31 August 2011

Elite panic

The primary concern of the ruling elite is the protection of property and of property rights (contracts) and only secondarily the protection of people and their autonomy. 
A society that uses free markets to do most of its public and private allocation could well be expected to favor material property over the personal welfare of the population. 
Sabbatical years are about the temporary suspension of property rights. Disasters should be understood as mini-sabbatical years. 
The response of the ruling elite to protect property before the personal welfare of the population is what we call 'elite panic.' Elite panic is the attempt to countermand the sabbatical year character of a disaster. 
The greater the inequality in apportionment, the greater the upper class's fear that the lower classes will pillage and loot should the ruling powers lose control of the social order. Elite panic's severity should be in direct correlation with how far the upper class would fall should they become part of the lower classes. 

Covetousnous, envy, jealousy

In a society lacking in hoarding and abounding in acts of generosity, it makes little sense to covet the wealth of one's neighbor. 
Covetousnous, envy, jealousy all are signs of a society that is unwell, whose members are given to hoarding what they have and coveting what they lack. 
During disasters, covetousnous comes across as unbecoming because it stands in such stark contrast to the otherwise prevailing acts of generosity. 


Acts of generosity are acts of not-hoarding. 
We hoard to make certain our futures. When we cease to consider the future we become more generous and abandon our hoarding behavior. General equanimity likewise bespeaks a self-possession that argues against the myth of a terror-stricken populace unable to cope with the hardships of disaster. 
"... the rapidity of the improvisation of order out of chaos ... [and] the general equanimity" were the two things that struck William James about the conduct of the ordinary citizens in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 55). 
The contrary image the ruling elites have of the people's character and the one they convey to the public these days is that of spoiled children devoid of strength and lacking in fortitude. The image of modern day society is of a people who lack virtue utterly. It is a mean and cold world we are brewing together. 

Sign of belonging

People act coldly to their fellow citizens according to how strongly they identify themselves with the ruling elites. 
If you see yourself as a man of the people, you care for the people; if you see yourself as one of the rulers, you demand for the people to take care of themselves. In an odd sort of irony, to be uncaring of the needy could well be understood as a sign of one's belonging to the ruling elite. 
When disaster strikes and the ruling elites seem to recede from view it's easier for people to see themselves as men and women of the people. 

30 August 2011

Houseless vs homeless

Whether the houseless are homeless depends on whether the community is there to take them in and offer them support. 
Homelessness is a condition of the community's indifference, not of the conditions of one's real estate holdings. 

Kooky and illegitimate

Novel communities are often based around beliefs before those beliefs have been properly embedded in their practices. As a result, such communities tend to come across as kooky and illegitimate. 
It would be important for practice to lead belief in the process of transformation from the prevailing social order to a biblical utopia. So long as the practices are well understood, the belief systems needn't be emphasized. It's not how we couch the beliefs that counts, it's how we couch the values and virtues that support those beliefs. 

Non-revolutionary revolutions

Disasters are warm-ups for general collapses. They are practice sessions that reveal what, absent the impositions of the ruling elites' traditional conventions, what human nature wants. The true change agents could harness disaster just as, if not more effectively than, the old ruling elites. 
Disasters are non-revolutionary revolutions, as collapses would likewise be. 
The agents of utopian change need not foment revolution to accomplish true advances in the human condition. They do however need to develop and perfect the utopian program they would install to replace the collapsed social order both with respect to the betrayals of that utopia which strongman rulers would attempt in the early moments after the establishment of the new utopia, and with respect to the residual claims to power and authority the remnants of the ruling elites would insist onto the new order even in the face of the manifest bankruptcy of the old system. 


"Some religious attempts at utopia are authoritarian, led by a charismatic leader, by elders, by rigid rules that create outcasts, but the secular utopias have mostly been committed to liberty, democracy, and shared power. The widespread disdain for revolution and utopia takes as its object lesson the Soviet-style attempts at coercive utopias, in which the original ideals of leveling and sharing go deeply awry ... Many fail to notice that it is not the ideals, the ends, but the coercive and authoritarian means that poison paradise." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 19) 
The threats to utopia come not only from the resistance of the established power elites, they come also from the betrayal of legitimate utopia by the dystopia that comes from authoritarian utopia – the even lesser tempered hubris of the absolutist revolutionary or revolutionary cabal whose certainty crushes the human spirit it pretends to ennoble. 
In the Chumash God's immediate presence serves as the higher authority that keeps any leader or group from usurping the legitimate autonomy of the people. God is the divine Other with revolutionary intent Who hopes to devise a people that can support a paradise. 
"A certain kind of twentieth century utopian idealism has died, the kind that believed we could and should erase everything and start over: new language, new society, new ways of organizing power, work, even family, home, and more. ... But we have also learned that you can reinvent the government but not human nature in one fell stroke, and the process of reinventing human nature is a much more subtle, personal, incremental process." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 20) 
Utopias are a more intense version of the prevailing order: either more intensely authoritarian or more intensely anti-authoritarian; either a ruling elite that is stronger and more controlling or one that is either weaker or altogether absent

