it happens, however, huge areas of our lives are also based on gift economies, barter, mutual aid, and giving without hope of return (principles that have little or nothing to do with competition, selfishness, or scarcity economics). Think of the relations between friends, between family members, the activities of volunteers or those who have chosen their vocation on principle rather than for profit.

    Think of the acts of those -- from daycare worker to nursing home aide or the editor of -- who do more, and do it more passionately, than they are paid to do; think of the armies of the unpaid who are at "work" counterbalancing and cleaning up after the invisible hand and making every effort to loosen its grip on our collective throat. Such acts represent the relations of the great majority of us some of the time and a minority of us all the time. They are, as the two feminist economists who published together as J. K. Gibson-Graham noted, the nine-tenths of the economic iceberg that is below the waterline.

    Capitalism is only kept going by this army of anti-capitalists, who constantly exert their powers to clean up after it, and at least partially compensate for its destructiveness. Behind the system we all know, in other words, is a shadow system of kindness, the other invisible hand. Much of its work now lies in simply undoing the depredations of the official system. Its achievements are often hard to see or grasp.  How can you add up the foreclosures and evictions that don't happen, the forests that aren't leveled, the species that don't go extinct, the discriminations that don't occur?

    The official economic arrangements and the laws that enforce them ensure that hungry and homeless people will be plentiful amid plenty.  The shadow system provides soup kitchens, food pantries, and giveaways, takes in the unemployed, evicted, and foreclosed upon, defends the indigent, tutors the poorly schooled, comforts the neglected, provides loans, gifts, donations, and a thousand other forms of practical solidarity, as well as emotional support. In the meantime, others seek to reform or transform the system from the inside and out, and in this way, inch by inch, inroads have been made on many fronts over the past half century.

    The terrible things done, often in our name and thanks in part to the complicity of our silence or ignorance, matter. They are what wells up daily in the news and attracts our attention.  In estimating the true make-up of the world, however, gauging the depth and breadth of this other force is no less important. What actually sustains life is far closer to home and more essential, even if deeper in the shadows, than market forces and much more interesting than selfishness.”   [snip]

    The rest of the Solnit piece is here.  Merry Christmas, Doc; and all the rest of you.  ;o)



    Thanks, We are Stardust...

    Ach!  you are soooo welcome, Edger.  I also linked to the solnit piece at MyFDL at Rusty's piece; he is the bard of FDL.  Didn't credit you, as I was in a tear trying to get ready for Christmas (it sorta took a backseat this year).  But I loved to hear some counter-intuitive thought and hope presented, and it was down to you that I did.  We need to harness those of us who care enough good deeds in the face of the Holes of governmental disrespect and calumny.  Bless you, Edger. Innocent

    The Free Market fairy seems to me to actually be believed in by some academic economists and opinion writers but not so much by powerful economic elites.  The latter use it at their convenience because of the way it relieves them of having to do things they don't want to do or they justify to themselves that they are not able to do because of fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders, like pay more taxes, accept restrictions in the form of regulations, etc. 

    The legal concept of fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder returns gets insufficient attention in our society as a structural issue in my view that creates the moral and legal justification for giving short shrift to the interests and values of communities, future generations, workers, the environment, etc. ("everything else", that is). Marjorie Kelly in The Divine Right of Capital makes and develops the implications of this point better than anyone else I know of.  If memory serves, she refers to it as the doctrine of "shareholder primacy".

    Economic elites historically and now routinely seek to get the government on their side through anti-competitive policies, rather than in a laissez faire mode in the service of free market ideals.  This happens through protectionist legislation, other subsidies such as the oil industry's R&D tax credits, cost-plus defense contracts, GS's values and policy preferences having such outsized influence on what the US Treasury and the Fed do leading to privatization of profits and socialization of risks with no apparent irony impairment or shame, etc.

    I do think that many individuals down the economic ladder have deeply internalized the Free Market Fairy assumption of just rewards.  Non-elites often take this stuff far more seriously than elites do.

    Capitalism is not one system, and I am glad you spoke of the Free Market Fairy rather than capitalism per se.  There are wide variations in "capitalist" systems around the world.  None of them comes close to operating on pure free market principles.

    Thanks for all the comments, gang, and I hope you all enjoyed the official national holiday as much as I did (or more). And thanks for the thoughts.

    Let me say a few words to Obey, from up-thread. It's true, that demonizing other folks is not healthy (and at odds with my self-described Christianity). So let me clarify a few things.

    I did place my beliefs above proof or disproof, but I also labeled them as beliefs and thus placed them below any use as evidence. No one has to be convinced.

    Hunger, cold, and human misery, and the enormous amounts of those social ills, are not beliefs. They are facts. They are real and they are empiricial and they are out there whether you believe in them or not. Anyone who denies their existence simply denies reality.

    My belief that hunger, cold, and human misery require attention and compassion (and especially the treat-everyone-as-you-would-treat-Jesus formulation), is simply a belief. I feel that to be true but cannot prove it.

    If someone wants to rebut me by simply saying, "No," I have no comeback. If someone were to say to me, "Other people have their suffering and I have mine, and I am going to take care of myself," that's a perfectly rational position and I don't have an answer for it.

    But somehow people don't feel comfortable making that claim. Instead, they tend to come back with an argument that taking care of themselves is the moral and righteous thing to do. They need to dress up common everyday self-interest as justice and moral principle.The suffering deserve to suffer. The poor are poor because of their moral failure. The injustice isn't letting people starve on the street. The true injustice is collecting taxes to feed and shelter those people. 

    This is what I am attacking. You can Take Care of Number One, or you can take the moral high ground. You can almost never do both.

    There's a difference between believing in the existence of free markets, which have certain useful and certain intractable properties, and believing in the Free Market Fairy. One is a description of observable facts. The other is an imposition of certain moral or ideological values. When you describe free markets as always producing the just outcome or even the best or "optimal" outcome, you are no longer describing economic realities, but promulgating a quasi-religious belief. I believe that there is a market. I do not believe it expresses any values except prices, and I do not propose adopting it as a moral or philosophical guide to anything.

    I'm not against capitalism. I'm against the claim that unfettered "free market" capitalism creates justice or rewards the righteous. That is what belief in the Free Market Fairy means. That needs to be examined as a belief, which it is. It's no more factual or "realist" than my beliefs are, and it's considerably dumber.


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