Social utopia

"The two most basic goals of social utopias are to eliminate deprivation – hunger, ignorance, homelessness – and to forge a society in which no one is an outsider, no one is alienated." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 18) 
By that standard the Chumash is clearly angling to create a social utopia. Those two goals are precisely the two most oft repeated instructions in the Chumash: take care of the orphan and the widow; and be kind to the stranger for you were a stranger in a strange land. 

Default setting

"Utopia is in trouble these days. Many no longer believe that a better world, as opposed to a better life, is possible, and rhetoric of private well-being trumps public good, at least in the English speaking world. And yet the yearning remains ..." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 18) 
The trouble with the building of utopias is that many of the entrenched powers around the world are bound and determined to defeat any honest attempt at arriving at an alternative to the status quo. They view utopian experiments not as innocent attempts at making the world a better place but as ideological threats to their hold on power. The ruling elites would like us to believe we have no alternative to their rule, nor that we could materially do better for ourselves than the present situation. Utopia puts the lie to both those predicates; and disasters show utopias up to be part of our natural, instinctual way of organizing community. 
"The map of utopias ... needs to open up a little more to contain disaster communities. These remarkable societies suggest that, just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster, that we revert to something we already know how to do. The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 18)

Styles and species of well-being

Emotions have two dimensions: positive vs negative and superficial vs deep. 
A materialistic society may move people further to the positive than to the negative but at the cost, at the same time, of moving them away from the deep and toward the superficial. Furthermore, it could be the materialist approach might well reduce the swings of positive and negative feelings at the expense of lowering the average level of welfare. 
Another issue could be that there are various styles of happiness and welfare: satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment, joy, glory, etc. Material goods and services might well be able to be listed in a preference ordering, that is true, but the sorts of pleasure people derive from material consumption and production doesn't necessarily exhaust the full range of styles and species of fulfillment and well-being. 

Social calm

Disasters are disruptions of the established order. They challenge the ruling elites because they disrupt the social calm that is the ruling elite's claim to power. 
General disaster calls into question the legitimacy of the established order. Should the old order be replaced by something new and different, perhaps better, perhaps worse? Disaster is different from collapse, where the old order has been shown to be bankrupt and must be replaced without a doubt


  • Disaster (dis-aster: a wrong star), 
  • Catastrophe (cata-strophe: an unexpected twist in a story), 
  • Emergency (e-merge: to come out from under, from submergence).
All these require, first of all, a sense of humor in order to keep things in proper perspective. 

Victim or victor

The opposite of victim is victor. 
To cast oneself or one's people as the victim is to deny the possibility of victory. 
To see oneself as a victim is the beginning of cowardice. Surely it is the expression of impotence and the envisioning of a lack of effective leadership. 

25 August 2011

Servile affluence

The most powerful hold the ruling elites have over their subject peoples is the internal disqualification that says it is silly to believe that utopias are within reach. 
So long as people buy the story that they can't fundamentally improve their social systems, that the most people can hope for is perhaps to raise or lower the general welfare on the margin, then the status quo will remain in the hands of those rulers who cannot imagine a brighter day, who cannot imagine a society fed by the deeper wellsprings of fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment. 
People’s own lack of conviction reduces them in conception to diminished selves and dismal societies, with moments of joy amid a sea of pain, isolation, and dejection. People have become servile in their affluence.   

Privatization of desire

The privatization of society not only moves the institutions of commerce into the private sector but, more important, it moves the self-understanding of the members of society into atomized units who cannot presume the proper functioning of a social order to justify their own acts of generosity and their own pursuit of caring and contentment. 
The privatization of society is, in effect, the Sodom-and-Gemmorah-ization of society. 
The privatization of desire and imagination results in getting us to believe we are not each other's keepers. 

Pre-planned disaster

The phoenix is reborn from its own ashes. It must be consumed in fire and thereby purified before it can be reborn anew. 
Disaster is the fire that burns out the old and allows for the new to be reborn. 
The sabbatical year is an artificial, pre-planned sort of disaster that requires the sort of solidarity common challenges tend to bring out in people. 

19 August 2011

Human nature in disaster

"... the prevalent human nature in disaster is resilient, resourceful, generous, empathic, and brave." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 8). 

Marauding bands

"... the citizens any paradise would need – the people who are brave enough, resourceful enough, and generous enough – already exist. The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it's because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way." (A Paradise Built In Hell, Rebecca Solnit, 2009; page 7). 
The problem with that picture is not how people behave immediately after a disaster has struck but how people will behave later, when they will have had the chance to assemble marauding bands to plunder the countryside. 
For that reason the Chumash introduced the notion of sheviit and miqdash, to limit the accumulation of material wealth and to afford the society the room to promote a better system where meaning trumps worth and where neighborliness prevails over local warlords and where God's empire keeps the peace.  

A mediocre ruling class

The Industrial Revolution enabled the ruling class to promote to the general public an abundant materialism that concealed the possibilities of joy and fulfillment which would come from a sense of embrace and belonging that is typically afforded by general collaboration. 
The European societal defect of a mediocre ruling class found its way to the New World in the form, first, of Southern plantation owners and then in the form of Northern industrialists. Such a ruling class was focused on the material gains that can come from the extraction and exploitation either of slave labor or of the natural environment. 
It is a ruling class intoxicated with the possibilities of organizing society according to the values of worth rather than of meaning. It is a ruling class that has made its peace with a God they had long since deemed irrelevant. Such a ruling class replaced the simple joys and sorrows of a meaningful, simple, humble, local society with the attractions of a gaudy, complex, hubristic, global system whose skyscrapers resemble the Tower of Babel. 

Civic possibility

Disasters unveil a social desire and a vision of civic possibility that ordinarily lies hidden behind the too-fast, alienated hustle and bustle of modern-day life. 
Disasters force us to dust off our simple virtues to deal with the demands of the moment, and it doesn't matter that the demands are for the welfare of others or for ourselves. 
Disasters reveal how valuable meaning can be in our lives; and how much more meaningful value matters to us than all the worthy value we accumulate for ourselves but then rarely really use properly. 

18 August 2011

A sense of belonging

That society is happiest which affords its members the opportunity to experience a sense of belonging. To feel that belonging is to know an embrace and a joy that is incomparable. People cannot on their own provide themselves with such an experience. 
A sense of belonging is the other, mundane side of feeling the divine gift of God's grace. It is to know oneself in a firm identity in a way that absent such self-knowledge leaves one thin and unanchored. 
To be able to live a public life and a civil society that has about it inclusion, purpose and power is to be able to be multi-dimensional in a way that fufills and satisfies deeply. The present becomes clear while the past and the future tend to recede quickly and with not too much residue. 

Generosity requires generous society

In order for people to be able to help each other the society must be sufficiently well organized that their help would be both appreciated and reciprocated. 
Generosity requires a generous society as a prerequisite. 
Theories of political development that start from individuals on their own cannot ever get to the station of having society organized as generous. The chumash's story, on the other hand, of God providing the Children of Israel with a fully built up political/economic infra-structure is all about the possibility of individual generosity having already been enabled by a God Who provides not only the requisite abundance for such generosity but also the social system that can endorse such generosity. 

Collective abundance

Qayin kills Hevel because Hevel's offering is fatter than Qayin's, and God favors it. 
Qayin wanted Hevel's place with God, not Hevel's greater material wealth. It wasn't what Hevel had that compelled Qayin, it was his closeness to God that he envied. Hevel is killed because he fulfilled the obligation to appreciate God's bounty more exquisitely than did Qayin. 
If there is a lesson here, it is that it is better for the abundance to be delivered to God by the collective before it turns into an arms race. 

17 August 2011

After catastrophe strikes

When a catastrophe occurs the key event is the instantaneous ineffectuality of the ruling elite. Authority breaks down in the first moments of a crisis and all that's there to service the situation is legitimacy – people helping each other. 
What is on display after a catastrophe strikes is what society might look like without the insidious shaping of the human heart the governing authorities impose on their subjects for the sake of making it easier for them then to impose order on the society. 

The bottleneck

How much do the ruling elites stand in the way of man's bond with God? Is their impoverished vision of human potentiality the bottleneck that keeps people from knowing what man might achieve under His guidance? 
Maybe what we need to know about God we need to know on our own, individually. Maybe the basic knowledge of God cannot be mediated through intermediate, mortal rulers.